Anatomy of a Dog with Irritable Bowel Disease: Final Chapter
These are the final pages of the diary of this dog mom who stood in a state of shock, disbelief, and numbing silence as my Cocker Spaniel of nearly 15 years was ushered out of her body.
This is the final blog post in this 5-part series about having a dog with irritable bowel disease (IBD). I look back over pages and pages of notes. I read through the dated entries in a log book that had long since been filed away. I feel like this ink is barely dry on the pages of scribble with words like “anti-emetic” and “gelatinous” on them.
I’ve lost loved ones before. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss, the reality, the shock and the trauma that would come with my dog dying. Nothing.
I realize there are people reading this today, in weeks, months, or maybe even years from now, who have a dog who has been diagnosed with or is suspected to have IBD. The dog mom, skilled journalist, dog blogger, and woman whose heart beats dog to the core has this to say: There is hope and you can work through IBD. It cannot be cured but it can be managed.
It was the late summer of 2008. My dog, Brandy Noel, became weaker and weaker. She wasn’t Brandy anymore. I kept telling her not to leave me, not to let go, and not to give up. I told her in her ear as she slept so peacefully.
She would leave the room to rest in the office or in the bedroom and I would follow her. No way are you leaving me to die in another room. Animals, it is said, do that sometimes: They go off to die.
You hear a lot of stories and get a lot of feedback from pet parents when you are a journalist/blogger. Over the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of pet parents. This much I know is true: There are dogs who live to be 18 or 19, some even longer. My dog could be one of them I would tell myself from time to time. I would tell myself that more often than not as my little girl’s red muzzle turned slightly white: She will live a long life. She isn’t textbook about anything, so that average life span around 12 to 14 years old for a Cocker Spaniel is just that: Average.
The Beginning of the End
On August 24, 2008, my spouse and I drove to visit friends in New York, Brandy by our side. She was happy, showed energy, was eating and drinking. She played in the back yard, drank water, and showed attention to her environment.
That is the last memory I have of my little girl being the merry sweetheart she was.
After eating another dog’s food on August 25th, things would never again be the same. That food was chicken and rice.
After trials of medications, food changes, dietary restrictions, x-rays, bloodwork, fecal and urine samples, our veterinarian referred us to a specialty hospital. The specialist felt our dog had either:
- Colon cancer
- Irritable Bowel Disease
- Bacterial infection
The only way to confirm what was going on was by colonoscopy and endoscopy. I will do whatever it takes to help my dog as long as it is in her best interests. Her heart was strong, her tests were coming back normal, and she had a lot of time left on this earth.
We would never know what was happening without these tests. Other than not being allowed to eat the night before, the only other prep included clearing her bowels via enema that the technician did pre-testing.
On September 8, 2008, the tests were performed. Results revealed gastritis, irritable bowel disease of the eosinophilic and plasmacytic nature, ulcer probably caused by Salmonella in the colon, and colitis with mucosal hemorrhage.
As a family, we would deal with this. It’s okay: We can get through this. We will manage the disease.
Pages of a Broken Dog Mom
Nothing we did…nothing we tried. Nothing was helping Brandy come out of this crisis and level off. I sit here reading medical words and a journal full of prescriptions and acid-reducing, gas fighting, fiber-filled pills and concoctions: Nothing was making it better.
“I never saw a case like this before, Carol,” our vet relented on a phone call in late September.
We trust our vet. He always goes above and beyond for us. We value his medical expertise.
Probiotics, antibiotics, IV infusions of lactated Ringer’s so she would not dehydrate: We did it all.
Her weight continued to decrease.
She was alert though, still eating, drinking, and receiving B12 injections, showing energy on walks, and not at all fighting to let go.
Final Holistic Attempt
It’s not cancer. I told myself this over and over. I talked to people whose dogs had IBD. It could be managed. You have to get the dog out of a crisis and they level off until the time comes they can spiral downward again and/or need some medical intervention. Dogs can remain symptom free for a long time: Days to months or longer. That is what you do as a caring dog parent: You manage.
We visited a holistic veterinarian where acupuncture was suggested.
“Be aware, if I do the acupuncture and if she is close to passing, some dogs may pass on their own during the procedure,” she told us.
We couldn’t do it.
Armed with slippery elm, Imodium, methylprednisolone, and Carafate, we headed home, a weakened little girl in our arms.
One more try to get her through this.
On Saturday, October 11, 2008, I sat with my little girl in the home office. She refused baby food; she would not show interest in water. The lactated Ringer’s, the attempts to feed baby food.
The final entry in my diary is 1:30 pm. I picked Brandy up to take her outside for a potty break. She seized in my arms. I won’t go into further details, but we urgently called our vet, who agreed to see us on a Saturday for this emergency.
Something inside me still held out hope. My wife drove the car. I sat with Brandy. Our neighbor came with us and sat in the back seat. As we neared the vet, Brandy jumped from my lap and into the back seat near our neighbor. She looked at me with her beautiful brown eyes, one last time, lay down and rested. I never saw her brown eyes again.
She passed gently from this Earth as her little snores ceased and her weakened body was at peace. I fell apart in the waiting room, while my wife stayed with her for a time after.
