President’s Story: A Lucky Rescued Great Dane
An Amazing Great Dane Rescue is Just the Beginning
“The animal shelter I volunteer at called to let me know there was this abused, skinny Great Dane they were going to have to put down. Apparently, this lady and her husband considered themselves Great Dane breeders, and then, when they split up, she kept the dogs in tiny, narrow, home-made cages and starved this one down to 50% of his body weight, because he was her ex-husband’s favorite. Can you believe that?” said President’s dad of the past 8 years.
Unfortunately, if you are an animal doctor for long enough, we’ve all heard a story beginning somewhat like this one.
“My heart just broke at the thought of a Great Dane losing his life. My 15-year old Dane Carnival traveled everywhere with me and he has just passed away. I jumped in the car and hit the gas to get to that shelter before they could put him down. I think I blew every red light on the hour-long trip!”
“A Great Dane born today is expected to live 8 to 12 years. 15 is extraordinary,” says Doc Truli.
“President was nervous and cowered the first few weeks I had him. Especially if he was around any people other than myself. I was still kind of raw from losing Carnival, so I found President a great adoptive family. He lasted there 3 weeks. Then, unfortunately, a guest to the house left the door open a little and President and the other 2 dogs slipped out into the neighborhood. President ended up snarling at a neighbor when he tried to grab for President’s collar and the neighborhood turned against him. They did not understand his psyche was still healing from his recent abuse and they did not want to hear it. He was in danger of being out down all over again!
“So that was it. He hasn’t left my side since then. And look at him, he’s a big mushball lover puppy,” said President’s rescue forever dad of the last 8 years.
“He’s had bloat surgery, he’s had his spleen removed to cure cancer, he had hip surgery when he was younger, and now he wears these black neoprene dog booties that attach with velcro and has rubber grips on the bottom. Otherwise, his arthritis gets to him and he can’t walk across tile or hardwood floors,” said President’s dad, “His abuse situation was so bad, it became the first felony animal abuse conviction in that county!”
President, the Great Dane, Faces a Difficult Health Problem
Doc Truli examined President. He looked fine, except for his hips crackled and stiffened when Doc tried to flex or extend them. But we already knew President’s hips had issues. He took glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and Adequan injections every month to help the arthritis. It had been over a year since the day when he couldn’t get up because his hips hurt, and the regimen was working!
“Doc, President keeps vomiting up his food. We feed him in a tall Dane buffet feeder and sometimes, we soften the food with water. But most days, it just seems to come back up. He doesn’t even care. After he pukes, he goes back and eats some more,” said President’s dad.
“Does his stomach heave when he pukes?” Doc Truli asked the all-important question.
“No, it just comes up. He doesn’t even register it some days.”
Tru Tip: Be Sure If Your Dog Is Vomiting or Regurgitating
Physiologically speaking, vomiting involves an active abdominal component. If a dog just pukes up food or water like it is falling out of their throat, with no stomach heaving, then that is regurgitation, not vomiting, and the problem is located somewhere from the diaphragm on up, not from the stomach back. This one distinction can save hundreds of dollars in useless diagnostic radiographs and can help find the diagnosis that would otherwise be missed,” says Doc Truli.
President’s X-Ray Results
President had a gigantic, floppy, useless esophagus. Normally, the esophagus is a muscular tube that squeezes in sequence to push food and liquid down into the stomach. Kind of like us squeezing a tube to get the contents to come out the hole at the far end. In President’s case, there was no more squeeze left! Just a hollow tube, traveling past the voice box and the blood vessels, the aorta and the heart.
There’s a valve at the bottom of the esophagus to prevent stomach acid from refluxing back into the esophagus. That lower esophageal sphincter needs a little pressure applied to open. President’s esophagus wasn’t capable of applying any pressure!
Causes of Megaesophagus in a Dog
- Acid Reflux
- Parasitic Infections
- Motor Neuron disorders
- Autoimmune Disease
- Other Infections
We could find no reason for President’s megaesophagus on any blood tests or specialized immune system tests. He was going to have to find a way to live with it!
Living With a Big Floppy Esophagus
Gravity is your friend in megaesophagus. If the dog’s head is higher than the chest, and the chest is higher than that lower esophageal sphincter at he bottom of the chest, then gravity can help mushy or liquid food slide down into the stomach. So, Admiral ate with his paws up on the kitchen counter! His food was pureed in a blender, because we found that pieces of kibble would come back up later if we fed him regular dog food without home processing. It was a little tough on his stiff hips, but he enjoyed eating so much, he acted like it was a sum gain.
There are challenges to this lifestyle, and lots of work. Every meal, every time must be attended by the humans. Even drinks of water from an unattended toilet could result in choking or aspiration pneumonia. And there’s a certain amount of luck involved.
- First, it takes luck to make the cause of the megaesophagus not be a deadly disease in and of itself.
- Also, it takes luck not to have saliva pool in the esophagus and slide up into the back of the throat and get breathed in while the dog is sleeping.
There’s really only a certain amount of perfection and following procedure that will help.
Nature will take its course eventually. It’s a matter of our human response. Do we truly show love in caring for our family, including the dogs in our lives, with as much care and attention as we have? Do we try our hardest and do our best? It’s not about guaranteed outcomes or control over fate. What will be will be.
Aspiration Pneumonia: the Main Reason Dogs With Megaesophagus Die
In a dog with megaesophagus, the food and liquid can pool behind the heart and just come back up! Often, the dog is unaware it is happening and the epiglottis at the top of the esophagus will not close. The food and liquid can then change course and get breathed down into the lungs. Food and liquid in the lungs causes a violent, sudden aspiration pneumonia.
“Aspiration pneumonia requires hospitalization, intravenous supportive fluids, intravenous antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and tones of intensive care in order to get a patient back to normal life,” says Doc Truli.
Doc Truli looked at President on that last day. His head did not come off the floor. He had greenish-yellowish discharge on the corners of both bloodshot eyes. His hip bones stuck out more than usual, and he did not have the energy to stand up. His dad carried him into the hospital. All 180 pounds of him! His lungs rattled and creaked, and his mucous membrane color on his lips looked blue-lavendar. His jagged, erratic breathing proved he did not have energy to great Doc Truli even with a tail tip wag.
Here’s the decision: do we try to treat aspiration pneumonia in this dog?
The Reasons to Treat
- We love him. We don’t want to give up after all these years of miracles. He’s an amazing, unique, once-in-a-lifetime soul that just breaks your heart to let him go
- The are protocols and medicines theoretically at our disposal. We have the technology to hospitalize him and hope for a miracle.
- He has the bank. Seriously, President’s family is not rich, but they would do or spend anything to make his life better
The Reasons Not to Treat
- The prognosis for aspiration pneumonia is poor, even in a young dog with no other health problems. It has taken three weeks of intensive care for younger dogs to recover
- He has an incurable megaesophagus which caused the pneumonia in the first place and it will still be there after a miracle cure
- He was weak and tired and more body systems seemed to be failing because of the stress on his body of not having enough strength to breathe
- We did not want President to suffer. For the first time in his life, he looked like he was suffering.
We said goodbye to sweet President. As a doctor, Doc Truli did not want to give up. After all, he’d survived and thrived through so many impossible situations. But eventually, after 8 happy years and 4 crappy starter years, the old Dane slipped into his final sleep with a little help from Doc Truli. We all knew it was the right ending for a beautiful life. Really a success story!