Lessons in Gratitude
Friday, 27 September 2013 08:50

Maximus in his sweaterSo, for years, I’ve talked the talk. I’ve said over and over that IVDD is not a death sentence, except in rare cases. Dogs don’t give a flying fig if their hind ends work or not; they don’t have the same hangups to which humans are prone. I’ve said, here is the best protocol. Follow it. I’ve said, patience is key for the humans. Until now, I’ve personally had two Dachshunds with IVDD, FC Tania ME ROMX (at age 6 and currently she’s 11), and her daughter, CH Evie SE (at age 5 and she’s currently 6). Evie was linebred on her dam before any problems were known. I’ve rehabbed or been closely involved in the rehab of countless others, both in and outside of my extended Dachshund family. There has never been one treated conservatively and immediately that didn’t get back up on his or her feet fairly quickly. Until now. I must walk the walk; or roll, as it were.

DC Maximus ME ROMX is down.

Maxi is fine otherwise…I want that to be clear right up front for anyone reading this who loves Maxi. However, I made some very significant mistakes this time around which endangered his life. Not only do I want to be very honest about this situation in general as an owner and a breeder, I think there are very specific lessons to be learned from my mistakes. Also, please be aware I have two very distinct sets of emotions regarding these events; my emotions as an owner, and those as a breeder. I will try to describe the events, then talk about the very significant impact this will have on my breeding program, but don’t be surprised if I wander back and forth between the two sets of emotions. It’s nearly impossible to keep them separated, but I will try.

Maximus in the grassOn August 15th, Logan was guarding the still-in season Fiona. Afghans (at least THIS Afghan) seem to stay interesting to the boys right up until they go out of season. Of course, she was totally out of season two days later. Logan and Maxi got into a little skirmish. I wasn’t right there, but Jody said when he was trying to split them up, Logan briefly hung by his teeth from Maximus’ right foreleg while Jody was holding Maxi up in the air by his scruff. Even though Logan outweighs Maxi by about two pounds, this was nothing that should have caused anything more than a little bruising, straining or stiffness. I couldn’t find any of those things, even two days later, on Maximus. I am not telling this part of the story to make excuses, but for full disclosure. The following Monday, Maximus was on our bed at bedtime, and something landed near his head (a pillow?) and he yelped. I went over him, and found nothing. He had acted perfectly normal all day, so I moved on. The next night, he did the same thing when a sheet fluttered over his head. This time, I found painful muscles right near the junction of his thoracic and lumbar spine; right behind the ribs on his right side. The very next morning, I started him on my back protocol at breakfast. At this point, he had zero neurological symptoms and no pain when I manipulated his neck, etc. I figured it was just muscle pain, and I would get him into my acupuncture vet and get him a massage. The back protocol is overkill for muscle pain, but it’s still indicated, and if the issue resolves in a couple of days, you know you simply were dealing with a soft tissue issue. The meds can be discontinued at that point without a taper for the prednisone. On the other hand, if the “muscle pain” morphs into something more serious, you are on all the right meds, and you have a head start. What I should have done immediately was to schedule him for blood work…to rule anything else out and to keep an eye on his liver enzymes. I didn’t. Mistake number one.

