Harvey, our Border Terrier, is unwell. In fact, he was seriously ill earlier in the week but is now considerably better although he’s still not in full health.
On Tuesday, with the Other Half and the boys away visiting her parents in Dundee, Harvey and I had a normal morning of work.
He was as inquisitive and energetic as ever but when we came in for lunch Harvey seemed a little more tired than usual. It was as if we’d just come back from a brisk five-mile walk instead of ranging about the croft.
About an hour after we came in, the Other Half and the boys returned from Dundee.
Harvey was his usual hyper-excited self at having the rest of the pack back, shot outside and was all over the boys.
Then he raced up to the truck to greet the OH, only to suddenly collapse and urinate uncontrollably.
When I checked him over, Harvey was semi-conscious, pale, clammy and shivering. The urine was dark and smelled truly awful: if you’ve dealt with an elderly person or a baby with a urinary tract infection, then you’ll know the sort of vile stench I’m talking about.
We scooped Harvey up, put him in the back of the truck, the OH jumped back behind the wheel, the boys leapt into their seats and the four of them headed off to the vet.
I went off to check the croft for dead rats, mice or birds.
We haven’t had baits out for some weeks now, and we’re very careful how we use them, but with those symptoms there was a chance he’d eaten the poisoned carcass of an animal that had eaten a bait on one of the other properties near us and then found its way onto the croft.
I found nothing.
I also looked up the doctor’s information on the two types of bait we used, then phoned the veterinary surgery.
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Now, I’m not saying that I thought Harvey had been poisoned. To my mind, Harvey probably had one of three conditions that I’ve come across that present some of the symptoms he’d displayed.
The three that came to mind were: rat bait poisoning, a urinary tract infection or Auto-Immune Hemolytic Anaemia (AIHA)/Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (iMHA). (AIHA is the older term, iMHA the newer.)
In the short term, the one that was most likely to be lethal was rat bait poisoning so I needed to give the vet as much information as possible, just in case.
When I phoned the surgery, I passed all the information to the receptionist, plus the absence of other toxins (metaldehyde poisoning from slug pellets is particularly bad but we don’t use them), details of Harvey’s worming schedule (last done mid-January), the condition of the other animals on the croft and the full background on our morning.
When the OH returned home, without Harvey, she said the vet had described him as being a very sick dog.
The vet also suspected the three conditions I’d thought of.
She scanned him with ultrasound, which reveal no signs of abdominal bleeding. Harvey’s spleen was also in good condition. Together, this suggested poisoning might not be the culprit but it could also have been that he’d only recently ingested poison.
The vet took blood and urine samples for basic testing, while others were dispatched to the lab.
Nothing conclusive could be determined from the immediate tests, except that there was blood in Harvey’s urine.
The vet decided to treat him for rat bait poisoning and keep him in their hospital section for further observation.
When I phoned the surgery for an update on Wednesday, the vet said Harvey had a fever and was now on antibiotics on well. The fever tended to point towards a urinary tract infection.
He was still very weak, but could have come home if we could have provided a calm, quiet environment. That’s not something to be found on a working croft with two young boys, so we decided Harvey should stay at the surgery for a further night.
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The OH and the boys picked Harvey up from the surgery after school on Thursday.
He was a sight, with a shaved belly and legs, and a totally dejected look.
I was clearly the culprit in Harvey’s eyes as he made a point of deliberately ignoring me for the next two days.
If I went to pat him, he’d sniff and look away. If the OH and the boys were around, he’d put on his best “woe is me” look and accept all the attention he could get.
Of course, it didn’t help that I’m the one who gives him his medication: a huge Vitamin K pill three times a day and a large antibiotic capsule twice a day.
By this morning, Harvey was recovering well although he was careful to look pathetic when he thought any of us were looking at him.
If he thought we weren’t around, particularly when we were outside, he’d have his ears pricked, his tail up and a boing in his step.
The vet phoned mid-morning to tell me the lab results were suggestive of AIHA.
AIHA is an auto-immune disorder that can be triggered by an infection, bee sting or vaccinations. In essence, the dog’s immune system decides its red blood cells are the enemy and starts destroying them.
There is a genetic element to AIHIA, with about a dozen breeds having a higher risk of developing the disorder. It’s also more common in females than males. (The Russian Black Terrier Club has one of the better background articles on genetic disorders.)
Harvey was unlucky. Border Terriers are not one of the high-risk breeds and he’s male.
AIHA can present itself as a mild condition that clears with the short-term use of steroids, as a chronic condition that reduces a dog’s life expectancy and needs prolonged medication (and even blood transfusions), and a fatal condition when it has a very rapid onset with liver involvement.
The disorder also has quite nasty complications as the dying red blood cells release coagulants that can form clots in the heart and lungs. Fragments of the red blood cells lodge in the kidneys, affecting renal function and, as we saw, staining urine with blood.
So, Harvey went back to the vet again for another check this afternoon. He had more blood taken and we were given another bottle of medication for him: steroids this time.
As always, he was perfectly behaved for the vet but, in a sign that he’s definitely on the mend, he decided to challenge a Weimaraner that was much, much bigger than him. It ignored him, apart from a single bark.
- – - – -
While the evidence so far is suggestive of AIHA, Harvey still has to be treated for poisoning and a UTI just in case.
He’s now even less impressed with me, if that’s possible, as I have to give him four different pills twice a day and two a third time.
On the positive side, Harvey was much more perky this evening—although he had to keep reining himself in to maintain the woeful look that guarantees him pats, hugs, treats and continued use of the bean bags instead of his bed.
On the negative side, it was a close run thing and if he has a chronic manifestation of AIHA it could get very expensive fast.
The first consultation, blood and urine tests, two night’s stay at the surgery and medication came in at £158. And we still have to get the bill for today’s consultation and medication.
Fortunately, the surgery was happy for us to pay £100 now and the rest in a month’s time but the veterinary budget was already low thanks to the costs of putting down Graham, our old Berkshire boar, last year.
So it looks like a further tightening of the belt is in order, although I’m not sure how at this point. And if Harvey turns out to have chronic AIHA with the need for daily medication, then I don’t think we can afford that.
But that’s a bridge to be crossed in the future.
For now, Harvey is definitely much better and happily ensconced on the boys’ beanbags immediately in front of a very warm radiator.
I’m sure I can detect a feeling of smug satisfaction emanating from him!