This story is a bit long, but it’s one worth telling. It’s a story of the gift of life, made possible by loving commitment and determination. In the case of dogs, the rewards are almost always worth it and then some!
Sheree is an active member of the Dog Liver Disease (DLD) Yahoo Group, who shares her liver disease experiences and advice freely and generously. She has two Yorkies, both with liver shunts, who are now “alive and well and living in the suburbs”.
[Update 5/30/14]: She is now a moderator on this group, and has been for a while now. The group name is now the Dog Liver Shunt and Disease (DLSD) group: http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/DogLiverShuntandDisease/
The stories below are told by Sheree with minimal editing by me.
FIRST THERE WAS GABBY
She came into our lives as a puppy full of health and energy. At about four months of age, she started having bouts of vomiting and stomach pain. Poor little Gabby would roll around and cry, or would vomit so much in a short time that she appeared lifeless.
This is a frequent pose of Gabby’s to this day, especially when she’s asking to play! Little did we know at this time that she would become so sick. She was always such a sweet dog.
Misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, vet after vet, the problems kept resurfacing every few weeks. We finally thought she would have some stability after she was diagnosed with IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) and put on special canned food, but when we took her to Florida with us, she became very sick towards the end of the two-week stay.
One night she vomited over and over in the middle of the night while we were in an unfamiliar place. We found an animal emergency room open and took her in. They gave her some fluids and we left with her about an hour later, but she got sick again almost as soon as we were back in bed.
By that time, it was almost morning, so we found a vet hospital nearby where they immediately put her on an IV and gave her medication to alleviate her symptoms. We left her there to have blood work done and fluids replenished.
When we returned, the vet told us Gabby might have a liver shunt based on her blood work, symptoms and history. That was the first time we’d heard the words “Liver Shunt”!
When we got back to Michigan, I made it my mission to get to the bottom of Gabby’s health issues once and for all. I researched liver shunts online, resulting in my taking Gabby to the MSU veterinary teaching hospital. There she had the amroid constrictor ring put on in 2003. She was two years old.
One year later, she was sick again! We took her back to MSU. She had blown another shunt! They performed the surgery to close off the shunt, and we came home with a “guarded” prognosis. Little did I know that blowing new shunts, could and would continue to happen. At the time I was not aware of the medical management and supplements that I now know about from the DLD group.
I found the Liver Shunt group in August 2007 and started Gabby on the recommended supplements and proper food and diet. Thanks to the DLD group and especially Olga’s (the founder and head moderator) support and advice, Gabby has been enjoying the best health since her symptoms began. I only wish I had known about the group when Gabby was first sick and diagnosed. The support and information would have provided us with much needed help and saved us from a lot of extra time and grief.
Gabby is now 8-years old and as loved as she is spoiled (in the best way possible of course).
THEN THERE WAS HARLEY
Harley was a 3-year old Yorkie rescue from Illinois that needed liver shunt surgery. He was very sick and had severe aggression issues, which is a common symptom of Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE). Harley was transported to Michigan where Olga fostered him until he was stable enough to have the liver shunt surgery and amroid constrictor ring put on in November 2007. He did well after the surgery, eating the prescribed low protein RCH (Royal Canin Hepatic) kibble, taking antibiotics and a number of supplements.
When I first saw pictures of Harley, known as “Charlie” at the time, I fell in love with him. There was something about his eyes that haunted me. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and convinced my husband to consider him for adoption. After all, we were already familiar with LS and the related issues, and this little guy needed a forever home where he could get the love and care he needed and deserved.
We took Gabby with us to meet Harley and Olga for the first time at a nearby park. All went well and my husband not only agreed to adopt him, but he has been as committed to making Harley a part of our family as I was! He even considers Harley “his” dog.
When Harley came to live with us at the beginning of May 2008, boy was he a challenge! He was a sweet dog much of the time but could turn aggressive (“turn Cujo” as we would say) in a heartbeat. I knew Olga had said he was aggressive and that he had bitten her on several occasions, but I was not prepared for anything like this! After months of patience, work and several pretty bad dog bites, I am pleased to say that Harley has turned out to be one great little dog! It has taken persistence and love, but he now completely trusts us and I believe he knows we love him and that he is in his forever home.
I recently sent Harley’s first foster mom in Illinois some pictures of him, and let her know how great he’s been doing. His pictures and update are now on the “Pet Wall” at PETCO where she works. Needless to say, she was thrilled to hear about Harley.
Gabby, however, wasn’t so sure about Harley in the beginning, especially when he had aggression episodes.
They co-exist quite well now. In fact, I think having Harley with us has made Gabby more confident and comfortable around other dogs. She has also benefited from the additional supplements that Harley was taking as they’ve been added to her diet as well. They are getting closer together, but slowly, an inch at a time.
