You’re probably wondering where the heck all the hiking posts have been lately! Well, over the summer we had a few setbacks with our sweet hiking partner Gracie. She was hiking strong early on, but on the trip we did on the Finger Lakes Trail down near Cortland at Greek Peak, Virgil Mountain, and near the Spanish Loop she began limping severely. On our second day poor Gracie’s feet were so swollen it looked like she didn’t even have feet on her legs, just swollen completely. We got her into the cool creek to reduce the swelling, but we still had to complete our hike back to the car. We took a lot of breaks and had her soak her feet in every single water crossing, including a long cool down at the trailhead creek, but we were incredibly worried. She continued to limp intermittently throughout the next two weeks with no rhyme or reason. Some days we could walk 5 miles with no problem, some days a mere mile would make them swell.
X-rays of her front paws revealed a carpal hyperextension injury to the wrist joint (yes, dogs have wrists, too!). The vet said the best thing we could do for her injury would be two weeks’ worth of Rimadyl (dog ibuprofen basically) and six to eight weeks of rest - no running, jumping, or long distance walks! It was incredibly heartbreaking to watch her every day want to go for a walk or go further on the short walks we could take her on and she wouldn’t understand why she couldn’t. Even more heartbreaking was putting her up in her crate on the days we’d go out to the state parks for a hike and not be able to take her with us. When we’d come home stinky and sweaty she would know where we had been and looked so betrayed!
Well, about three weeks after the initial diagnosis, we had another huge setback with our sweet Gracie. Our neighbors fed her a Pedigree Dentastick one Sunday afternoon and on Monday after I get home from work I find out she has thrown up a huge pile of undigested food and shards of what look like cartilage. She continued to throw up these shards of undigested matter the rest of the night. The next day she threw up her breakfast and wouldn’t eat dinner. She continued throwing up everything we tried feeding her until Friday night. We finally thought we were in the clear, but we had a huge problem - she wasn’t eating at all. She’d drink water, a ton, but no food. Then, Sunday night, a week after the bone, she threw up white foam everywhere. I looked in her sweet and pitiful face and noticed something terrifying - her eyes were yellow, she had jaundice.
Monday morning, 8 days after the treat, we scheduled an appointment at the vet. I went to work and NoKey took her in. The blood work was astonishing. Her liver enzymes were so high they were nowhere near on the chart. Her bilirubin, which is 0.9 in a normal dog, was an astronomical 24 - the highest the clinic had ever seen in a dog in their practice, which is over 110 years old. Her alkaline phosphatase was in the 3,000s, which normally is around 30. We were plainly dealing with an incredibly sick dog.
The next two nights and three days were spent with Gracie hospitalized in a 24-hour care facility on fluids to flush out her liver. An abdominal ultrasound revealed acute pancreatitis, but the site at which her pancreas was swollen was the problem - it swelled right at the point where her gallbladder was completely shut off from draining bile into the intestines. Plainly speaking, her cholecystitis was so bad the bile from her gallbladder was backing up into her liver. The situation in dogs is severe. In humans, the gallbladder can be removed, but not in dogs. Cholecystectomies in a dog have only about a 25% success rate. Really, the only thing we could do was wait and hope she would be able to eat.
She was released from the hospital on Wednesday nearly 4.5 pounds lighter than she was only a few weeks earlier, which is a huge amount of loss for a dog who now weighed 63 pounds. We couldn’t get her to even attempt eating food again until nearly Saturday afternoon, more than a week without eating anything substantial. We fed her by hand for a few days, eggs and toast mostly, until about 1 week after her hospital release. A dog who normally loves to gobble up her food now needing to be handfed was tough to deal with. At some points, she would take the food from me, take it in the other room and spit it out, and then come back to me like she was hungry for more. To say I was an emotional wreck when I saw what she had done was an understatement. She so desperately wanted me to be happy that she was feeling better that she resorted to doing that was more than I could bear.
So here we are now, Gracie is feeling better and her feet are healed up. Her gallbladder is healed up. Her liver is coming around slowly, but the damage was so severe that it will take quite a while to get her functions to normalize. The vets are very impressed by her recovery as only about half of all dogs with gallbladder issues can pull through. We’re getting back into our normal hiking routine and trying to take it slow - we don’t want to reinjure her feet or risk Gracie getting sick from drinking contaminated ground water since her liver is still not in the best shape. What matters now is that she’s getting better after nearly eight weeks of pain and health problems. I’ll be updating the blog later this week with some of the hikes we did while she was sick and then post some photos of the hike we took her on recently on the Finger Lakes Trail.
I don’t know what I’d do without my sweet Gracie girl. The fear of losing a family member struck me hard the past few weeks and not having her with me on my hikes has been even tougher. Here’s to hoping she continues to grow stronger and healthier than she was before!