I will start his story at the beginning. In February or 2017, my husband and I drove to Utah to pick up our brand new baby little Staffie. Staffie is short for Staffordshire bull terrier. Although they are a different breed, I often describe him as a pocket pitbull. Take a beautiful pitbull and shrink them down half the size.
We had a hard time naming the little guy and a lot of people don’t like what we named him, but he ended up Li’l Fellar. For the most part he was having a normal puppyhood. We had his regular vaccinations, and then around May we took him back into the vet because he had an ear infection and a skin irritation for which they gave him some medication.
In July, he had a little limp in his back right leg. The poor puppy was diagnosed with Panosteitis – which are basically growing pains. Not to worry, the vet said he’ll will eventually grow out of it. Then a few weeks later, he seemed to have something called “cherry eye”. The vet gave him an eye drop to see if we could get this “third lid” to slide back into place. The next day, his eye was fine. Time passed, and he played hard just like a puppy would. We would take him to the beach with his older brother and play in the sand. We even tried to get him paddle boarding, but I don’t think that was his cup of tea.
Everything in his little puppy world seems to be going as planned, but then on Tuesday morning, August 22, 2017, I took him out to go to the bathroom at around two in the morning and everything was fine. Then at 5 o’clock in the morning when I took him out, I noticed he wasn’t behind me. When I looked back, his rear right leg was up in the air, and he was limping. We thought perhaps he was playing hard and just injured it. However, on Thursday, he was still limping so he took him to our normal veterinarian. She took some x-rays and consulted with an orthopedic doctor who thought perhaps he just had some trauma to his back right leg. It was suggested that we keep him quiet.
On Friday morning when I came home from work my husband said Li’l Fellar had been putting some more weight on the back right leg. I looked at him and asked my husband what was wrong with his front left leg. He was not weight-bearing at all. We called our normal veterinarian who suggested we go see a specialist as lameness in two limbs seemed a little unusual.
We took him to a specialist who looked at his history of having Panosteitis and told us that it was probably just growing pains in his front left leg. This is where preconceived ideas can hinder. Had we never told him about the growing pain diagnosis, perhaps he would’ve thought outside the box. But why? Everything presented as growing pains. They sent us home with some pain medication, and we listened to our little seven-month-old puppy cry all night.
As I felt this was unusual, we took him back to the specialist the next day. He said the growing pains could be very very painful, and he added on morphine patch to the back of his neck. My husband and I listened to our puppy cry all day and all night. Cry isn’t the correct word, more like Scream.
At 5 o’clock in the morning, I noticed that his front left leg was starting to swell massively. My husband took our other dog down to the beach and I believe at the time, my husband thought “psycho mommy”, but I took him back to the emergency veterinary clinic.
This is where the dark story begins. The emergency veterinarian was able to take a sample from his left front left leg, and it was full of bacteria.
They had done bloodwork which showed he had absolutely no white blood cells. This meant that he was incapable of fighting the infection.
They immediately admitted him and gave him some pain medication in an attempt to calm him down. We later learned that the vet techs also had to hear him scream all day.
The next day we were told that he had a massive infection throughout his entire body – not just the front left leg, but also in his tissue, his urine, and in his blood. Our little puppy was going septic. Basically, his entire body was infected with bacteria. They didn’t know which bacteria he had so they started him with IV antibiotics. They also sent the culture off to the lab to grow. What a horrible waiting game. The culture came back that he had something called streptococcus canis. Streptococcus canis is a bacteria that naturally occurs on a dog skin and usually does not cause any problems. However, our little guys’ immune system was not able to fight it off.
All of the doctors were scratching their heads. Did he have an underlying immune system issue or was somehow this the perfect storm?
We went from – yes, we can get him through this to we’re not sure if he’s going to get through this.
For the first five days, he was on four different IV antibiotics. Yet, his personality really didn’t change. The veterinarians were poking him left and right, but he just tried to lick them.
We would visit three times a day. Every time, we would lie in his little cage with him and just ask him to fight and not give up. The technicians were amazing. Keep in mind that as no one really knew what was going on internally, they couldn’t risk having us visit in the regular rooms. They didn’t want to chance any other animal in their hospital being affected. So when we did visit, we invaded their workspace. More often than not at 5:00am. However; we were always met with a smile, gloves, a gown, and his food ready to go so we could spend as much time with him as possible. Not once did he lose his appetite which I believe helped with the doctors’ decisions to advise us to continue with his treatment with the hopes of recovery.
If we were causing him pain, we needed them to let us know to let him go.
My husband asked the doctors this about three different times. Should we let him go? And each time, they said let him fight.
On August 2, the attending veterinarian said she was going to let him come home; however, with lots and lots of treatments which included us giving him subcutaneous injections, a nebulizer treatment, and tons of antibiotics.
On Sunday September 3rd, we were back on the roller coaster. X-rays showed that the infection had gone into his bone in the leg and perhaps affected his growth plate. Also, his kidney levels were elevated so he was immediately put back on IV fluids and all IV antibiotics. Then from out of nowhere, his temperature shot up to 105.7. A normal dog temperature is between 101 and 102.5.