Having two LS Yorkies is a challenge and comes with added responsibility and expense, but the unconditional love Gabby and Harley give us is amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Gabby is my little heart-and-soul dog. We’ve been through so much together. And Harley’s story and transformation is amazing because it is a story of many caring people coming together to give a sick dog a chance at a good life.
Look at him now! This photos shows him checking out Gabby, who loves to float on “her” raft in the pool.
Hepatic Encephalopathy, or “HE” is most simply described as brain disorders due to liver disease. I posted more info on HE a couple posts down.
HE symptoms can include shaking after a meal, aggression, glassy eyes and lethargy. The reason such neurological symptoms are expressed by dogs with liver disease is because damaged livers cannot efficiently clear the blood of toxins or proteins. When toxins remaining in the bloodstream travel to the brain, they cause the neurological symptoms.
A restricted low protein diet reduces the amount of protein in the blood and thus reduces the load on the liver. If the damaged liver can handle the reduced load, then the blood can stay relatively toxin free so that HE symptoms will be less likely to develop. Efforts to manage the liver disease condition and symptoms can make all the difference in a dog’s quality of life as well as his or her lifespan, but even the best efforts will not provide a cure or a symptom-free life.
Understandably, dogs on such restricted diets are often hungry. Some people supplement their dogs’ meals with natural pumpkin, which is low in protein and may help the dog feel more full. White potato soaked in water to remove potassium and phosphates, then boiled in new water and cooled was another recommended food by members of the Dog Liver Disease (DLD)** group.
[Update 5/30/14]: Now called the DLSD (Dog Liver Shunt and Disease) group. Yahoo group URL is now:
Yesterday…today… it’s all starting to look the same to me!
I am currently waiting for more news on Daisy and also waiting for text and photos to come in for some the dogs of the frequent posters on the Dog Liver Shunt and Disease (DLD) Group. In the meantime, you really have to see this picture of Shaili.
Kelly, the mom of Shaili (pronouced “shay-lee”) also sent me some info on her little athlete to go with the action photo of her below. Apparently she is at the top of her breed in agility which is pretty cool.
Kelly and Shaili are new members on the DLD group since Shaili’s recent blood work came back with some high Blie Acid Test (BAT) numbers and high ALT (Alanine aminotransferase).
“But what does this mean”, you ask. Well, I’m going to have to explain in another post. I did the research to find explanations in plain english, but then the post ended up being way too long, so just know for now that the results indicate that the liver isn’t fully functioning properly due to damage or dimished capacity.
I promise to post more info using Shaili’s stats, but I don’t have it in me right now.
Kelly wrote in her email to me that they rescued Shaili from “a less than ideal situation” and shares with us Shaili’s other health conditions as well as the agility work and play they have, and still do, enjoy together:
“[Shaili] is my “heart” dog and incredibly special to me. She has had her share of medical issues including luxating patella surgery, tooth extractions, Mast Cell tumor removals and severe hip dysplasia. However, she has always been a busy little thing, so I decided to try agility with her back in 2000, and she has since earned 100 agility titles (including several Championship Titles) in multiple agility organizations.
I tell her I love her every day and we will still play agility as long as she feels good. So far she has just been diagnosed with high ALT and elevated Biles Acid, so we are taking it day by day …we are cautiously optimistic that she will be OK and with us for many more years!!”
Kelly is understandably confused, because even after receiving the results from the Bile Acid Test (BAT), she doesn’t know exactly what is wrong with Shaili’s liver. From what I can tell from the reading I have done, the test does indicate liver disease but is not enough to show how severe it is, exactly what kind of liver disease it is, and what the prognosis is. Shaili is getting an ultrasound next week. If another step is needed after that it is often a liver biopsy.
Although Kelly reports that Shaili “is acting completely normal, great appetite, very active, doing all her normal stuff,” the symptoms may not express themselves until the condition worsens. The good news is that Kelly may have caught the disease in a relatively early stage and can manage the condition with the help of the DLD group so that it doesn’t get worse, and may even improve her liver functioning by putting less of a load on it with proper diet and supplements.
The reason the BAT was done was probably because her bilirubin count was normal. Mike Richards, DVM, states on his web site that “When there is reason to be suspicious of liver disease but bilirubin levels are normal or close to normal, then bile acid testing can be very useful since it is a more sensitive indicator of diminished liver capacity.” Will have to define “bilirubin” later too! (http://www.vetinfo4dogs.com/dlivtest.html Tests for Liver Disease in Dogs)
I hope everyone enjoyed meeting Shaili and learned a little bit more about liver disease in dogs.