Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dog Days!

It was the day after the day I visited my sister’s house nearby that I first observed his difficulty. Somewhere in March 2009.

A big snake (cobra?) had come into my sister’s house as she was in the kitchen. She froze in fear on seeing it enter the hall passing through the kitchen, but regained composure and quickly bolted out to call help from neighbours. A good crowd had gathered and each one poured instructions on what to do, ranging from closing the door to killing and burning it. Finally, they decided to call the snake park authorities. Within an hour or two, a person from the snake park came but the snake was not to be seen. After a good search, it was found coiled between pillows stacked on the bed and was removed, without causing any harm to the snake or the curious watchers who had all come into the house, right into the bedroom! Given the mindset of the people here, I was told that her bedroom turned into a sacred place for the next few days, as people thronged, looked at the pillows and worshipped an imaginary snake god there by reverently touching their cheeks.

My sister narrated all this in detail over the phone to me that evening as I reached home after work, after all the commotion was over. I too decided to have a look at the place and took my nephew and my dog Rishi. There, believe it or not, the dog, my sister says, sniffed the entire route the snake had taken inside her house exactly as the snake made it - right from the entry point in the kitchen till the place it rested on the bed between the pillows. Going by his sniffing pattern, it was very evident that the snake had tried to climb all the windows to find an exit but unable to find any, had finally climbed up the bed and buried itself between the pillows.

The next day, during the early morning walk, Rishi, on his usual sniffing and marking routine, suddenly jumped startled at something on a dry coconut palm leaf. We thought he might have been bitten by ants or bee or some insect. However, after about 10 minutes walk, he stopped abruptly, lowering his head to the ground and appeared gasping for breath. That was something strange to me, because he had never done that so far. We used to walk about two kilometers every morning without any difficulty and today it was not even a fourth of that distance. While I did not panic, I worried if something poisonous had bitten him. However, he quickly recovered within a minute and started walking back to home, but before reaching the house, he made several stops, each time lowering his head to the ground but keeping his back up and gasping for breath. I couldn’t help wondering if this had anything to do with the snake or its smell that the dog sniffed the previous day.

We took him to the vet that evening. There, as the vet was examining him, the dog purged dark-green and foul-smelling. We had just given deworming tablets the previous day. While the vet suspected intestinal problem, he decided to watch for a few days and asked us to examine his feet for any boils. That was the mistake we did, for there were boils and we thought that was it. The dog also began to improve in the next few days, bolstering our assumption that the difficulty in walking was because of his feet and the purge was because of the deworming tablets. That was not to be.

After three weeks, the same symptoms started again. Only this time, the dog was getting weak day by day. He stopped eating and refused to walk. It was very clear that his ailment was something major. We rushed to the vet, only to find him gone for a week on holiday. The pharmacist next door suggested another vet, an elderly gentlemen who had retired as the dean of the veterinary college and was practicing nearby. He thoroughly examined the dog. His condition was worsening now. He purged dark black, tar-consistency now. The vet suspected, besides severe infection by worms, some kind of injury to the spine and gave a heavy dose of deworming tablets and asked us to massage his back and spine. This was of no help. Rishi developed other problems too. He salivated too much, with foam forming at the edges. He could not chew or bite even soft food like cooked rice. His hind legs started turning awkward as he was trying to pass stools and after that he was not able to steady himself, and started falling on the ground frequently. Soon afterward, he lost the strength even to get up and just lay down, urinating in drips all around the place and making a mess of the entire house. We had to lift him physically and put him in a separate balcony. At this stage, the vet gave up and asked us to take him to the veterinary hospital immediately.

Fortunately, my son who is studying engineering had come on his terminal holidays. He and I quickly built a make-shift stretcher using available material and took Rishi to the hospital. We went a little late and the hospital had already closed for consultation. They took him in the casualty section and administered drips to stabilise him for examination. We narrated his gradual deterioration. They found absolutely no response in his hind legs and the tail section too and came to a conclusion that the dog must have injured himself severely in the spine during some fall, and asked us to come the next day for a detailed examination by the doctors who would be available only early in the morning. We found out that a positive aspect of getting there at a non-working hour is that it gave the on-duty interns a lot of time to write a detailed case sheet, which was very helpful the next day.

