Kubla is a dog, so he likes to eat things he shouldn’t. He’s also a Swissy, and Swissys are notorious for having gastrointestinal issues. There have been several times in the past when Kubla was sick or got into something. We would rush him to the vet, who would want to do an X-ray and more. The next day he would puke/pass whatever was bothering him and be just fine. After a few $400 stomach aches, we learned to just wait it out.
Last Saturday I hosted a baby shower at our condo. We often give Kubla a bone when we’re entertaining, because it distracts him from trying to eat babies. He happily stayed on the rug and chomped on his bully stick all afternoon.
On Sunday, he seemed not himself. We figured it was a hangover from too much bully stick. Or something he pulled out of the garbage while I was cleaning. Either way, no big deal.
On Monday he wasn’t much better. It took several attempts to get him outside in the morning. He wasn’t interested in eating. But, he still seemed alert and wasn’t puking or anything, so we still just decided to keep an eye on him. I skipped our auditions that night to stay home with him. I sat on the floor and fed him ice cubes since he hadn’t had any water.
The thing that sucks about dogs is you can’t just consider their needs, you need to consider the immediate financial implications of any treatment you pursue. On Monday night, we knew we had a sick dog, but we didn’t feel we needed to take him to the emergency room right then. I hate it that this was partly a financial decision. But there it is. (I can also say, with hindsight, that our decision to wait overnight didn’t cause him any additional harm. His spleen just would have been smaller when it came out.)
Monday night Josh and I slept on the couches in the living room, so we would be near him and would notice if he did take a turn for the worse. We had already decided that we would take him to the vet first thing in the morning, unless his condition worsened overnight.
Tuesday morning…I have to be at work at 7:30am, and we are down to one car because the Volvo has a leaky tire. The plan: Get the dog in the car, Josh drops me at work, then goes to the vet.
The whole “get the dog in the car” part was easier said than done. At this point, Kubla wasn’t able to walk more than about 6 feet before he would stop and just lie down. We might have been able to carry him, but it obviously caused him a lot of pain when we tried to pick him up. So, we got a luggage cart. And put a blanket on it. And plopped him on top.
Normally this would become Kubla Khan and There’s No Fucking Way You Are Getting Me To Sit On That Very Scary Cart. But, as soon as I started pushing, he figured out that he was getting a ride down the hallway instead of the much more painful options. So he stayed put.
I get dropped at work, Josh heads to the vet, (where he has to anxiously wait in the parking lot for them to open) and finally Kubla is seen and they start to do tests.
The first blood work comes back, and this is where the vet freaks the shit out of us because most vets don’t know anything about Swissys.* Kubla’s abdominal x-rays came back clear (meaning he didn’t have an obstruction in his stomach or intestines) but he was very anemic and had a low platelet count. The vet started talking about cancer, or an autoimmune diseases, and things like “50% chances.” Josh called me, barely holding it together. I barely held it together. No matter what, Kubla needed more critical care than the regular vet could provide, so we prepared to transfer him. They had given him some fluids, so he was actually able to walk back to the car himself. Josh drove him to the U of M emergency clinic, got him checked in, and came to get me from work.
Dr. Tart (yup) at the U came to get a history from us. She said the next step would be an ultrasound to see what was going on. That was gonna take a few hours, so Josh and I went home for a while and waited for news. She called and finally we had a diagnosis: splenic torsion.
Splenic torsion is when the spleen flips over on itself, cutting off the blood supply in and out. This is where the Swissy factor comes in again. There are two types of splenic torsion: acute and chronic. Basically, acute is more severe than chronic. In most dogs, there are two ways you see splenic torsion. First, in conjunction with gastric torsion (or bloat.) In this case, the stomach flip causes the splenic flip. It is a serious and life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency surgery. The second way is most common in older dogs diagnosed with cancer – tumors on the spleen can cause a partial torsion.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, however, can be prone to splenic torsion all by its’ lonesome, without the help of stomachs or tumors or old age. But, unless you know the breed well, you wouldn’t know this. (“Check his spleen,” we said before the ultrasound. “Our breeder says with symptoms like this it’s usually the spleen.” “Your breeder doesn’t get a say in this,” was the answer, complete with rolled eyes. See asterisk below.) That’s why our vets were looking at everything except his spleen, and when they figured out it was the spleen, went looking for tumors and were surprised at how young he is.
Regardless of the cause, when a spleen torses it needs to come out. You can’t just untwist it, because the blood that collects in the organ during the torsion becomes toxic and shouldn’t be released back into the bloodstream.
So, Josh and I headed back to the hospital to see Kubla before he went under. We met with the surgeon, Dr. Kohler, who explained the procedure and risks. Kubla would need some blood transfusions since he was so anemic but otherwise it should be a simple surgery.
They said it should only be an hour or so, so Josh and I waited in the lobby. And waited. And waited. After a while Dr. Tart came out and told us it was going really well, just the spleen was large and they needed to make sure to get all the little blood vessels closed off so he didn’t have internal bleeding. We waited some more.
Finally, after 3 hours, the Dr. Kohler came out. Everything was fine, except for the ELEVEN POUND spleen they removed from our dog. A normal spleen is around a pound. Kubla was 14 lbs. when we got him as a puppy.
That’s a big spleen.
We gave the surgeon Lil’ Brudder to pass along, so Kubla would have something that smelled like home with him.
He had a good night in the ICU and spent the next day (Wednesday) recovering. By Thursday morning he was ready to come home.
He’s got a completely shaved belly and the incision runs the entire length of his belly. I guess the spleen was that big. Or, in dogs, they don’t really care about how cosmetic a scar is. We can tell he’s on the mend, but nowhere near himself yet – neither the UPS guy knocking on the door nor us cooking dinner got the usual responses. We just hope that Evil Cat doesn’t mess with stuff, because we’re pretty sure that chasing her across the condo falls into the category of “restricted movement.”
Today, Friday, he’s almost back to his old self. He’s still a little hesitant on stairs, but he pulled Josh’s arm off on his walk. He’s still not eating, but we think it’s half “hasn’t regained his appetite” and half “he got spoiled on canned food in the hospital and now he’s picky.”
And that, dear readers, concludes the story of Kubla Khan and the Very Scary Splenic Torsion. Luckily it has a happy ending.
*I am in no way trying to be disrespectful of vets or to be an armchair quarterback about my pet’s health. I get that these days anyone with an internet connection thinks they’re an expert. However, the reality is that we have a rare breed of dog that most vets never see. This breed also has some specific health issues that are rarely seen in other breeds. We, like most Swissy owners, often have to fight to have it recognized that we (or our breeder) may actually know what we’re talking about medically when it comes to breed-specific health issues.
Addendum: Some people thought the above comment meant we were unhappy with the vets. This is not the case and I in no way meant to criticize the care Kubla received. The vets at the U of M are world class, and he could not have been in better hands. I was merely trying to point out something that Swissy (or any rare breed) owners have to deal with. We are eternally thankful for the amazing professionals who saved our dog’s life.