Sherlock is our 8 year old viszla. He's a great dog... most of the
time. He loves to play and still has so much energy. I can always
count on him for a running buddy. He also loves to cuddle
especially on a cold day. But, we almost lost him last year.
We moved from Virginia to Kansas City and about a month after we moved he started having problems. He's had allergies and we've had him on allergy formula dog food for several years. But he wasn't eating as well and would occasionally vomit. We decided to change his dog food to another premium formula hoping that would help. It didn't. He started having diarrhea and after a week of hoping it was just a bug, we finally took him to the vet. They took a fecal sample and tested for worms... nothing. We were given a week's worth of Metronizadole and we were told that 90% of the time this antibiotic clears up the diarrhea. Sherlock weighed 72 lbs. at this appointment, a normal weight for him. We finished all the pills giving it a full chance to work, but we noticed no change. We went back to the vet. They did some bloodwork to check his protein levels. They determined that he was not absorbing much protein. The vet's diagnosis was irritable bowel disease. We talked about a couple of options. 1. A doggy colonoscopy!! Cost was around $1,200 and it would just tell us if there are any problems internally. It was not a treatment. We weren't sure that we would find anything in the colonoscopy either. Option 2: Try a round of the steroid, Prednisone to reduce inflammation in the bowel. Cost: about $30 for a two week supply. We had to start out with high doses: 70mg/day! And slowly decreased the amount of steroid. The vet felt good about this option, so this is what we did. He also sent us home with a supply of amoxicillin to help kill any bad bacteria that had built up and told us to switch to a venison and sweet potato dog food.
At first the results were great. Almost immediately his stools were solid. But, this lasted only a couple of days. Over the next few days Sherlock was hardly eating anything and he would vomit whatever he did eat along with having very watery stools. The vet warned that it would be a roller coaster. But, I stayed in touch asking questions about what we could do to get him to eat. They allowed us to try bland people food... rice, and boiled hamburger (to remove the grease). Sherlock wasn't interested. I knew something was wrong if he was turning his nose up at real hamburger. I felt so helpless knowing how sick he was and not knowing what was going on. He was losing weight everyday. The vet told us to go off the medicine (which didn't seem to be working anyway) for a couple of days to see if he got his appetite back. It worked. I also sprinkled a probiotic on the food to help build up the good bacteria in his system. Sherlock started eating again and keeping it down, but he still had watery stools... about every 4 hours. It was a brutal February 2011 in Kansas City and we didn't have a yard, so I had to get the leash and go out with him every time. Those 3am walks in a foot of snow were not fun for either of us. We went back to the vet every week for more bloodwork to monitor Sherlock's protein levels. They were always low.
Sherlock's weight fell to 52 lbs. He looked awful. At this point he couldn't get in and out of the car by himself, he was stumbling down stairs, and struggling to get up from a laying position. He seemed so lethargic and just exhausted... not at all himself. Our regular vet was getting as frustrated as we were and decided this was taking too long, so he recommended that we see a specialist to get a second opinion. We learned a lot from the specialist. She helped us understand what was going on and what could be causing the problem. She explained that the liver, the kidneys and the intestines are involved in protein absorption. After she gave us all the facts, we decided to do a blood test to see if the liver was functioning correctly. We also had them test the urine to make sure the kidneys were functioning properly. Everything came back fine. So, we continued with the steroid treatment. We had been on it for about 6 weeks at this point with no noticeable results, except right at the beginning.
Then, Sherlock began developing pus filled blisters ALL over his body, a side effect of his lack of protein. He lost all of his hair where the blisters developed. It was so gross. He looked even worse than before. Now, he was skinny AND bald. I would sit with him and just cry. I didn't know what else to do. I read so many scary stories online, looking for answers. I remember telling him that if he was ready to go, I would understand.
I wasn't ready to give up on him though... and neither was he. He slowly started to come around, regaining his strength and weight and regrowing hair. His appetite got better and his stools slowly became more solid. We had never been so happy to see poop! Finally, we had results. Maybe it was because of the difficulties we had in the beginning and going off the steroid for a few days, but I think we just had to give it time to work. It seemed like forever, just watching him get worse was very difficult.
Once he had solid stools for a week we started decreasing the amount of steroid we were giving. We went down to 50 mg/day, for a week then 30, then 20, then 10. Lots of pill chopping. The last 10 mg were the hardest. Sherlock really struggled. He would lose his appetite if we went too fast or stools would become loose again. We really had to go slow, 1 mg at a time. The vet warned us that we may have to give him a small amount of steroid for the rest of his life. It took about 3 weeks to get from 10 mg to zero, but we did it.
Today Sherlock is perfectly healthy. All of his hair regrew and he doesn't take any medicine. The whole process took about 4 months from that first trip to the vet until he was completely off the steroid and we spent a total of around $1,500 for tests and medication.
We no longer give him any treats, other than ice... he loves ice. We feed him only the venison and sweet potato dog food, nothing else. He has a history of food allergies and we think that probably contributed to his irritable bowel. The venison provides a source of protein not found in most dog foods and we've seen no signs of allergies after a year on this formula. Sherlock has many more good years left. And hopefully this story will help someone else going through this increasingly common problem with their best friend.