The next day, a team of doctors attended to the dog. They checked every part of his anatomy. X-ray was taken of his spine and hind limbs. Seeing the wet film, the ortho specialist gave a clean chit to the skeleton. He ruled out any injury or deformity. However, since there was no movement or sensation in the hind limbs, he suspected neurological degeneration called degenerative neuromylopathy and explained the hospital’s inability to get the medicine for this, but offered help in finding a medicine that could be imported. He prescribed physiotherapy and shortwave diathermy to lessen the pain the dog could be suffering at the joints.

In the clinical section, they took samples of blood, urine and stool, and administered further drips to stabilise the dog, as he was found to be anemic and dehydrated. We were asked to report daily.

On the third day, the tests revealed that the dog had suffered a severe attack of parasites that had got into its bloodstream, reducing the haemoglobin level to just 5% as against the minimum requirement of 16%, thus depriving the blood of its ability to carry oxygen to the heart and other parts. They diagnosed the disease as babesiosis, a rare disease that is passed on to dogs (even humans can get it) by ticks through protozoa the ticks carry in their mouth. I do remember Rishi suffering a steady presence of ticks for a month about 18 months back, but that was controlled with both external medicine and an injection. After that, we have not observed any tick on his body. May be the protozoa entered his blood stream then and started causing the damage now.

Rishi was put on antibiotics and a specific drug Clindamycin along with Sporlac and medicine for anemia. Knowing the diagnosis made by the clinical department, the orthopaedics also set aside their treatment for the time being and suggested us to go along the clinincal findings. We could see remarkable recovery. The dog which was just lying on the stretcher unable even to turn sides started lifting his head and observe what was going on, and by the end of the first week, was even trying to get out of the stretcher!

I have never handled so much medication in my life, either for me or for my family. The daily routine ran like this, in the morning and again in the evening: Open the Clindamycin and Renerve capsules and empty the powder in a small vessel. Powder the other two tablets – sporlac (spores of lacto bacillus for curing the stomach) and supradyn (multi-vitamin) and add this to the vessel, along with Dexorange (iron for improving blood), Liv-52 (liver cure), calcium granules, honey and date syrup. Mix all these into a paste and make the dog take this. During the initial days when the dog was almost inactive, I had no difficulty in applying this paste to his tongue. However, as he improved, he refused to take this mixture. So I had to apply this paste to bread slice, soak it in milk and make him eat.

We took him to the hospital after 10 days. Another blood test was taken and this showed definite improvement in the blood constitution – haemoglobin had increased to 9%. Encouraged by the response to clindamycin, they doubled the dosage of this medicine for the next two weeks. Plus, the combo of the other medicines had eradicated all the parasites in his blood and upped the energy level as well. We could see that the dog was recovering all his abilities one by one. First, he achieved bladder control. Then, he started getting hungry. He started to get up on his own and move about. By the end of the third week, he is now almost normal, except for the former strength in his hind legs, which the doctors are very positive the dog will get in due course of time. We were advised to stop Clindamycin and Sporlac and continue with the rest, which are all general medication for improving health.

This morning, he made a good walk along the roads encircling my house on all four sides, sniffing and marking all the way, without ever stopping or gasping. He has started scratching his hind feet on the road – this is something he does to wear away the nails – a definite sign of getting his strength back there! It is such a relief to see him back to health again.

As I sat outside the entrance reading the newspaper, Rishi glanced at me from the place he usually sits – right in the middle of the doorway, letting his front paws hang at the edge of the tiled flooring. I could see in his eyes that the twinkle is back and he is ready to tease any snake that may pass by!

I wrote a good thank-you letter to the hospital, this time the flow coming from the bottom of my heart!


P.S: After the remarkable recovery and apparently a very healthy stint for about 4 months, Rishi suddenly took ill on 26 Sept and despite the best medical attention at the same hospital, passed away at home on 28 Sept 09 peacefully, gracefully and without giving an iota of trouble or difficulty but burdening us with tons and tons of grief. Please pray for his soul! I am sure you will, if you look at how beautiful and kind he was!

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