For the next week, my husband and I visited three times a day. His temperature would go up and then come down to the 104’s. Then back up. I actually got to a point where I stopped talking to my friends because I couldn’t have told them if he was getting better or getting worse.
On Monday, September 11, when we were visiting I noticed that the front left ankle joint was swelling again. The doctor was able to draw some fluid and off it went to cytology. That was probably the worst night for me. If the report came back that the infection was there, that meant that the antibiotics were not working. These antibiotics have been proven to work with streptococcus canis. That night was the night that I cried myself to sleep because in my mind, I needed to decide where we would go if the cytology report came back as “bacteria”.
Now he had a swollen left leg, and the infection persisted in the back leg. He would try to get up and walk but was limping, and it was painful to watch. Most of the staff was falling in love with him. On top of everything else, because no one really knew what was happening internally, every time the techs saw him they had to put a gown and gloves. They couldn’t risk infection in any of the other animals at the hospital.
Finally on Wednesday, September 13, his fever broke. He came home on Friday, September 22, and we took him back twice a day for IV antibiotics.
Every time we would ask the veterinarians what they thought was happening inside his little body, they said they couldn’t tell us as he was writing his own story. Nothing that was happening was going according to the “books”. He may have been writing his own “book”, but the amazing doctors at the hospital had also been casting a wide net with the hopes that someone had a similar case. Li’l Fellar WOULD not be with us today if it weren’t for the caliber of doctors. Their knowledge and professionalism is without rival. Also, we directly attribute his survival to the care of the vet technicians. Fellar had been there so long that we knew the entire staff on a first name basis. The technicians also showed the best standard of care. We know that without both the doctors and technicians care, he wouldn’t be with us. We will forever be grateful to them.
It’s interesting from a human perspective how we deal differently in situations like this. To get a clearer picture of my personality, here’s a nice little anecdote. I’m a personal trainer, and one day I was speaking to one of my clients about what he finds attractive in a woman. He told me that it wasn’t necessarily a woman’s physique, rather, he looked for a bubbly and happy personality. To which I responded, “I guess that means you’re not attracted to me.” His response, “not in the slightest.”
I am pretty much that – glass is half empty kind of a gal. I always look to the negative, and I always think the absolute worst is going to happen. It didn’t matter that every day I went into his little crib and asked him to fight and fight. Every night, I went home and thought the worst.
Then, you have someone like my husband. Every day to him is beautiful, and it is inconceivable to see the negative in anything. Now, it is kind of funny that at the beginning of this whole process when I was adamant that we take our little baby boy to the vet when he had a limp, my husband said, “Nik, it’s a limp, it’s not going to be what kills him.” Hmmmm
I asked my husband if he thought about what would happen if our baby left the world, and his response was yes, he thought about it, but only for a second because he would not allow himself to go there. Only happy thoughts.
After an additional six weeks of antibiotics, it showed the infection had cleared from his back leg. His blood work was almost perfect, and he was cleared to be a “puppy”. In the four months that he has been out of the hospital, he has been healthy as can be. We will have him checked in May once his growth plate closes to see of there is any permanent damage. He runs, plays, jumps and lives as a normal puppy. He is a little clumsy with his left front leg, and if given a choice, he leads with his right, but he has adapted. The orthopedic surgeon is not only super impressed with how well he has recovered, but how much he still trusts doctors completely as they manipulate his joints.
Will we ever know for sure what caused his immune system to be compromised?
We will never really know, but if you remember right at the beginning I noted that we took him to the veterinarian for itching, and they had given him medication.
As all of the specialists were scratching their heads, they went over the list of his prior medications. A dermatological specialist had asked the hospital if anyone knew why our puppy had been given Apoquel. It is a fairly new and very effective drug on the market for basically dog allergies or dermatitis.
At the time, I wasn’t concerned about how this happened so I didn’t research this any further. However, as he started to pull through, I decided to research this drug some more. If you visit the company website, it says, “Do not use Apoquel in dogs under the age of 12 months old of age…. Apoquel may increase the chances of developing serious infections.” Li’l Fellar was less than 4 months old.
This drug is an immuno suppresser. On the company’s website it states, “a margin of safety study in six month old dogs was discontinued after four months due to development of bacterial pneumonia and generalized demodex mange infections in dogs in the high dose treatment groups …”
As I mentioned earlier, we will never know, but it is likely that this drug is the reason our puppy was not able to fight off the bacteria that he should’ve been able to do so.
We have spoken in length with our veterinarian about this medication, and I don’t believe all of the warnings about the usage of this drug on dogs under the age of one is widely known. We have one of the most amazing and caring veterinarian’s in the world, and we still trust them fully with his care; just as we will with all of our future dogs.
Li’l Fellar is a now a healthy Staffordshire Terrier, and in his honor, I am posting this on his first birthday. The first of many birthdays to come ……