Scary dog tales and finding gratitude

Jackson and Cate shared a dog kennel for three days (and nights) at the Columbia River Veterinary Specialist hospital in Vancouver, Washington. Dog owners: please educate yourselves about the dangers of salmon poisoning.

Every once in a while life just smacks you a good hard one between the eyes. Things are rolling along fairly nicely, just the usual bumps in the road, when suddenly you’re flat on your back. That proverbial “invisible hand of fate” can come down with a vengeance.

I was overtaken by one of these strokes of fate a couple weeks ago. Now let it be said that I understand in the grand scheme of things on the spectrum of bad luck, or bad karma, or devastations of enormity — tsunamis, gliomas, or fire storms — that losing a beloved dog has a lower coefficient. However, for us dog lovers, four-leggeds are verifiable members of the family, and losing one can be akin to losing a soulmate.

So my dog tale: a couple weeks ago in preparation for my snowbird trip, I took my long-haired 10-pound dachshund, Jackson, in for his rabies shot. Knowing that the year before he’d had a bad reaction, I was prepared for his post-shot discomfort. But when it went on for four days, culminating in a spiked fever, we found ourselves at midnight in a vet ER in Seattle.

Typically, the normal temp range for dogs is between 99.5 and 102.5. Jackson’s fever was 104. Fours days after his rabies shot, he was still not eating and short of breath. After an overnight in the doggie ER on IV fluids, his fever fell and I took him back to the beach, postponing our southern sojourn.

Things did not get better; they got much worse. One word — platelets. Again a normal range for canines is between 175,000 to 500,000 per microliter of blood. Platelet counts of less than 20,000 to 30,000 mean spontaneous bleeding is likely. Jackson’s platelets had fallen to zero!

Off we rushed — a good friend holding Jackson in her lap, while I drove like a bat out of hell — to the Columbia River Veterinary Specialists hospital in Vancouver, Washington (columbiarivervet.com). This was the closest place where Jackson could get a blood transfusion or whatever help he would need if we were going to save him.

The entire staff at CRVS is stunning — they care, they’re extremely knowledgeable, and they’re articulate about what they do. They took Jackson from our arms and got him immediately on IVs and, very quickly, we had a powwow with one of the head vets. While I’d thought his problem was an extended bad reaction to the rabies shot, here we discovered Jackson was likely suffering from something much more common in our area — salmon poisoning.

Why hadn’t we thought of that earlier? It seems that indeed the rabies shot had dealt Jackson a low blow. (And now I know that for the small percentage of dogs who’ve had a bad reaction to the shot, your vet can secure a waiver. We’re getting one for sure!) But layered over that was salmon poisoning, so prevalent on the West Coast.

I thought back. Salmon poisoning takes six to 10 days to show up in a dog that has eaten infected salmon, trout, or, in rare cases, salamander — basically any fishy thing that lives (or has lived) in fresh water. Jackson — a total chow-hound — did have the opportunity to eat raw or partially-cooked trout from the garbage just the weekend before.

(Note that wild-caught or grocery-store salmon not fully cooked can be lethal to your dog; even those fish heads that wash up on the beach. It only takes a tiny amount.)

Salmon poisoning is a snail-fish-dog cycle, meaning the bacteria has found a clever way to reproduce in its preferred environment — your dog. The VCA hospital site states: “Salmon poisoning is caused by a rickettsial organism (a very small type of bacteria) that can be found within flukes (parasitic flatworms) infecting the tissues of wild fish found in coastal streams of the Pacific Northwest. This condition is most commonly seen in areas such as Washington, Oregon, northern California, and southern Vancouver Island (Canada).”

Dogs, wolves, and foxes are susceptible to this disease; it does not affect the fish, cats or humans who eat infected fish.

Canine symptoms are decreased appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other more severe symptoms can include seizures, neurological problems, muscle twitching — nothing you want to see your dog go through. Jackson had been suffering for nine days and was bleeding internally. He was on his way down.

If canine-appropriate antibiotics — like doxycycline or amoxicillin/clavulanate — are given immediately, there is a good chance your dog will survive.

If untreated, salmon poisoning kills 90 percent of infected dogs.

I’ve heard this part of the tale from several people, including Adelaide’s proprietor Colleen Smith, “Natives from the Makah tribe feed their puppies micro amounts of raw salmon that, over time, give them immunity to this disease. I’ve tried it with my dachshund, Copper. More people need to know about salmon poisoning! We’re dog country here!”

For Jackson it was touch and go. I slept in his kennel with him for three days and three nights, letting him know we were in this thing together. He’d been vomiting blood and had bloody diarrhea; he had IVs in both front legs and underwent numerous needle pokes.

At one point I asked the doc, “Is he suffering so much that we should put him down?”

She said, “Let’s give him another 24-36 hours.”

The threshold he crossed was unmistakable. He’d lost nearly two pounds; he began “eating” his own muscle mass to replace the albumin in his blood. It was a little risky but we decided to give him some liquid protein. Just around midnight, he seemed to wake up and he ate his first food in 11 days: a tiny bowl of turkey, which was home-baked (!) and brought in by vet-tech Beth. The little guy pulled through.

Jackson’s journey back to himself is not over yet. His systems were so compromised that it’s taking time to build them up. But what created his miraculous turn-around? Friends’ prayers, his own internal will, my attention, great veterinary care? Maybe all of it. I rejoiced; and he’s recovered enough that we’ve headed south, back to our snowbird digs in Arizona.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also celebrate good friends who made it out of Magalia, evacuating from the Camp Fire that decimated Paradise and surrounding communities. They managed to grab their elderly mom, friends, and two dogs and got to safer ground just in time. Mom’s house is the only one left standing in her cul-de-sac. They don’t know yet if their home survived.

Driving south, Jackson and I passed through the remnants of this disaster — the horrifying smoke that blankets the entire state of California from Chico south through the Bay Area and all of the Central Valley — a reminder of what others with profound heartbreak are going through. I can only hope all those who’ve lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods, entire communities can come through the flames as we did.

Yes, life deals its blows to us and, yet, we do what humans do in hard times, especially at this time of year — we come together and find ways to be thankful.

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