Complicated Diagnosis in a Dog: Holly And Her Illness

Illness can get complicated and diagnosis such cases is a process.

Sometimes your veterinarian tries a treatment and it might work even though it is not clear what’s wrong. And sometimes the immune system and the body healing potential ends up having to do the job. Sometimes you just don’t know. All is well that ends well.

Thank you, Julia Davis, for sharing Holly’s story.

Complicated Diagnosis in a Dog: Holly And Her Illness

Holly’s story

This is my journey with my beloved Rottie, Holly. In October I took Holly to the vet as she kept sitting down when we went for a walk.  This went on for a week, and I decided that she just was not right.

One of her cruciate ligaments had completely ruptured. 

Holly’s bilateral knee surgery

She was booked in for surgery the following week and low and behold……her other one went! So two surgeries, two weeks apart it was! She recovered from the surgeries well, she was the perfect patient.

They had shaved her back (for a morphine patch) and, obviously, her legs. Her fur grew back on legs but nothing on her back! On the vet’s advice, she started hydrotherapy, and Holly was getting cartrophen jabs for her cartilages.

Complicated Diagnosis in a Dog: Holly And Her Illness

We were in and out of the vets at least three times a week for the first 6 weeks, and then fortnightly until April. 

In July, she went back for her cartrophen injection and vaccination. The bald patch on her back had still not grown back, which even her vet considered strange.

We have accepted that this was how she was going to be as she had been investigated for hair loss two years earlier and all testing came back negative.

She still didn’t seem keen on walking very far.

They suggested putting her on Metacam but we declined because she didn’t appear to be in pain or discomfort.

A bout of sickness

At the very end of September, she had a bout of sickness so I rushed her up the vet (she had destroyed a toy and I suspected that was the culprit). She also had a slight fever so we agreed to treat it as a bug. However, if no improvement within 48 hours, other investigations would need to be done.

The next day she was back to her normal self! 

We dutifully finished the antibiotics and all seemed well until the end of the week when she just didn’t seem right. I rang the vet and they said to observe or, if I was concerned, to bring her in. She was quiet for the rest of the day but did eat her dinner.

When I woke up the next day (Sunday), Holly was in a lot of pain. 

Emergency vet

I rang the emergency vet and took her in that afternoon. We saw a wonderful vet who was very straight and to the point. Holly had a temp of 40, and they put her on Metacam. The vet insisted that we bring her back in the morning for a scan. She was concerned as Holly’s “lady’s bits ” we’re swollen and so were her teats.

Holly had been like that for at least a year and our other vet had said it was nothing to worry about! 

Hubby took her in the next day and the vet said he would call.

Holly’s lump

We got a call to go back in the afternoon and that was when our nightmare began. 

The vet had found a lump which he suspected to be on her ovary, and he was going to remove it the next day. He had given her pain relief, put her on a drip, and was trying to get her temp down.

We gave her a kiss and cuddle and told her to be good. 

Complicated Diagnosis in a Dog: Holly And Her Illness

I will never forget that heavy feeling in my heart as we walked away, we drove home in complete silence, both of us too choked up to talk. Had my poor dog not been through enough?! She had just had her 6th birthday, was she going to see another?

We got a phone call the next afternoon to say that the op had gone well and a large lump had been removed and sent away to be tested. She was comfortable, snoring her head off and on a drip for fluids and pain relief. We agreed to not see her as she was so sleepy and sleeping was going to aid her recovery.

At work the next day I was counting down the hours until I could go as see Holly.

I got a call from hubby to say” I don’t want to alarm you but the vets have rung and need us over as soon as possible.

They had got her out to scan her abdomen and as they put her back in she had fitted on them. Off we both went again in silence, neither of us knowing what to say.

Holly’s knuckling

The vet had also mentioned Holly was knuckling

I had never heard of that! When we arrived we were told that her leg was knuckling under her, she had had a fit, and blood results said she needed a transfusion. Could it get any worse?!

They told us that knuckling is usually neurological and that there was  a possibility that the tumor had spread to her spine or brain and that we should seriously consider putting her to sleep. 

There was also a possibility that her bone marrow had been suppressed from excess estrogen and may never kick back in.

The technicial brought Holley on a trolley and gave us time with her to make our minds. A decision had to be made soon as the only pet blood bank in the UK was in Loughborough and would take about 3 hours to be couriered down.