Maximus balancingMistake number two was being too optimistic that Maximus would recover just as the rest of the dogs I’d rehabbed did. By Thursday, August 22nd, he had neuro involvement. The next day, the 23rd, he was down. We went to acupuncture the 22nd, and I just thought, we need another session and some more patience and time. I should have, within seventy-two hours, steroid blasted him. But two weeks passed before that entered my mind. Once it did, my vet agreed, and we did blood work. His liver enzymes were through the roof, but my vet expected this with the immosuppressive levels of oral steroids he was getting. We probably should have been giving him prednisolone, rather than prednisone, from the start, as the former is easier on the liver than the latter, but prednisolone is not always readily available. His WBCs were also high, but my vet attributed that to the ticked-off liver. We steroid blasted him anyway, on September 6th and 7th. At this point, prior to blasting, he had been painful. Not horribly so, but enough it set my teeth on edge. After the blasting, that went away. We set him up with some Denamarin, to support his liver. In hindsight, we should have added that from the beginning (mistake number three), along with antibiotics (mistake number four). The following Tuesday, September 10th, we sent off blood work to check his liver enzymes. His ALT had come down a bit from pre-blasting (from 2200+ to 1458, where high normal is 84), but his ALK Phos had doubled to 15,000+, where normal is 212-ish. ALT is more concerning, and usually slower to come down, so we were fairly happy with these numbers. Unfortunately, over the next few days, he slowly deteriorated. On Wednesday morning, he refused food for the first time. That night, he ate. He refused to eat the next morning, then ate at acupuncture that evening. A dog on max prednisone is like a furnace out of control; it increases his metabolism to the point he is constantly thirsty and constantly peeing. My acupuncture vet was concerned about his wheezing. He’s always been a bit of a weird breather, and pain and being uncomfortable changed his breathing. However, she recognized he might be headed to pneumonia, and asked if I could get into my regular vet for chest films that evening, as she didn’t have the ability to do xrays. I called my vet and she said she would wait for me. I raced from Kittredge to Highlands Ranch in the pouring rain (this was the day of the start of all the Colorado flooding), and a chest film showed fuzziness if we really, really squinted and tried to find it. We decided to start him on oral Clavamox, just in case. Incidentally, a xray, which is usually worthless right after a rupture in terms of seeing anything significant, this time showed the herniation right where I had felt pain three weeks earlier. You could now see the disc material on the film because it was starting to calcify over.

I took him home and we had a rough night. Lots of drinking and peeing. About 5:30 am, I noticed blood on his crate pad. I frantically looked him over, as some dogs chew on appendages as feeling is returning. I quickly realized the blood was coming from his ureter, and I took him out again to pee. He was peeing blood, including clots. I texted my vet, who asked me to get him to the clinic, and to stop on my way at the ER and get a clotting factor test. It’s a long(er) story, but I was afraid he was going into DIC, which stands for disseminated intravascular coagulation. Clotting factors are produced in the liver, and a failing liver can cause acute DIC, where small blood clots form inside the blood vessels throughout the body. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disseminated_intravascular_coagulation: “As the small clots consume coagulation proteins and platelets, normal coagulation is disrupted and abnormal bleeding occurs from the skin (e.g. from sites where blood samples were taken), the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract and surgical wounds. The small clots also disrupt normal blood flow to organs (such as the kidneys), which may malfunction as a result.” DIC is a horrible death. I didn’t want him to go through that.

Maximus at the vet'sI raced him to the ER on Friday, September 13th. We pulled blood for the clotting factors. His PT was normal, 13 seconds on a scale where 12-17 seconds was normal. His APTT was 122 seconds, on a scale where 71-102 seconds is normal. I was truly frightened. We went straight to my vet’s, though Maximus was attended by one of her new vets, as my vet was going out of town that morning. We discussed options, including euthanasia (he was really that bad and I was afraid of DIC), but I saw him still looking at me with his eyes, and he looked like he wanted to fight. We knew he had a raging bladder infection, perhaps even a kidney infection. He was put on IV fluids and antibiotics. Blood work was pulled, and his WBCs, high just that Monday, were non-existent at .11, which means he basically had 110 or so WBCs in the sample, where he should have 7,000-16,000. His ALT was down some more, but the vet was concerned his liver might be shutting down. He did eat for them, but looked terrible all day; he wouldn’t relax. The few times he did get to sleep, he would invariably kink his IV and it would have to be adjusted. He was still wheezing terribly, so about midafternoon they took more chest films, and sure enough, he had pneumonia. So, he was fighting two very serious infections on top of everything else.

