On the evening of Sunday 23rd January this year, Zephyr came in from the garden looking like this…
…I thought perhaps he had been in a scuffle with a badger, although we hadn’t heard anything. I bathed it in hibiscrub in case there was anything nasty lurking in it and went to bed. The following morning it wasn’t looking much different so I decided to ‘watch and wait’ before taking him to the vets (NOT his favourite thing to do!). By Wednesday it was looking more sore and appeared to have spread so I made an appointment to see the vet.
Zephyr will go in to the vets, wait in the waiting room, casually stroll around and enter the consulting room when it is our turn…..this is when it gets tricky. Zeph will only let the vet glance at him, possibly gently stoke him, but the moment they look more interested he starts to panic. He will either back away, try to escape or growl, depending on what they are trying to do. I will intervene before this happens if at all possible, sometimes it is a case of weighing up how much I think he needs to be examined against the stress it puts him under. On this occasion however, the vet didn’t need to examine him and could tell he was nervous. She could quite clearly see the sores on his nose without having to get Zephyr to cooperate in any way. Her opinion was that it was most likely an auto-immune disease known as Immune Mediated Pemphigus and she wanted to biopsy him the following morning. I was not happy with this plan as I needed time to prepare Zephyr for sedation and arrange time off work to ensure I could be with him. She agreed that we could try treating with antibiotics for 10 days, if it was an infection it would improve and if it was pemphigus it wouldn’t. This plan bought me some time so I went with it, I knew that pemphigus wasn’t life threatening, just caused discomfort so postponing a biopsy was possible and it gave me time to research and train Zeph. Zeph was feeling fine in himself other than scratching at his nose occasionally.
The last time I had Zephyr sedated was an extremely traumatic affair and I had vowed that I wouldn’t put him through that again. There must be another way or something I can do to make it less stressful. I knew that a biopsy was likely so used the time I had to look in to how we could do this in a way that Zephyr and I would be happy with. I had asked my vet when she mentioned the biopsy if there was a pre-med available and she said no. Thanks to some amazing friends in the ‘dog world’ and the reach of social media I started to get some information together and found a pre-med gel that I could give at home prior to the visit to the vet.
A couple of days later the sores still appeared to be getting worse and cases of Alabama Rot had appeared in the press as there had been some dogs diagnosed with it within a 50 mile radius. The sores associated with Alabama Rot are very similar to those Zephyr has and although he had no other symptoms I needed a vet to confirm that this had been ruled out. So I made an appointment to take Zephyr back to the vet earlier than planned.
We saw a different vet this time. She listened to my concerns, ruled out Alabama Rot and thought that a biopsy would be needed to determine the cause of the problem. She discussed Zephyr’s anxiety with me and looked up the gel I had researched. It is very new and she hadn’t used it before but she agreed to prescribe this for Zephyr. It would be available for me to collect in a couple of days, so we arranged the biopsy for the day after that.
I needed to desensitise Zephyr to the process of applying the gel. It needs to be applied to the gum and due to his size he would need quite a lot! I got some old syringes and started the process of getting him used to it. I only had 2 days, but did short sessions a few times a day.
On the morning of the biopsy I applied the gel with very little stress (phew), put Zephyr in the van and drove the 30 minutes to the vets (picking up my sister en route for moral support) and hoped that the gel would have taken effect by the time we arrived. When we arrived Zephyr seemed slightly dazed, but not as sedated as I would have liked. Having a quick discussion with the vet we decided that I would muzzle Zephyr and have his head facing me and keep him distracted, she would approach with no fuss and pop the injection straight in the scruff of his neck (his bum area is a no go!). This approach worked, he did jump and spin around but the injection was in by then. The needle got left behind when the vet moved out of the way but I was easily able to retrieve that and we waited for the sedation to take place. The vet had arranged for us to have a consulting room made available to us for the day so we could stay with Zephyr whilst the sedation took and again when he recovered, she also brought us a cup of tea whilst we waited. The sedative takes slightly longer to work if given in the scruff, so we settled down and waited.
When Zeph was fully sedated it took 4 people to carry him through for his biopsy after which he was returned to the consulting room where we sat with him waiting for him to come round. The vet had taken the biopsy, bloods and some skin scrapings to cover all options without Zephyr needing to come back for more procedures. When he came round and could walk without falling over we took him home and waited for the results.
A couple of days later we received a phone call to say that one of the blood tests was showing abnormally high white blood cells and as there had been a problem with the clotting of the sample they needed to re-test Zephyr to double check and get a correct result. Unfortunately this meant that Zephyr would need to be sedated again.
We ordered more of the gel and repeated the process before our appointment. This time it made no difference and Zephyr was highly suspicious and alert when we arrived at the vets again! The vet and I tried the same ‘quick & dirty’ tactic of sneaking up and putting the injection in his scruff again, but Zephyr knew what was going to happen this time and wouldn’t let her get anywhere near him. We discussed options and decided I would have a go at injecting him. I attempted it, but as I was also the one that had to hold on to him it was proving tricky and the longer he sensed something was going on the more frantic he got. We left it for a while, chatted and ignored Zephyr until he felt less like the centre of attention and settled a bit. The vet suggested we could try removing the needle and squirting the sedative up Zephyr’s nose. This is not something she had done before but the drug is licenced to be used this way so was an option. This piece of information made my heart sing! I knew this would be straight forward and Zephyr would let me do that with no stress. The vet removed the needle, and handed me the syringe. I asked Zephyr top lace his head on my hand which is something we have trained and as he was wearing a muzzle (also something we have trained for situations like this) I had something to hold on to. I held the syringe close to his nose and as soon as I was steady moved it slightly forward and plunged the sedative straight up his nose. Quick and painless! It took a while to work but who cares? The vet was then able to take the repeat blood sample and I could wait with Zephyr until he came round again.
We then had to wait again for all of the test results to come back. Nothing abnormal in his blood, no sign of pemphigus, no sign of ring worm, no sign of anything other than an infection which we treated with antibiotics, until Zephyr decided he wouldn’t take them anymore.
So, we are left with a mystery and a bill for £1000 (thank goodness for insurance!). If the sores come back then we need to go back pronto, but for now…….Zephyr just has a few scars on his nose to show for it!