I remained broken for a very long time, trying to accept what happened.
I never will.
My wife gave me a locket that Christmas with the words “Love Never Ends” on it. That is how I live my life. When you love someone, their physical passing doesn’t stop the bond: In fact, it makes it even stronger. The physical presence of the loved one is what is missed the most. I will never get over her. I will carry her love with me, as I will every single dog that ever comes into my life.
I wish I knew what happened and why IBD came on like a hurricane and took this gentle dog from my life. I guess I am questioning why death has to come at all: It truly really sucks and the only thing that we as the loved ones left behind can do is cope and deal with the reality of it. I don’t want history to repeat itself and so I write, I learn, and I teach others.
You don’t stop grieving, it just becomes a part of you. That whole five stages of grief thing really is true, but acceptance, well: I can’t say I will ever get there. I can’t and won’t accept that I will never see my little girl again. I will. As you read this, you now know her and what happened, so she is alive once more.
The Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom post I penned many years ago remains a Fidose of Reality reader favorite, and you can click to read it, as well. Today in this moment, the grief suitcase is heavy, its contents large, and yet I move forward with her love safely encased inside.
Thanks for reading this series, and if you’d like to catch up on it all, here are the other four parts:
I thank you for having the courage to share everything.I agree with you on never accepting that we won’t see them again.My Riley has been gone almost 2 years now and I know how cheated out of time I felt and still do.He was exactly 11 years and 3 mos old when we had to let him go.He is forever ingrained in my heart as Brandy is in yours.There is no time limit on how long we grieve over the ones we have loved and lost.You gave her your best.Hugs.
Thanks for putting the spotlight on IBD and for featuring my precious Sunny. When losing a precious pet it can feel like your guts are being ripped apart.
Are Cocker Spaniels as a breed prone to this disease?
Thank you Carol, for sharing this diary of you, Dar, and Brandy Noel. I appreciate your inclusion of Mariah. I do so hope that more vets and more pet parents will become familiar with this disease. ((HUG))
Thanks for sharing this piece of you and Brandy. My heart hurt for you reading this and I can feel the love you have for her. Your series has really made me go over everything that has happened with Leroy over the past several months. I’m so glad I have all the medical records and notes to refer back to. It’s taken me awhile to get my head clear with all of this and hopefully I will be able to write more about it in the future.
Thanks for sharing this part of your life living with a pet suffering from such a kind of disease. Both love and grieve have no time limit, right ? Purrs
I’m so sorry for your loss….. I’m going through this now with my 9 year old Boston and I’m at my wits end. It’s been a year since he was diagnosed with severe IBD and I’m slowly watching him fade away before my eyes and it’s heartbreaking. The vets have not been able to help at all and for a year I’ve tried different diets, b-12 shots, different supplements and he’s been on budesonide the whole time. He’s a walking skeleton now and has lost pretty much all muscle. I’m utterly heartbroken and begging from help from anyone that knows about this disease. No one seems to specialize in it and it’s very expensive. I’m scared I’m going to lose my fur baby. Everyone keeps saying he will be fine but they have no clue the daily struggle of this disease. I have no one to talk to about this that even understands. I’m not ready to lose him!
This morning I had to send my little girl to sleep, all because of IBD. She was only 3 and a half. My heart aches for her. I wish there was a way I could have made her better. She literally disappeared in front of my eyes, all I keep asking myself is what could I have done differently.
Oh no. How terrible- we are so sorry to hear this news. It is really devastating. Our condolences.
I lost mine Saturday. Big chunk out of my heart missing as yours is too. Sorry for your loss just doesn’t come close to this heartache. Hoping time will heal but never forgotten. Hugs.
Gosh, we are so incredibly sorry, Kate.
Jessica – and Antonia – I do understand, I am feeling terror, despair and overwhelm as I struggle with what is happening to my 4-year old min poodle/terrier mix rescue. She apparently came to me at 11 months with digestive inflammation, and then had one dietary indiscretion after another (unbelievable how it would happen in a heartbeat) in the next year…..then we had a year and a half of stability until the cycles began – downhill to HGE – and now in and out of flares on a frequent basis. I cannot believe what my life has become, and hers – it’s rarer now that I see the buoyant, happy, vibrant dog she used to be – and she’s still so young. I am 67 with my own health challenges and this takes everything out of me – it’s been a herculean effort and I won’t be able to keep it up long-term, with the constant change…..I have little hope yet, but still willing. The friends who never see me anymore (because I can’t leave her and it takes all day to cook her food and do her regimen) do not understand, and I agree, people don’t have a clue. My heart goes out to both of you, I know the loss you feel, the loss that has been happening as long as your beloved dog had this disease. Blessings to both of you.
