Jack is our Rottador (Rottweiller-Labrador cross). He joined the family from a rescue centre in January 2010 when about one year old, having been found – with his sister, who we couldn’t take – loose on the streets of a local town. We assume they had been abandoned by the previous owner for financial reasons – both dogs were perfectly healthy and well-fed. (Jack is our second rescued Rottador. To read about our first – Bonnie – and the trials and tribulations of British quarantine rules, click here.)
Once with us, Jack quickly became friends with the local canine community – and most humans. He also developed an early taste for tennis balls, eating his way through several “specially for dogs” models before we discovered that only Open Championship standard balls lasted more than a few days. Now seven years old, he’s still very playful (and very strong!) and loves greeting everyone who comes to the house – the authorised ones, anyway! He has been known to try to sit on laps, which can be slightly disconcerting for those who don’t know him well.
After he had been with us a few months he developed a pronounced limp, which turned out to be caused by elbow dysplasia in both his front legs – apparently not unusual in the breed. This required keyhole surgery at a specialist clinic (expensive – thank goodness for pet insurance!). Last year the limp returned, but this time the vet diagnosed osteoarthritis, not a return of the ED, so Jack is now on medication rather than requiring any more surgery.
We used to walk him daily around local lakes, hills and forests, and he loved chasing (but never quite catching) squirrels. His best friends were Blaize (Lurcher), Layla (Husky-German Shepherd cross) and Archie (Jack Russell terrier). After four years or so, we moved to a different part of England, where unfortunately there isn’t the same sort of doggy community and Jack has found it harder to meet new friends, although he gets on well with one or two of the local canines.
He still needs to be kept on a tight leash when near roads, as he has a strong desire to run out aggressively towards passing vehicles – perhaps a flashback to his time on the streets before he was rescued. Perversely, he loves getting into cars – any car with an open door, not just ours!
As he has got older (he turned nine years in January 2018) he has suffered from more joint pain, and in addition to pain-reduction food supplements we have embarked on a course of hydrotherapy for him. His fortnightly sessions help his joints to move more freely, and he likes the warm water! After some initial stiffness following the early sessions, he clearly seems to be feeling some benefit.
May-June 2018: Crisis? What crisis?
At the end of May 2018, we had to cancel tickets for a concert because Jack was sick and we had to take him to the vet. The following is a detailed account of subsequent events, probably only of interest to dog-lovers.
He began to refuse food on Friday 25 May, while I was away. My wife thought this was a “mood” due to my being elsewhere, but in desperation bought some tins of Pedigree Chum – real meat, a first for him – and mixing this with his normal pellets seemed to help. By Saturday afternoon, when I came back, Jack seemed more interested in food (but chicken and rice, more gentle on the stomach than his usual pellets). Then, on Sunday, after eating breakfast and “brunch”, he threw up in the garden around 2.30pm and refused all food thereafter for the rest of the day. He wasn’t very interested in water, either, was panting a lot and couldn’t get comfortable enough to have his afternoon snooze. He wouldn’t eat his supper and by our bedtime he still hadn’t slept. I stayed up with him in my study (where there is a comfortable duvet for him) until 3am, when he finally seemed to have fallen asleep, probably through sheer exhaustion. My wife came downstairs a couple of hours later but still couldn’t get him to eat anything or drink.
When I reappeared on the scene around 8am, we decided to make an emergency appointment at the vet in Peterborough, 25 miles away (it was Bank Holiday Monday, so the one in our town was closed) – and to cancel our planned visit to Norwich that night to see Justin Hayward in conert! The vet (Robert) examined Jack and reported a temp of 39.8C (normal range is 38–39.2). He diagnosed a bacterial infection, gave Jack a couple of injections and us three different medications to administer at home, and suggested we make a follow-up appt with our local vet for Friday. By the end of Monday 28th, Jack seemed to be recovering and had eaten something, and he slept while I was in the study for my usual 10pm-to-midnight session. When I went up to bed, he seemed fine.
The next day, things seemed to be going in the right direction and he was fine on his walk. He spent most of the day snoozing – catching up – and ate a little chicken and rice, while still refusing his regular pellets. (Not eating much food made it more difficult to get the tablets and liquid medication into him.) But, we thought partly as a side-effect of the medication, his digestive system was misbehaving, with little coming out at all, and mostly diarrhoea. By Wednesday he was swinging between “normal” and lethargic, and still eating very little, so we made him some steamed fish and rice, which he ate somewhat tentatively. After I went up to bed that night, I heard him follow me up, spending the night on a bed in the spare room, as usual. Next morning he didn’t really want any breakfast (fish and rice again) but managed to get some down. On his walk, he spent ages looking for somewhere to poo (in the cemetery!), and what came out was very liquid. When I got home, he wouldn’t eat his traditional post-walk treat (cucumber), and we decided to take him to the local vet straightaway; his temp was still 39.8 and the vet immediately referred him back to Peterborough. Once there, Robert discussed the options and we agreed that Jack should stay there for tests, including blood tests and (at my insistence) an ultrasound.
On Thursday afternoon Robert rang to say he had diagnosed pancreatitis and would keep Jack in for observation overnight to see how he reacted to new IV medication. Then, at about 5pm, Robert phoned again to say he had discovered some “masses” on Jack’s left kidney and spleen (I assume as a result of the ultrasound). Next step, biopsy – except that the surgery didn’t have a biopsy kit for a dog of Jack’s size (apparently his deep chest cavity makes this a problem). However, Robert said he could do an “SNA” test (I don’t know what the initials stand for) on Friday, which would determine whether the masses were tumours or something less worrying such as build-ups of liquid. If they were tumours, we would have to wait for the bigger biopsy kit to arrive to find out whether they were malign or benign. On Friday, we had another call from the vet. He had done an x-ray, which revealed a 9-cm mass – which he was pretty sure was a tumour – on Jack’s spleen. We therefore gave our consent for surgery that evening to remove it, together with whatever was on the kidney – rather than waiting 4-5 days for the results of a biopsy.
The op went ahead starting at 6.00pm. The vet rang just after 8.30 to say he had removed Jack’s spleen with no problems, and found nothing at all on either kidney to worry about, so left them alone. Then the bad news. He had found some lymph nodes on Jack’s pancreas, which he said were too large to remove. We went to Peterborough on Saturday morning to see Jack in recovery and for a discussion about next steps. We were able to spend 30 mins with spleen-less Jack. He was still a bit subdued – hardly surprisingly – but the vet and nurses were happy with his progress and Jack ate some food while we there. The vet said he had checked all the internal organs and they were clear apart from the pancreas. He had done a biopsy of the lymph nodes on that, and should have the results in a week or so, which is when we will know whether they are malignant. If so, they can be treated with chemotherapy.
After 24 trouble-free hours we went to pick Jack up this (Sunday) afternoon. I had bought a second-hand ramp yesterday to get him into the car, as he couldn’t jump in like he used to. He was very unsure about it and took some enticing – even more so to get out when we got home! After a pee and a poo (first since Thursday) he settled down on his duvet in the lounge and passed out. He then slept more or less for rest of the day, apart from eating (when we woke him up). So for now all is well, but it will be a few days before we know if he’s back to normal. Thanks for reading this far. It’s a sign that you share the roller-coaster of owning a pet!