Lessons learned from our sick dog on the road
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Lessons learned from our sick dog on the road

One of the hardest trials we have had while living full-time in our RV to date has been our sick dog. Being in a strange place with unknown vets and not understanding what is wrong with your dog is super scary. Our worst nightmare came true in April 2018 during our visit to Savannah. I hope to shed some light on our situation and share lessons learned from our sick dog.

During our visit in Savannah (which we loved by the way) one of our dogs struggled with diarrhea. We tried withholding food for a day. Then we tried boiled chicken and rice. Nothing made a difference.

At the vet his blood work was totally off. He was extremely lethargic and he had tremors.

He was kept there for 4 days with IV fluid and monitoring. After 4 days, we get a call from the vet that they can’t help him. It was literally an emergency call from the lead vet on staff telling us to come get our dog and take him to the nearest emergency facility in Charleston, SC. She believed him to be in kidney failure which she is not equipped to deal with. Remember we are in Savannah, GA! Charleston is about 120 miles away!

The move to Charleston

First, we cry (ok just Heather cried). Then we put our heads together. We don’t want to separate because we really don’t know what is going on with our dog, Suji. Is he in crisis and near death? Are we going to Charleston to put him down? We agree that we CANNOT separate. We are a family and we need to stick together. Remember this is about lessons learned from our sick dog on the road.

This is lesson #1… Stick together. Support each other in any way you can.

Well, in less than 4 hours we find ourselves checked into a RV park in Charleston and heading to the veterinary hospital nearby. We had to pick up the dog from the vet, pack up the RV to move, call the RV park to make sure they could fit us in early (we were scheduled to head there in a week) and then drive in the pouring rain while avoiding I-95 because of terrible accidents making it bumper to bumper. It was seriously our most stressful day ever while in the RV. It felt like nothing went right and we were unsure our dog would even make it to Charleston.

While we went over 12 hours without eating and were seriously stressed to the max, we didn’t fight once. We didn’t even argue. We worked like a well oiled machine to make it all come together and for that I am grateful!

Lesson #2…don’t fight. Work together like a well-oiled machine. It will make a stressful day a tiny bit less stressful.

The let down

We get to Charleston. The ER is empty and Suji is taken right in. They take his blood pressure and tell us he’s fine. We can take him home. Seriously?!?!!!??! We just drove 4 hours and moved our house to be there and that’s all they have to say?!!?! Why did the vet in Savannah freak us out???

We don’t really know any better, so we listen to the vet and take Suji home. His diarrhea seems to have cleared and he seems ok to us except he has the shakes and is still really lethargic. He literally shakes more often than not. We record the shaking and send it along to the ER vet. She prescribes anti-seizure medicine and says they are minor seizures. Seizures?!? Really???

Thing seems to calm down and he seems like he is recovering. Then just as quickly the diarrhea is back.

Take two at the vet

This time I waste no time and bring him to the vet the next day. We’re now in Myrtle Beach and seeing a new vet. Well, this vet asks lots of questions, wants to understand his full life story (good sign right away) and runs some basic tests. He keeps Suji overnight to run further tests and get him hydrated. He also consults with a specialist.

Then, we hit a wall.

This vet is concerned and believes he needs to run a test for Addison’s, but is worried that he cannot get an IV to stay in Suji. He is so dehydrated, has low blood pressure, is lethargic and won’t really eat.

To the next ER Veterinary Hospital we go…

He wants to send us back to Charleston. Seriously? We ask about moving inland since that is the way we were planning to go. Charleston is simply too expensive with too few RV parks (none of which can accommodate us for even a week) and traffic is terrible! This vet calls around and finds a good vet hospital in Columbia, SC.

Columbia, SC

After moving our home again (scrambling to find a place to stay and driving from Myrtle Beach on edge once again), we arrive at the vet hospital to a terribly long wait.  Didn’t we just go through this? Why are we here again?!?!?

We are tired, frazzled and frustrated. After a short discussion with the tech on staff, we decide to take him home for the night. We feel totally lost and don’t understand what is happening with our dog.

Then we get help from an old high school friend, now a vet. She takes the time to look over blood results and asks us questions about his health. Thank you (you know who you are!)! Her advice makes it clear that an Addison’s test is required and he needs to be under care until that test is completed. Addison’s disease can cause a crisis in which the dog actually dies! Yes. Our dog could die from this disease, if left untreated.

Lesson #3… Use your network. Friends, family, colleagues. Seriously don’t be afraid to accept help from people when offered.

4 more days in the hospital

Over the next four days we get twice daily updates and calls from the vet on staff. Plus, we can visit whenever we like (which we do daily).

While there he refuses to eat and really shows major signs of lethargy and depression. He howls one whole day.

Poor guy is not happy and to be honest, neither are we. In the meantime our other dog is missing his brother. He is not eating well, so he gets extra love and extra play time in the dog park. There is no doubt he can sense the stress in the house.

It is sad that we have to INSIST that nothing gets done beyond IV fluids and monitoring him until the Addison’s test can be completed. The lab isn’t open on the weekends so it must wait until Monday. No problem. Wait until Monday then. I mean they want to do ultrasounds, x-rays, antibiotics.. You name it, they want to try it. We literally have to tell them no tests until the Addison’s test is completed.

Lesson #4… Be in control of your dog’s treatment. You are his voice! You must stand up for him and do what you think is best.

Monday comes and the test is administered. Now we wait for the results.

Tuesday morning comes and I’m on pins and needles. Why hasn’t the vet called yet?!??! What’s going on? Is our dog ok??

Finally, the phone rings and the vet confirms, Suji has Addison’s disease. We both breath a sigh of relief to have an answer, but it’s not over yet.

We now must face this disease which means daily medicine and monthly injections of another drug. He’ll need regular blood work and all while living on the road.

It feels like a huge hurdle to get over and the initial relief is replaced by fear, concern and worry. In the meantime it takes Suji about 2 weeks before he starts to show signs he is healthy again. This is concerning as well since the vet tells us nothing about his recovery time.

After diagnosis

We make phone calls. We research. Heather finds a non-profit for Canine Addison’s disease, CARE (Canine Addison’s Resources and Education) which offers up support, treatment plans and advice. This is the best thing that happened during the whole ordeal.

The support is exactly what we need. It is amazing how hearing from other pet owners who went through something similar makes us feel more at ease. Now we must navigate the medicine.

After learning more about treatment, we immediately start reducing the high dose the emergency vet started him on. It is WAY too high according to all our research and he is drinking gallons of water and peeing hourly. No good at all!

Thankful for our vet back in Denver who agrees to help us with treatment. He checks over Suji’s blood work and also takes the time to call and explain everything from treatment plans to the biology of the disease on the phone with us. How amazing is that??!? The internal medicine vet at the specialty hospital didn’t bother explaining any of it. She simply sent us home with instructions for the medicine she prescribed (at a too high dose) and said to seek medical care again in 30 days when he would need another injection.

The struggle is real

Throughout this whole ordeal, we struggled. I’m not going to lie. We thought Suji was telling us it was his time and we would be putting our 7 year old dog down.

We cried. A lot. We snuggled with him when we could. We insisted on the best care for him and advocated for what we thought was right. Remember you are in control of your dog. You decide how he gets treated and what tests are run. You are his voice! Never forget that. If we hadn’t stood up for him and started realizing something is really wrong here, then he may not have made it through this crisis.

We must continue to stick up for him as we navigate this illness and visit more new vets for updated blood tests.

More lessons to come as we navigate the treatment of Addison’s disease on the road.