You Know Your Dog Best—And It Could Save His Life

Tuesday aftelying look of lovernoon, after being gone most of the day, I returned home to find Sierra looking strange. She had been acting perfectly normal when I left her in the morning, but now she just stood there, hindquarters trembling, eyes slightly squinty, just looking wrong somehow. It crossed my mind that it had been raining and perhaps there had been thunder, which frightens her. I called her to me but she stood there staring. I realize many pet parents would, at this point, elect to keep a careful eye on their dog or try to make them comfortable and hope the weirdness would pass. But, as my husband always says, Sierra and I have an almost telepathic bond, and I just knew something was wrong. I put Bodhi outside with his dinner, got Sierra into the car, and headed to the vet’s office.

The vet did blood work and took x-rays. Her explanation of what she suspected amounted to congestive heart failure, although she didn’t use those words. She recommended a cardiologist who was about an hour away, and after calling him for us, said if I could get there within the next 90 minutes he could see Sierra. Fortunately, the L.A. traffic gods were with me. Between that and my utter panic, we made it in under 45 minutes. One echocardiogram, more blood work, and a few x-rays later, the cardiologist had ruled out a heart issue. Great. But Sierra had a fever of over 105 and she was septic. (My mother, who is critically ill, had gone into septic shock the same day. What are the chances?) They suggested putting her on antibiotics and keeping her overnight, hoping the antibiotics would clear up whatever was wrong. They didn’t. The next day her fever was still dangerously high. My husband and I drove to the clinic, where they explained that an ultrasound had showed abnormal fluid around Sierra’s stomach. That and other factors led them to suggest exploratory surgery. We were shocked, but I immediately agreed. Again, I knew something was seriously wrong, and I didn’t want to waste a minute trying different antibiotics and hoping one would help

Two very long hours later, I called the vet. They had just finished surgery, and Sierra had come through it. They had discovered an abscessed mass on her liver that had ruptured and spread infection through her body. They were able to remove the mass and stabilize her, but there were a few other smaller masses on her liver that were worrisome. Removing them all would have mean taking most of her liver, so only the large one was excised. According to the vet, the other masses were on the smaller, benign looking side, but there is of course no way of knowing without a biopsy. So now we wait 3-5 days for results.

I’m not someone who shares much of my personal life on Facebook, in blog posts, or elsewhere publicly. But I share this to say that if I hadn’t rushed Sierra to the vet and she hadn’t had that surgery, things might have been dire. No matter what anyone says, regardless of those voices of reason telling you to wait and see, not to be a panicky, overprotective dog parent, that everything will be fine, listen to your intuition. I’m not suggesting you rush your dog to the vet any time she looks a little strange. But no one knows your dog better than you, and acting on that intuition just might save your dog’s life.

24 Responses to You Know Your Dog Best—And It Could Save His Life

  1. nissetje says:

    Here’s hoping the masses turn out to be benign!!! I’ll be thinking about you and Sierra. Good for you for listening to your instinct and taking her in to the vet right away. I wish Sierra a speedy recovery and some good news in 3-5 days.

  2. Thank you for sharing. So glad you trusted your gut– please keep us updated about the biopsy.

    If I may share- not to detract, but to emphasis your point. My family had a similar (less intense) situation recently where our younger dog just wasn’t acting like “himself” off and on for a few months. Did a whole bunch of tests (over those months), tried different medicines, foods etc. and finally it was determined that he has Addisons disease and thankfully hadn’t fallen into Adrenal Crisis which apparently is usually how that is diagnosed. But the best way we could tell is that he was just “off” as many of the other typical symptoms he didn’t display.

    Thank you again for sharing, such an important message. You as the owner know your dog best. Thinking of you guys 🙂

  3. Kathy says:

    hoping the best for Sierra

  4. Diane says:

    You were so wise to follow your instincts! no matter what we know our furbabies better than anyone. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thinking of you guys – you’re such a great dog-mama. Thank you for sharing too –
    Caryn, Toronto

  6. marjie327 says:

    How scary, Nicole! I hope Bodhi is going to be ok! Thoughts are with you!

  7. fearfuldogs says:

    Hoping for the best for Sierra. Sorry to hear she’s going through this.

  8. claresstory says:

    When my children were young their pediatrician told me whenever a mother said something was wrong or “off” with their child he listened and took them very seriously. I think it’s the same with our dogs (or any other species we share our lives with). We know what’s normal and we know what’s not. Best of luck for your girl.

  9. Yikes! I know what you mean. We noticed our previous dog Barney was lethargic, off his food, and didn’t really want to drink. Hubby stayed up with him all night and we just knew that something was wrong. We took him to the vet the following morning, who examined him and couldn’t find anything wrong, until he took his temperature which was 106. We were given antibiotics and told to keep a close watch for anything out of the norm. Luckily, the tablets did the trick and in three days he was fine.
    People say we spoil Maggie, and we are the first to admit it. But, we know when something is wrong, and are very vigilant if it’s something we’re not familiar with. Hope Sierra has a speedy recovery. Very scary for you.

