Friday, September 18, 2009

Chale Update

I just realized that I never followed up on Chale's cancer diagnosis from June. A cyber friend of mine just lost her German Shepherd to Cancer earlier this week so I figured I'd provide an update on my boy's status. We went through many of the same challenges that she did with her dog but have had more positive news since the initial diagnosis.

After receiving the cancer diagnosis in June we were very sad but hopeful since Chale showed no symptoms of Cancer other than the low platelet count. We were dealing with the side of effects of the prednisone but, other than that, life was relatively normal. Two weeks after the diagnosis, his right front leg swelled up to more than twice its normal size from the armpit all the way down to his toes. We took him to the emergency vet to have it checked out. We were told that a chest x-ray was needed to determine whether or not there was a mass that was was restricting his blood flow and causing the leg to swell. While we were prepared to lose Chale after the initial diagnosis, we were not prepared to lose him that soon.

Luckily, the chest x-ray came back clear and there were no masses found. After meeting with an internist we were told that Chale had been misdiagnosed with cancer. The high dose of prednisone that he had been given to prevent tumor growth had actually masked the real problem, a blood clotting disorder likely caused by an auto-immune disease. It was a blood clot that had made his leg swell up and brought us to the emergency room. If that blood clot had not developed and we continued treatment for cancer it is possible that Chale would have bleed to death.

As if we weren't already pissed off enough at that point, the internist went on to say that he thought Chale had been misdiagnosed with Lyme disease a year ago, that his seizures (which started 5 years ago) seemed to be linked to an under active thyroid that went undetected and that the urinary tract infection that he developed earlier this year should have been recognized as a symptom of the auto immune disease. So essentially, our baby has been treated for the wrong illnesses for at least a year and a half now and these incompetent vets could have prematurely ended his life.

The only comfort that I can take in all of this is that Chale has not been suffering. We have been living our lives normally and he is his normal perky self. His quality of life has never been compromised. I think the worst part of all of this is the feeling of helplessness that we felt at the hands of so called experts. How were we to know that the vet missed something when they tested him in the past? Why would we ever question someone when what they say makes complete sense to us, the naive pet owners?

Chale has not had a seizure since March 2008. But it would have been better to add thyroid medications to his diet rather than raising the doses of the two anti-seizure drugs to the high dose that he is on now. The anti-seizure drugs are known to cause kidney and liver damage over time. While Chale's liver and kidney tests show that there has been some damage he is still in the high end of the normal range for a geriatric dog. I credit this 100% to the holistic supplements that we added to his diet to support his liver and kidneys at the same time that we started the seizure medications. Thanks to awesome support from some great alternative vets.

The high doses of antibiotics and steroids that Chale has received for Lyme disease, Cancer and the urinary tract infection essentially allowed the outward symptoms of the real problem to go dormant. If the blood test results would have been looked at more closely or additional tests performed to confirm the diagnosis, who knows what we could have avoided. But I'm not going to torture myself by thinking that way.

Chale is currently on a low dose of prednisone (an eighth of the dose that he started on) and ideally will be weaned off it completely over the next several weeks. We no longer see any of the side effects of the steroid since he is at such a low dose. The doctors have not clearly determined what has caused the blood clotting disorder but they are leaning towards ehrlichiosis, or another tick-borne illness, that should have been diagnosed and treated in 2008 instead of Lyme disease. Unlike cancer, Chale's body produces plenty of fresh white blood cells like it does in a healthy dog but the disease uses them up, resulting in the consistently low platelet count. Chale's platelet count has been in the normal range since we started him on azathioprine when we went to the emergency room. We still have the possibility of adding a blood thinner and thyroid prescription to his life but that is the least of our worries.

Chale will be 9 years old at the end of 2009. I understand that he is an old dog and even a health German shepherd doesn't live much longer than 10 years typically. But I cannot accept him dying prematurely from something preventable. So no, we won't be getting a new fence this year because of the thousands of dollars that we have spent on Chale this summer but I'd much rather have another year with my dog than a fence any day.

My only recommendation to my pet loving friends is that if your dog has a Lyme positive test, make sure it is actually Lyme disease. A Lyme positive test just means there has been exposure to an infected tick. That doesn't mean that the disease was passed from the tick to your dog. It can actually mean that the tick passed a completely different disease to your dog or that while your dog was exposed he did not contract the disease. Chale showed not symptoms of Lyme disease and had a very low positive diagnosis. According to our new vet these results should have lead to additional testing before treatment. He indicated that Lyme disease is commonly incorrectly diagnosed so before you get those antibiotics don't be afraid to ask questions! I hope no one else has to go through what we've been through this summer.

There is an episode of Mystery Diagnosis on TLC where a person went through our exact misdiagnosis. It explains all of this technical stuff much better than I have.

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