Harvey is unwell

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.

- – - – -

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.

- – - – -

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!


25 Responses to “Harvey is unwell”

  1. I’m sorry to hear that Harvey is poorly. I hope that he continues to respond to the treatment and that he turns out to have the mild version of AIHA.

  2. Sorry Harvey is so sick. Hope he keeps getting better and it is not the fatal disease. My daughter’s 13 yr old boxer has been very sick the past few weeks.Seizures and is diabetic. Is on seizure meds and insulin twice a day. Today she was acting much more normal for her. I hope the same for Harvey. As you say the vet bills for treatment and meds sure do mount up fast.

  3. I hope Harvey gets back to full health soon x

  4. Best of luck for Harvey-a vital croft team member

  5. mummys little angel Reply 19 February, 2011 at 08:38

    poor Harvey, I hope he makes a good recovery.

  6. I’m thinking of Harvey, and sending good vibes for him and for all of you as you must be devastated at what is happening to your companion and champion ratter.

  7. Keep improving Harvey and we, Tiger, Towser and myself are all thinking of you mate.
    Pats from me and big licks and sniffs from my furry friends.

  8. best wishes to Harvey, he’s such a lovely wee man. check your email too for paypal notification, cant afford much but small contrib to vet fee fund for Harvey…

    • Thanks, much appreciated. Having ill or injured animals constantly reminds us how valuable the NHS is for people. With a pet, we see exactly how much it costs to pay for a vet, a veterinary nurse, day surgery, veterinary hospital with support staff, disposables, medication, scans, lab tests and more. Most people aren’t aware of those costs when they see a doctor or go to hospital because the NHS covers almost all of it. Perhaps people should get detailed invoices, as we do from the vet, spelling out the full cost of treatment so they can see just what they get and how we all support it via the tax system.

  9. Fingers crossed for poor Harvey.

    I agree completely with your comments about the ‘hidden’ costs of the NHS – I never take it for granted, but there are plenty who do. An itemised bill might make some of the Saturday night warriors think again! Our last cat cost us a fair whack in vets’ bills – but eventually the diagnosis of cancer when we had reduced income was the cause of the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

  10. I’ve just returned from taking Harvey on a circuit of the croft. We did the full perimeter, alternating between jog and brisk walk. He was tired by the halfway mark, at the end of an uphill stretch, and persuaded me to slow to a walk alone for the final stretch from the top gate to the byre. He’s now collapsed in the bean bag. Again.

    It’s a big improvement on yesterday, when Harvey was similarly tired but only after doing a straight line between the house and the furthest corner of the croft at a brisk walk. It will be a while yet before he’s back up to his brisk five-milers with me, but he’s definitely on the mend.

    Harvey is quite pleased at meal times. He usually has dry dog food, but as his throat is dry and slightly swollen he finds it difficult to swallow. We bought him half a dozen small cans of “gourmet” dog food today, giving him one a day for most a week. Harvey was ravenously hungry and scoffed his first one down in no time, before licking his bowl around the floor. He’d better not get used to it though: six of those cost more than a fortnight’s dry dog food fed twice a day!

    • Hope Harvey keeps getting better, and doesn’t need to much ongoing treatment. It’s hard when you have to make decisions about letting your pet go, when the costs become too much.

  11. Poor Harvey! Cassy & Zorro send a cuddle and a cheery song for him.

    On the serious side, we have been paying insurance for Cassy for six years and only once claimed a tiny amount back over the excess limit, (which, of course is great as it means she has enjoyed good health) but I groan every time I see the ever increasing monthly premiums as she ages…. but if ever she gets seriously ill, I suppose it will all have been worth it?

    We get so attached to our pets, though, especially the kids…. so here’s wishing the little chap a speedy and complete recovery !

    • Yes, several people have been in touch to say that we’re irresponsible for not having pet insurance.

      The actuality is that we budget £35 a month for veterinary bills, taking in the dog, the pigs and the poultry. In a good year, we’d spend about 80% of that and carry the rest over for use in bad year.

      However, the veterinary budget took a big hit last year when we had to put Graham, our old boar, down and use a vet for the job. The cost wiped out the budget, about a week before Harvey was due to go for his annual check-up.

      We put Harvey’s check-up off until February so we could build the veterinary budget back up, but as it it turned out he became ill a week before we’d have had the money plus a bit left over.

      Emergency treatment plus hospitalisation cost a lot more than a check-up, so we blew through the three month’s worth of savings intended for the veterinary budget and still had more costs to pay.

      Essentially, two big veterinary events saw us go from behind six months ahead on the budget to six months behind. And don’t forget that in addition to the costs mentioned in this post, we’ve had a further visit to the surgery and more medication to pay for.

      We haven’t been irresponsible, we’ve just been hit by two serious veterinary events in quick succession.

      As for pet insurance, the £10-15 monthly premiums for Harvey would take quite a lot out of our monthly veterinary budget, which also has to cover the pigs and poultry. There’d still be an excess to pay, too. (Insurance premiums for a variety of covers actually make up a large proportion of our budget.)

      So we’ll stick to budgeting for veterinary cover and accept that when it comes to big ticket veterinary costs, it may be necessary to put animals down rather than save them no matter what. It means we’re almost certainly out of step with current thinking but it doesn’t mean we’re irresponsible.

  12. I certainly didn’t wish to imply that it was irresponsible not to have Harvey insured! On the contrary… we feel that @ £22 a month, now that Cassy is 10+ is very extrvagant!

    Most of our friends who have multiple animals don’t have insurance…like you, they set ‘something’ aside each month…

    Seeing how little of the money that we have paid into our policy over 6 years (increasing premiums as she gets older)…it would probably have been a lot cheaperto have saved the money in a savings account…averaging the £11 a month premium when she was aged approx 4 and the £22 per month now, would have given us £1188 in the pot for a rainy day!
    However, hindsight is a wonderful thing….and at least we have the third party cover for if she mangles someone’s cat when it comes into our garden to do its ablutions.

    How is he today? hope the improvement is continuing!

  13. I hope my comments about the websites and fiancing didn’t offend you.

  14. Oh…. a check of my latest bank statement shows that the insurance for my very healthy (touch wood) Cassy has now risen to £26.20…despite my OAP reduction!


  1. Just chillaxing | Musings from a Stonehead - 3 October, 2011

    [...] Yes, it’s all too much for the dog! Harvey had his two-monthly check-up last Friday. (He suffers from Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anaemia.) His red blood cell count is finally back to normal, but his white blood count is still elevated. [...]

  2. Harvey is fully fit again | Musings from a Stonehead - 31 July, 2012

    [...] After a thorough physical, the vet said Harvey was extremely fit and very, very well muscled. She hadn’t expected to find him in such good shape given the nature of iMHA and how long he’d needed treatment. [...]

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