As she saw us, the vets agreed that as ill and weak as she was her reaction to us was amazing. We spent about 15 minutes with her, she was getting lots of kisses and her little stump did not stop.

I looked into her eyes and could see that there was more life in this dog! 

Fight for Holly

Decision made! We were going to fight despite all the odds. She wasn’t ready to give up so neither could we. However we did stipulate that should something go wrong during the transfusion, which can sometimes happen, I requested they did not resuscitate. Those words were the hardest I had said.

Then we went home. They called when the blood arrived and went through it all again including our wishes and said they would call the next day if all went well or if the worse possible happened they would call no matter what time of night.

I got a call at 7 in the morning to say that the transfusion had gone well and that they would call in the afternoon with another update. 

Further complications

I got home from work at 2 pm to be told by hubby that we have got to go back. When we got there everything was fine but Holly wasn’t eating. They wanted to see whether she would eat for us. And she did eat from my hand!

We were talking to the vet just outside her kennel about when she could come home and out she came and then bang down on the floor…..her bloody leg!

Still did not know what was going on with it but their main concern was getting her blood levels up and then maybe investigating on a neurological level.

I went back that night to feed her again. She had a body stocking on as her wound was seeping. At this point, she looked very sorry for herself and I wondered whether or not I had made the right decision.

She seemed in pain and her breathing was heavy. The vet agreed she was in pain and gave her a pain jab there and then.

The quest for answers

For the next four days that was our routine, endless phone calls and visits. 

She was getting stronger on her leg, eating and drinking so they decided that she would be far happier at home. Holly came home about 8 days after her op, with a pain relief patch on that was going to wear off the next morning!

The next two weeks were spent at the vets nearly every day, having her wound re-dressed, as it was seeping and not healing properly. 

She struggled with pain as well and was put on Tramadol. She wasn’t eating much either and on a few occasions, I came home from work to find her shaking in her crate due to high temperature.

Her leg at this time still knuckled but was getting better slowly.

I remember taking her for a check-up and other pet owners whispering “oh look that dog must have been hit by a car.” Some days I just wanted to scream, I hadn’t slept in my bed, I was on the settee supervising my fur baby.

Eventually, they put Holly on a really strong antibiotic and told me off when I said that she was going to the park for “toilets” which may I add is about 5 houses away from me. Typical stubborn Rottie wouldn’t go in the garden so do you drag her out laying on her belly (where her stitches were) or walk her 10 seconds to the park? We chose the park!

I’m sure it’s her stubbornness that got her through it all! 

Holly does what she wants to do, not what the vet says she should! Eventually, her wound started to slowly heal and blood and lump results were in. Holly’s lump was suspected cancerous, however, no surrounding areas at this stage were affected so was a sit-and-wait situation. The next few weeks would tell whether her bone marrow was going to work on its own.

They also did a thyroid test at the same time and yep she tested hypothyroid! Holly got started on soloxine the next day and was at the vets every week with check-ups and blood tests.

At this stage, her leg was back to normal, no more knuckling!

Holly’s collapse

Just as we started to relax, Holly collapsed.

And the knuckling returned. They kept Holly in overnight and they ran blood tests on her. Her RBC has dropped from 33 to 28, we were told that there was a possibility the bone marrow was not going to work. However, it could just be where transfusion has dropped off and now maybe her body was going to kick in.

Sudden improvement

The next morning we could collect her she looked fine. Alert, eating, and dragging the vet around outside for a toilet. His words were she was as strong as an ox.

From that day we have not looked back!

Her leg was working fine, her fur has all grown back, even her second coat that she lost 3 years ago, she lost a lot of weight after the op going from a hefty 46kg to 36 kg and has now settled at between 38-40kg.

She was like a pup again!

I have my dog back. For how long? No one knows but my vet did say by rights she on paper should never have made it this far. Maybe, just maybe she will go the distance! Her knuckling ……no known reason, they have put it down to being in such a bad shape overall. Who knows?

We have now registered Holly with the emergency vet as they were spot on with her and gave her the best care ever! For now, everything is going well let’s hope it stays this way.

Related articles:
Understanding Canine Gait: Significance of Analyzing Your Dog’s Gait

Further reading:
How Does My Veterinarian Make a Diagnosis?

Categories: CCL injuriesCollapseConditionsHypothyroidismJoint issuesKnee issuesKnucklingMisdiagnosesPainReal-life StoriesSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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