as told by his family
We went on vacation the first week in August, and had boarded our 9-year old greyhound, Mareo, while we were away. We left on a Saturday, and on Wednesday the boarding facility called to say that he was not eating, his leg was bruised and swollen, and he was limping; they suggested they transport him to our vet. When he arrived at our vet, the bruising was extreme -- dark purple and all over the inside of his right hind leg and there was serious swelling in that leg. He was also running a fever. The vet catheterized him, gave him IV fluids, and ran many tests. The possible causes ran from rat poison to snake/spider bite to autoimmune disease to cancer – but no firm determination could be made. They couldn't pinpoint the cause, but were treating his symptoms with drugs, fluids and massage. On Friday, the vet called to say that the extreme bruising had spread to his stomach and to his other leg; his other leg was also swelling. On Saturday, while we were still away, our vet called to say that his blood was not clotting. Because of his condition, this new complication, and their weekend staffing, they recommended that we transfer him to a veterinary specialist/emergency practice about 20 miles away that had round the clock staffing. We had him transported there, where they performed another battery of blood tests, x-rays, and referred him to a veterinary internal medicine specialist in the practice. The internal medicine specialist put him on extremely high doses of steroids – because we didn’t (and still don’t) know the cause of the vasculitis, she could only treat the symptoms.
We returned home on Sunday night, and they invited us to come by and see him no matter what time we got in. We were shocked – he was weak, he had horrible eggplant purple bruising on the inside of his back legs and stomach; most shocking was the appearance of his hind legs, which were deformed looking due to the swelling – edema that sometimes wept fluid. We picked him the following day, with an appointment scheduled with the internal medicine specialist on Wednesday. On that day he had another blood test (D-Dimer) and more meds prescribed (including Plavix, for which there is no generic alternative and we have to get it from the local pharmacy). He was limping and had muscle loss in the leg in which everything started, he wouldn’t put weigh on that leg and stumbled easily on uneven ground. A follow-up appointment on 8/17 at the veterinary specialty practice included an exam by an orthopedic surgeon in the practice and x-rays, which suggested that in the early days of his vasulitis he had “thrown a clot,” causing reduction of blood flow to the affected leg.
All we could do was continue the course of steroids and pray they did their job. But he didn’t get better. After many days on the steroids, a muscle-wasting drug, this greyhound (who is ALL muscle) was suffering. As he lost muscle, he was less able to stand. He also developed a urinary tract infection. Things were looking very bad. He couldn’t stand unaided. He had to be diapered because his urinary tract infections caused a constant trickle of urine. He had many visits to the vet. On one particularly bad day, the vet confirmed that the steroids were killing him and that he would have to be quickly weaned off them; she would replace them with a combination of non-steroidal drugs. She didn’t know how effective they would be – steroids are the gold standard for treatment of vasculitis, and the vet was afraid his vasculitis would kick back in when we removed the steroids.
Mareo was on a 24-hour drug regimine. My husband and I created a spreadsheet to keep track of what he needed to take and when. He was unhappy – he couldn’t get upstairs to sleep in our room (his usual sleeping place is in my walk-in closet) and he didn’t like being alone. My husband and I took turns sleeping downstairs with him. For many weeks, it did not look good. The vet described his condition as “guarded.”
We were lucky. As the steroids were withdrawn, his symptoms did not return. Once we had completely weaned him off the steroids (several weeks), he began to regain some muscle. After several more weeks, he was finally able to struggle to a standing position, unaided. After a few more weeks, he could walk without stumbling. Every day we saw tiny, incremental improvements. Mareo is now in complete remission. They still have no clue what caused his vasculitis, but he is a happy, funny, curious, energetic dog again.
The total vet bill has been close to $4,000. This has been a very difficult time for us – emotionally (we had lost our 19-year old dachshund earlier in the summer) and financially (the economy has hit my husband’s freelance writing business hard). The Brown Dog Foundation made a small dent in that expense, for which we are very, very grateful. Thank you Brown Dog Foundation!