Last updated on January 20, 2015
On October 11, 2008, time stopped. My spouse and I stood by as the veterinarian stopped my dog’s heartbeat, thus breaking our hearts in the process. To the best of my abilities, skills as a journalist, background in the dog world, and with all the professional veterinary contacts I have, as of this writing, in the over six years since my dog died, I have no idea what actually caused her rapid decline. The cause of her death remains euthanasia. This much I know is true.
It is my intent that this 5-part series surrounding my dog’s death will:
- Help other dog parents struggling with Irritable Bowel Disease issues;
- Help me to find answers where currently a void exist, thus helping you learn, too;
This series will be broken up into five parts because there is much that happened, many unanswered questions, and I want to understand WHAT transpired while educating dog parents facing the same prognosis;
If a dog is diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease, I hope this series will help you realize it isn’t a death sentence but can often be managed with due diligence and traditional veterinary /alternative/holistic interventions. Many dogs live long lives with Irritable Bowel Disease.
Irritable Bowel Disease
If you are reading this article, a veterinarian or specialist probably diagnosed your dog with irritable bowel disease or suspects it; or you are curious to learn more about the disease itself. Some of you might just be reading to learn more about the one who came BD (before Dexter).
The hard facts are this: The Merck Veterinary Manual describes IBD as, “a group of gastrointestinal diseases characterized by persistent clinical signs and histologic evidence of inflammatory cell infiltrate of unknown etiology.”
The exact etiology (cause) of IBD is unknown, and this is where I struggle to this day: I have no clue what happened, why it occurred so suddenly, what I could have done differently, and how I can prevent this from happening in the future to my dog.
A lot of other conditions mirror symptoms associated with irritable bowel disease. In order to accurately diagnose a dog as having this condition, a biopsy must be performed. Your veterinarian can rule out other conditions and suspect IBD, but a definitive diagnosis comes with a biopsy, obtained via colonoscopy and/or endoscopy.
Our dog had both of these tests performed by at a veterinary specialty hospital, and the diagnosis made on September 15, 2008 is as follows:
Gastritis, irritable bowel disease of a plasmacytic and eosinophilic nature, ulcer probably caused by Salmonella in the colon, colitis, and mucosal hemorrhage.
I cringe reading that now as I did then.
Your veterinarian may suspect IBD after evaluating your dog’s symptoms, but the only definitive way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease is through a biopsy. Our dog had both the colonoscopy and the endoscopy to conclusively diagnose the disease and other issues.
Prelude to a Series
I am able to disseminate this information because:
A) I keep hand-written journals of my dogs veterinary visits, changes in diet, any tests performed, unusual occurrences, etc.
B) I keep the above journals in the event of recurrence;
I encourage all dog parents reading this to keep a hand-written notebook about your dog. Date each incident. Keep it in a safe place. Couple this with your dog’s veterinary visit notes and you’ve become your dog’s best ally for preventative care and fact-finding information when issues arise. Here are Brandy’s notebooks, which have been hidden away and now unearthed for this series: (side note: I penned entries into my childhood diaries growing up and tossed them in the garbage when I moved out of the family home – file that one under “stupid decisions I wish I could take back”)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Some folks confuse IBD with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a stress-related problem and involves diarrhea whereas IBD is a condition that is ongoing, must be monitored, and has a host of issues that accompany it. According to Marvista Vet, “Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a physical disease where the intestinal lining is infiltrated by inflammatory cells. The delicate intestinal lining becomes thickened and absorption of nutrients becomes altered. The infiltration can be seen under the microscope and this is how the diagnosis is confirmed. This has nothing to do with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”
IBS is anxiety based. Ongoing fighting or yelling in a household, moving from one home to another, flying, or even change in routine can upset a dog and induce anxiety. Managing the anxiety and increasing dietary fiber are two methods of controlling IBS, which also can be ongoing.
Treatment for IBD and treatment for IBS are different, but there may be some crossover. It is important, however, to know the distinction between the two, and more importantly, the cause and symptoms of each.
As stated earlier, there are other conditions that cause similar symptoms of IBD, including, but not limited, to:
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Addison’s disease
- Pancreatic Exocrine Insufficiency
- Intestinal cancer, i.e. lymphoma
We did not immediately jump to have an endoscopy or colonscopy performed on our dog. We tried things with our veterinarian. I feel at peace with this decision.
Treatment of IBD
Treatment is not easy and it is not a one-size-fits-all regimen. Each dog will respond differently, and there are a number of holistic methods, medications, treatments, and dietary modifications that can help a dog who is diagnosed with IBD.
IBD does not generally happen overnight. Has your dog ever vomited or had a case of diarrhea, maybe even twice (or more) in a short period of time? Perhaps the dog got “into something,” ate too many table scraps, digested something on a walk, or even contracted bacteria at the dog park. Dogs do, on occasion, vomit or have a bout with diarrhea.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association says IBD has no specific cause, which makes it even more difficult for dog parents to understand and for veterinarians to pinpoint.
Treatment and therapy are directed at the inflammation created by IBD in the gut and suppressing the immune response while adjusting dietary intake that does not cause further upset to the dog’s delicate, affected gastrointestinal tract.
We’ll get more into treatment options in this series.
Our Dog’s Story
This brings us to the story of Brandy Noel and her diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Disease. There were NO major signs of digestive issues with our dog prior to the onset of a bout with colitis in June of 2008. On October 11th of that same year, she was gone.
I struggled for years over this loss, wondering what I did wrong, how I might have changed the course of things, and exactly what could have precipitated this disease. I packed away these feelings for years and this series is bringing them to surface again, which is exactly what I need: To face this.
Inflammation of the bowel sounds nasty but not incurable, right? I am a dedicated dog mom who considers herself to go above, beyond, and then to the next level and then some for her dog: So what the hell happened?
I’ve learned to accept that I did not cause this disease in my dog. Thanks to a grief counselor, reading, trying to understand, and knowing I uncovered every stone possible at the time, I have acceptance that she is gone. No amount of tears will bring her back. Dogs cannot live forever I tell myself: I don’t deny that. It sucks and is the worst part (the only bad part for me) about owning a dog and sharing life with one or more. They leave us way too soon.
So how did our 14-year-old Cocker Spaniel who did this in the spring of 2008 fade so rapidly from our lives?
She had no symptoms, but then again, maybe the disease was manifesting in a way that was not evident to us lay people, aka her family.
As a Cocker mom, Cocker lover, and someone who anticipates sharing life with a Cocker Spaniel until my time comes to cross the Rainbow Bridge, IBD is all too common in the breed.
This is a 5-part series that will run every day this week and chronicle our journey along with information garnered for other dog parents to use. If your dog doesn’t have IBD, this information is still useful from a general dog mom or dog dad educational angle. So stay with me for the ride: I can’t promise it will be easy, but I can promise it will be truthful and based in reality.
In the next part, I will discuss three factors I believe contributed to Brandy’s diagnosis and demise: These three factors would not have changed the outcome, but I wonder now if her disease might have been prevented. Knowledge is power, and in the years since her passing, I’ve been blessed with a bit of both.
Keep in mind that the dog mom I am today is vastly different than the dog mom I was in 2008: The love, devotion, dedication, and over-the-top-anything-for-my-dog mantra still exists, but I now know better, so I try and do better. Stay tuned.