  10. Luan Egan says:

    I hope Sierra has a full recovery, and you have a long time left together.

  11. I am praying for Sierra!

  12. rescuedrover says:

    I rushed my dog to the emergency vet on Easter last year because he looked sad. I was a veterinary assistant for 2 years and in the field for 4, and I couldn’t pinpoint what I thought was wrong. I took his temperature, checked his pulse, he wasn’t vomiting, didn’t have diarrhea, and ate his breakfast. But he just seemed a little SAD… I took him in, the veterinarian gave him a thorough examination, and thought he was fine. I insisted they do radiographs – just in case. Sure enough, he had swallowed a sock and it was stuck in his intestines, and his stomach was beginning to twist. WE KNOW OUR DOGS BEST! 🙂 He had emergency surgery and is a happy, healthy boy now.

  13. Robin says:

    Always! I’ve found my gut sure knows. Paws crossed for this gorgeous girl.

  14. Maggi Burtt says:

    I agree, Nicole. If you are concerned but not sure..go to the vet. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it definitely is worth the trip.
    I hope Sierra heals up nicely, poor girl. Best wishes on good biopsy results, fingers crossed and Reiki sent your way.

  15. kirstrose says:

    My heart goes out to you and to Sierra. I saw this posted on Facebook and having seen this lovely girl’s photo so often I knew it was Sierra right away and came here to read the article. Blessing from the spirits for you and this incredible being.

  16. Thank you Nicole, for this very important message and for sharing it at such a difficult time. All my best to your dear sweet woofie.

  17. Laura says:

    I hope all goes well with Sierra and I thank you for sharing what you are going through. I lost my beloved Pepsi this past May in a very similar situation. My high energy, vibrant girl died 15 hours after she first seemed ‘not quite herself’ and I had immediately phoned the vets who worked diligently to determine what was wrong as she rapidly declined. Much was ruled out, nothing definitive in blood work, etc. Consensus was that it was some internal mass. Hugs to you and Sierra for what you are both going through.

  18. crooningpines says:

    It must have been difficult to write all this, but thank you so much for doing so!
    Best wishes in the days ahead!

  19. Carol says:

    Glad you got Sierra to the vet quickly. There are those who might poo poo such a quick move, but I agree with you, we know our furkids better than anyone and they rely on us. Heading to the vet on a hunch is a small price to pay for their health.

  20. Thinking of you and Sierra and sending healing energy for your girl!

  21. Anu says:

    Yes, yes, yes! We all know our dogs better than anyone else and must advocate for them just as you have for Sierra. Thank God your husband and vet didn’t second guess you knowing your girl was just “wrong somehow”.

    Last week my own wonderful vet decided it was time to do an ultrasound on my little Papillon boy, Remy, because both Doc and I no longer believed Remy had a garden variety case of stomach upset. Remy then had an ultrasound which suggested that he had a possible obstruction in his intestine. I swear never heard the word ‘possible’. All I remember hearing is ‘obstruction’ and ‘exploratory surgery’. And I knew if I didn’t act immediately, Remy could die.

    My husband asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted Remy admitted as an emergency at the big vet teaching hospital our vet recommended two and a half hours away. And that’s what I did.

    The ER vet specialist there ran a second ultrasound focusing on the worrisome area of Remy’s intestine. That second ultrasound showed no obstruction and surgery was unnecessary after all. Remy was also tested for Addisons (negative), and I’m still waiting on more blood tests to come back to rule out other possibilities.

    I’m so sorry to read this frightening story about Sierra. Am happy you listened to your intuition what your dog was communicating to you.

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by such scary scenarios. From the comments I’ve read here, we manage to push through the panic and do what we need to for our dogs. And this is a lesson that cannot be repeated too often.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sending up prayers for Sierra’s complete and uneventful recovery. Also sending you good vibes and prayers so that you can hang on to your marbles and last nerve throughout all this worry.

  22. Mel says:

    Two Christmases ago Connor somehow got into a plate of leftover ham and ate the whole thing. I expected him to get sick, but no more than that. But by the next morning he was lethargic and panting, unwilling to eat or drink. I overruled my husband, who said I was panicking, and took Connor to the vet. He had pancreatitis–turns out ham is toxic to dogs. I had never heard that before.

    Prayers for Sierra and thank you for being a smart mom. Here’s hoping the remaining masses are benign. It must have been so hard to write about such a scary and painful time–thank you for doing it anyway. You’ve encouraged us all.

  23. Diane Drumm says:

    Thank you Nicole for sharing your story. I am sorry that you had such a scare, and that Sierra is going through this. I would be very interested in hearing about how the biopsies turn out, and will be praying for both of you. I am glad that all turned out well, so far.

  24. Your quick response saved her life. I’m with you, I don’t hesitate when I know something is wrong. I hope Sierra is doing well and on the road to recovery.

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