Saturday, September 20, 2014

Round Robin: Caring Critters - Auto-Immune Disorder

We are participating in the Round Robin Caring Critters hosted by Heart Like a Dog. Tomorrow, go to Travels with Barley to learn about Lyme Disease. 

I would like to share with you the saga of our first dog, a Loki and an auto-immune disorder.

It started in 2006 while I was working overseas for 3 months. I didn't know it had started as my husband didn't want to stress me out while I was away. Loki, who was about 5 at the time, had become very ill. He stopped eating. He had to be force fed (and by this I mean they had to shove food down his throat). Blood work determined that his body had attacked it's own red blood cells. We put him on a drug cocktail (sorry, just recently I got rid of all his medical records, but it included drugs to boost red blood cells and drugs to suppress the cells that were killing them).

Loki went into remission until 2009. In spring 2009 I could tell something wasn't right with him. My vet was on sabbatical, so I took him to one of his partner's. This vet brushed my concerns off and I let it go because my vet was back in a few weeks. A few weeks later I took Loki back to the vet and he took my concerns seriously. [Note: our vet happens to be a very close family friend]. Even if our vet wasn't a friend, I would have kept taking him back until I got answers. The lesson is, if you think something is wrong with your pet, trust your instincts and find a vet who will take you seriously. 

Loki around the time he was diagnosed in 2009

Our vet did a bunch of tests (blood work, ultrasound, liver biopsy) and it was determined Loki had immune mediated hepatitis causing cirrhosis of the liver (try saying that 5 times fast). The cause of this was unknown and it is rare. To find the treatment, our vet used online vet forums and talked to vets all over the world.  He determined that at best, Loki likely had one year of life left. His body was attacking itself and at best we could slow it down and keep him comfortable. To do this, we used a drug cocktail that was adjusted at least once per month (more often toward the end). After about 3 years, I got rid of the records, but it was as many as 15 pills a day. It was very complicated and we had a chart (as some pills were to be taken every 2 days), a pill cutter and a pill container. I know there was steroids and immune suppressors. The best side effect of the cocktail was Loki's fur became puppy soft. It was great to snuggle such a soft boy, and he was very snuggly. 

During all this blood work, tests etc. etc. Loki remained a positive happy boy. Going to the vet was still one of his favourite things to do. He was often so excited he would pee on the floor (a habit he had all his life!). I think he only grumbled once during blood work and the tech was shocked as he was normally so happy! 
About 5 months before he died, running at a favourite park. He doesn't look like a dying dog at this point.

After several weeks on the drugs, Loki improved and he lived quite comfortably for the next 9 months. We did everything we could in that time to give him the best quality of life with the time we had left with him. At the 9 month mark, we started to see the decline. Our monthly trips for blood work became bi-weekly.  Loki underwent another ultrasound which showed the disease had progressed. I had opted to not to put him through another biopsy, because it wouldn't give us any useful information, we all knew he was dying. 

During the last 11 months of his life we had such contact with the vet, Loki's HUGE file was never filed. It was either on the vet's desk or in a special place they keep files for animals who are receiving a lot of care. Everyone in the clinic knew us. If our vet was not in and we called, other vets were hesitant to answer our questions/make suggestions, because this was rare and complicated. Either we or they would call our vet at home.

When we could see the end coming, we gave him his fav food.
 We wanted him to have it while he could still eat.
Around the 11 month mark,  we could tell the end was coming and one day Loki had the best day he had in weeks, followed by the worst night. About 5 am he gave me the look, and we knew it was time. We called our vet and set up for a time that evening to have him euthanized. We had made a promise to him that as long as he was not suffering, we would do everything in our power to keep him alive. However, when the time came, we would make the very difficult choice to say goodbye. We didn't want him to suffer one day more than he had to. It was a very emotional experience for us and the staff at the clinic. We were blessed to have such amazing, loving care for him. 

If I could go back, there is nothing I would do differently about his treatment. I know our vet went above and beyond to try and find the best treatment in the world for him. His suffering was minimized. We have learned since, that his case is still used at the clinic as a teaching case. I hope his case can help others. 

I also understand that not everyone would be able to make the same choices we did. It was very, very, very expensive to give Loki those last 11 months. A rough calculation at the time showed we spent about $10 000.  His drugs cost at least $500 a month. We are blessed that we could give him this time. 

I also learned the stress taking care of a dying pet can be. In the moment I didn't realize the emotional toll it was taking on me. It was only after his death that I realized the stress we had all been living with. I should have known the stress it was causing because our other dog at the time, Gemini, actually developed a stress disorder. She developed obsessive drinking (she drank over 8 cups of water a day, which was too much for a 15 lb Lhasa Apso mix) and peeing (she started peeing everywhere) and her fur started to fall out. She also underwent a lot of tests and in the end it was stress. While this wasn't great, it was much better than the alternatives our vet was testing for (Cushing's syndrome for one). One of the lessons we learned is that everyone in the house is very effected by the illness of another member and everyone needs some extra TLC. 

Thank you for reading our long journey. Even with the stress and the cost, I would do it all again to get those 8 years with our Loki. 

Gemini (left) and Loki - best friends


  1. there is nothing too much we wouldn't do for our furbabies.

  2. Hari OM
    I was so blessed to have pets who needed very little vet-interventions. Caring is stressful. Full stop. Loki was one lucky lad. YAM xx

  3. I'm so sad for Loki that he had to go, but I'm glad that you were able to give Loki this 11 months. I agree it can be stressful and hard and to fight for every day. We had such a bad year too where we were on the fence between desperation and hope.... Many thanks for this post, it's good to read how you managed this situation and how you felt...and it's good to know we are not the only ones who think this way

  4. What a terrible disease! Loved the Loki running picture!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  5. I am so sorry that Loki had such a terrible disease and there was nothing much you could do but you did your best. Truly sad. The good thing is you made every day count and we understand only too well how stressful it is caring for those that are ill or old be it human or animal.
    Best wishes Molly

  6. Thank you for telling us about your little Loki. You did real good by him. We know exactly how you feel.

  7. I can only imagine how emotional this time was, and how tough this must have been to write...thank you SO MUCH for sharing it!!

  8. Thanks for sharing! We can understand how difficult it must have been :(

  9. It's never easy dealing with a chronic illness. Loki was lucky to have you for a family.

  10. Loki was a beautiful pet. I loved the photo of him running.

    Aroo to you,

  11. Poor Loki. He would have known how much he was loved.

  12. Oh wow...I am so sorry!
    Thanks so much for sharing this story.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  13. Loki was so lucky to have such caring people in his life! Thank you for sharing his story.

  14. Thanks for sharing this story. Loki was so lucky to have you as his family. It is very hard caring for a dying dog, both physically and emotionally. You were amazing rocks for him during his illness.

    One of our dogs, Astro, had an autoimmune disease where his body was killing all his white blood cells. Initially, he almost died from it. Then, a group of vet specialists put together a cocktail of drugs for him that worked beautifully (including steroids). We were a bit luckier though because he remained stable for many years even while taking steroids for that long. I wish the same had been true for Loki.

  15. Thank you for sharing Loki's story with us in the Round Robin. I'm glad you had the means to care for Loki in this fashion, and you were wise to make the most of the time you had with him.

    Each and every one of us make a personal decision when we treat our pets and it's unique to all of us. Thank you for sharing yours with us.

  16. We loved that last picture. thank you for sharing your story. what love Loki had.
    stella rose

  17. What a beautiful loving story of your journey with Loki...we must not have known you back in 2014 because we don't recall knowing about Loki's auto-immune issues.
    Hugs madi and mom


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