Maxi and meI went to work at about 10, after leaving him at 9 and sitting outside the vet’s for about an hour. I didn’t know what to do. I was covered in blood, and scared to death. Thankfully, my manager is a dog person, and I had dark clothes on. “What’s that on your pants? Ketchup? Okay.” I am pretty sure I would have been a disaster at home with nothing to do but fret. Plus, work was closer to Maximus than home. After work, I went to be with Christine, as she works near my vet. She offered to go with me to see Maximus; the afternoon update hadn’t been encouraging. We waited until the last minute, as we wanted him on the IV as long as possible, then we went to visit. I had a decision to make. When he saw us, he was instantly happy, and looked better than he had all day according to the staff. He was so tired, he fell asleep as I held him. I decided he was definitely not ready to leave me, and Christine and I felt he looked better than we’d hoped. I decided to take him home with tons of oral antibiotics and sub-q fluids and lots of prayers.

Maxi and ChristineI set my alarm that night to get up every 2.5 hours to potty him. I didn’t want the bacteria load in his bladder to be any higher than necessary. He looked great on the morning of the 14th, and terrible again that night. My vet’s voice echoed in my mind, “You have to give antibiotics 48 hours to work!” Saturday night was rough, and then Sunday morning, he was better. He was better still Monday morning, and I took him before work to my vet’s so he could be monitored and have labs rerun while I was at work. His ALT was higher again, but the vet felt this meant his liver was working again. WBCs were high now…29,000, but at least his bone marrow was also working. She said she would rather they be high than non-existent. The next day was Christine’s day off, and she came and stayed with him until I could get home from work. I had a corporate shadow that morning, so I couldn’t work from home until later in the day. By this time, he was looking great, so I have been bringing him to work with me almost every day. I have a great, shady spot, the weather has been cooperating, and I spend my breaks and lunch with him and he spends the rest of the time sleeping and getting better. He spends Tuesdays and Wednesdays with Christine. This way, he doesn’t have to hold his bladder. He’s almost weaned off the prednisone, and besides the last few days of Baytril, he is just on Gabapentin. He’s perky, looking for rabbits and wanting to GO every time he’s put down to potty. He’s got quite the fan club going at my yoga practice, as he goes with me straight from work on afternoons I attend 4:30 classes. My boy is back! We are continuing to monitor his blood work. Earlier this week, he was 6,000 closer to normal on his WBCs and his liver values are holding steady. We hope those will start to come down as his medication is decreased.

Maxi in his strollerIn the past, when I’ve had a health issue with one of the dogs, I inform the folks in my dog family immediately. I was really initially broken by what happened to Maximus, and I wanted to have some good news before I went to everyone officially (though many people knew). I kept waiting, and waiting, and the good news was slow to come. And then, when he lived after the infections, I was just too exhausted for a bit. Mentally spent. I guess you do whatever you have to, but I have no earthly idea how people with human children with serious, long term illnesses make it through. A weekend spent with his life in the balance just completely drained me. I have spent my time since re-exploring the meaning of the term “grateful.” I am so grateful. There just isn’t any better way to say it.


There are varying reasons I haven’t had a litter in almost three years. After Evie’s IVDD incident last year, and her subsequent spay, my tiny breeding program was in tatters. I was unsure where to go or what to do, other than outcross my only intact bitch, Ryan, to the healthiest (and most correct; not easy in miniature wires) dog I could find. Maximus had produced some puppies who later went on to have varying degrees of IVDD, but the problems seemed to be almost exclusively limited to offspring out of bitches from one particular line. So, I (and others!) thought, just don’t breed Maxi to bitches from that line. After the problems became known, I disclosed to the few people who came to use him (or his sons) the problems I’d seen out of him, and refused two bitches (to their owner’s relief once I told them of the issues) from similar lines to the one with whom he’d produced issues. Once he hit eight years of age (he is nine now), I really thought I’d made the correct decisions. It seems as if most dogs who have what I think of as genetic IVDD are going to have it from four to seven years of age. After that, especially at ten or after, it seems to be more age-related. (These are simply my opinions, not scientific facts.) However, the number of problems around Maximus (Tania is his dam, and Evie is his half-sister on one side and his granddaughter on the other) indicate to me that in his case, it’s very genetic. Even at his age. How in the world is one supposed to have a breeding program when your best-producing stud dog doesn’t exhibit problems with a non-testable disease until age nine? While I x-ray spines at twenty-four months, I have found the results to be less than helpful. Tania had three calcifications. Evie had zero. And still they went down. All due respect to the Danish, who I believe require Dachshunds be x-rayed and have three calcifications or under to be bred, I think the problem of IVDD is far, far more complicated than numbers of calcifications. I actually have a theory, but that’s for another article.