This is such a horrible disease. Thank you for sharing your heartbreak. My “London” is 7 years old, a mini daschund. The diagnosis came a few years ago after a long run of diet and stool issues. It’s been managed primarily though diet, steroids, pumpkin puree additive and B-12 injections. He has seen a specialist. My regular vet is monitoring with bloodwork etc. Suspect of possible anemia. I’ve seen the ups and downs of this disease and it just breaks my heart. London’s weight has been up and down for about 2 years now. The vet told me to feed as much as he wanted but then, one day, he just couldn’t absorb all that food. Because with IBD, it flares up again and again. So I started giving him less to absorb and adding goat’s milk, a probiotic, which seemed to lift his spirits and I thought perhaps we are over the hurdle. But now, sadly, he is having fecal incontinence. We see the vet Saturday for additional bloodwork and a discussion about this but I just don’t have a great feeling about it. I pray my sweet boy is not suffering but sometimes it’s hard to tell when they want to be close to you and give you the warmest welcome. Time will tell but I know ultimately, this disease will take him. I have an older daschund, Picasso, and I don’t do strenuous walks or other activities because I know London is fragile and the best thing is rest for his little body.
Update to London as of 6.15.19. Absolutely heartbreaking but London lost his fight with this terrible disease this past Saturday. The disease had ravished his body where he was no longer absorbing nutrients, glucose levels were severely low and he was so weak and anemic that he had little blood in his system. He lost another 2.5 lbs and went very quickly. There is a big whole in my heart and Picasso (my other bud) is missing his puppy brother. I hope it gets better but even writing this post makes me want to cry.
I am so sorry to read the news, Kate. Our very deepest condolences. I understand the pain.
I wish I had read this article last year. My beloved baby Rudy was a healthy boy, he started having blood in his stool. Life was at its worst during those months but we did go to his vet. I think my baby was misdiagnosed and he had IBD, to start and then the doctors found tumor on his liver. My baby stopped eating and just deteriorated. He kept throwing up and dehydrating. My angel just withered away and we had to make a call. I still feel if the right diagnosis was made when everything started he would be alive today.
I’m losing my GSD Cooper. 6 years old. Severe IBD. I’m watching him fade away in spite of all the supplements, hydrolyzed protein food, home cooked etc. His eyes & gentle kisses tell me he knows he’s leaving. I kept my last one ( also Cooper.. fun story… ) far beyond when he was ready to go and I’m determined this boy will not suffer because I can’t bring myself to let him go. It’s an awful place to be right now.
I am so sorry. my heart breaks for you. I just lost my fur baby to IBD and I just feel so broken he was also 6 years old. I just dont understand when everyone says this is a manageable disease. Why wasn’t it manageable for my baby. we did everything. I just feel so broken. I truly pray your baby pulls through.
Oh no, I am incredibly sorry. My very deepest condolences.
Me again. My first Cooper was the love of my life. Dysplasia took him. Peaceful and at home after a lunch of his favorite food & treats. Part of me died. Never healed. Screaming out at God one day to stop the pain.. please stop the pain.. I went online to search for rescue puppies and here was my new boy. 4 mos old and already named Cooper. That was my sign and I took him. And now I’m losing him…
My dog was diagnosed with IBD in September, and it has been one of the most mentally emotional experiences of my life. We have tried 3 types of medications, and she has not responded to any of them. Along with many other supplements..etc.. In the process, she has been melting away because she refuses to eat. For the last 2 months, I have had to syringe feed her 4 meals a day just to keep her alive, hoping she would get better. She also drools constantly due to the nausea, and unfortunately, this disease is in control, and your response to this article and others’ responses have given me comfort in the decision I made to bring her to rest peacefully. I felt it was my fault, and I wasn’t doing enough to help her, but you’re right. This disease isn’t manageable.
Just wanted to check in. I have IBD, my dog had IBD. but they aren’t the same thing at all. We know nothing about my IBD, it took 14 years to get me properly diagnosed. I had a yorkie diagnosed at 8 when she went in for dental stuff and the vet did me a solid and looked at everything on her xray. It made sense, she was a voracious eater and was a handful trying to keep her out of trash, other animals feces (catbox despite cleaning twice a day), stuff she found on the ground, etc. We managed her with a low fat gastrointestinal diet, after trying hydrolyzed and failing, until the covid hit supply chain issues and then, I could NOT get her the Royal Canin low fat gi food, or even the hydro stuff for about 3-6 months. I was making her chicken and rice but I suspect she had a protein sensitivity so we switched to novel proteins, duck, salmon, turkey. Nothing mattered once she went downhill at 10 and the supply chain issue hit. It just took that little break from her low fat GI food to set her off. We had her on Prednisone, high dosage, chorambucil, and metrodinazole. She couldn’t have too much else because she started getting pancreatitis. The wasting away just killed me. It’s NOT an easy thing to manage, IBD and people really need to change the dynamics surrounding this disease so people won’t feel bad when they CAN NO LONGER MANAGE. This is NOT your fault. This disease is insidious b/c we just don’t have enough facts regarding genetics, environment, and medical solutions to properly manage it. It is NOT a one size fits all disease, it’s a combination of a lot of different things happening all at once and yet, the medications, even for me and my IBD, are a one size fits all band-aid. Please, do not think there was something that could’ve been done, we aren’t there yet medically to be that definitive, and it is NOT anyone’s fault if they haven’t been able to manage it thus far. By the way, this article helped me IMMENSELY. Thank you everyone who has contributed, too.