Even before Evie’s issue, because of the overall lack of good conformation in miniature wires, I had been gravitating to the idea of attempting a breed down from standard wires. I have standard wire sperm that was initially intended for Evie. After Evie’s issue, I pursued the breed down idea in earnest. I have a standard wire bitch reserved from a line that is not only full of very correct and gorgeous movers, but very healthy Dachshunds in the thirty-some years this breeder has been breeding this line. She breeds a similar number of litters as I do, and follows her pet dogs closely, so I am pretty sure she would be aware of any problems. The majority of problems don’t generally occur in one’s own house, after all. My dirty little secret is that I prefer the in-between size of Dachshund, anyway. European standard size, large miniatures in the United States. In my opinion, eleven to sixteen or seventeen pounds is enormously functional and sturdy, and still easy to handle.   And it’s much easier to breed consistently correct ones than it is in the under eleven pound realm. If I were just breeding for conformation, maybe it would be easier? I don’t know. But when you are considering conformation with a large emphasis on the front assembly, “Dachshundy” temperaments, health, hunting ability (I want a very specific kind of hunter) and voicing, well…if size comes, great. If it doesn’t, well…size has never been a priority for me, anyway. To me, the former attributes are at the core of great Dachshunds. Great Dachshunds come in all sizes.

So, I have a long, long way to go. A small part of me wants to quit breeding altogether. A large part of me is plain heartbroken. Maximus and this line produced puppies that are very consistently pretty in type…many have lots of forechest and correct shoulder assemblies set well back from the neck and most are pretty movers. He produced laid-back in the house kind of dogs that are hell on wheels in the field, consistently voicing. Maximus is three champions from being the first wire DC ROMO of either size; that fact seems pointless now. So much of what I wanted, gone. But, another huge part of me is looking forward to a new adventure, with a new line and a new, very lofty goal. I was so lucky in so many ways the first time around…could I possibly be that lucky and more on the second try? We will find out. Thank God I am still relatively young! Wish me luck; I am going to need a LOT of it.

Maximus, who is now standing on his own, sloppily “walking” and has deep pain back in his rear feet, is currently at five weeks post issue. He still has control of all elimination and his tail wags beautifully, which is good for my soul! His cart from Eddie’s Wheels will be here just before the eight week mark. Perhaps he won’t need it long term...perhaps he will. I was counseled to wait on getting it to save the money. But I look at my boy, way past ready to return to his old life of going, going, going, and I know I have made the right choice for his mental health, regardless of outcome. He gives so much to me, and he has taught me so much, it’s the least I can do for him. I hope this cart ends up dusty in a corner, or donated to some other Dachshund, because Maximus is walking on his own again. But if that doesn’t happen, I know my boy will still be as happy as he was before, and that’s really all that matters.

I always knew that people with physical disabilities shouldn’t be pitied, and that they have just as much opportunity to live full and fabulous lives as their non-physically disabled peers. But I never truly understood that until now. Neither I nor Maximus needs or wants your pity. (Maxi-B says the only reasons you need to feel sorry for him is because he doesn’t get to bunny hunt 24/7 and he doesn’t get unlimited treats, lol.) His life will continue to be rich and full. Everything happens for a reason, even when the reasons aren’t readily apparent or fathomable. What a gift he has been to me, in so many ways. I am a fortunate girl.

 All photograpy by Christine Kim




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Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 11:22