When Common Things Become Deadly

We (wife & I) joined Gateway Golden Retriever Rescue in June, 2002. Since then we’ve fostered Calvin, Buddy, Titus, Ginger, Rex, Trevor, Casey, Amos, Tucker, Ralph, Faith, Kolby, Fawn, Nicky, Kiera, Spencer, Tyler, Hunter, and Logan. Titus, a 9 week old puppy who was really sick and losing weight, became our own Jasper, in 2003, after nursing him back to health with a baby bottle. Casey and Amos were littermates that came to rescue after the state of Missouri closed a puppy mill due to health code violations. Casey and Amos and 7 other siblings shared a single crate at 4 months old that had 4 inches of feces on the floor. They had every illness imaginable. Casey went to a fantastic forever home, while Amos became the third golden to call our house, “home”. Ginger, a West Highland Terrier stayed for a week before going to my mother-in-law. Ginger thought she was a Golden Retriever which was only fair because our Jasper thought he was a West Highland Terrier when he visited Ginger’s house and walked across the back of a sofa, like she does, and it flipped over. Ralph was a family pet who lived in the house for 12 years, but when the family got a new puppy, they sent him out to live with their farm animals. He spent most of his time under a horse trailer. When Ralph made it to rescue, he had an inoperable bullet in his chest near his heart and he was heartworm positive. He went on to be fostered by another of our members and then found a great home with an author, known for her love of the breed. Fawn came in with two littermates, but they were fostered separately. They were all stricken with behavioral issues that come with abuse and neglect. After teaching her to climb stairs and teaching her about love, she found a great family. All of the dogs listed above were puppies under the age of 6 months except Calvin, Buddy, and Ralph.

This year, 2009, so far, we have fostered Spencer, Tyler, Hunter, and Logan.

This posting is about Hunter.

Hi, I’m Hunter
Hi, I’m Hunter
We fostered Hunter and Logan together. Both were about 6 months old. Hunter met his prospective adoptive family on April 26th. About mid-morning on April 27th, Hunter was suddenly stricken with some kind of illness. And I do mean suddenly. One moment he was fine, running and playing with his golden playmates, and 30 minutes later he was down. His eyes were swollen shut, and when he opened them, they looked like pools of blood. The whites of his eyes were extremely bloodshot, and the conjunctive tissue around the eyes was blood red. And he wheezing and having difficulty breathing. Jasper, Amos, and Logan were all fine and had been running and playing together in the yard just before this happened. During a call to the vet, they suggested giving him an antihistamine, but with my years of experience in dealing with the many illnesses of the foster Goldens and the various cancers that Cody had, something told us that this was something that a simple antihistamine wasn’t going to fix.

Ten minutes later, pulling into the vet’s parking lot, Hunter started going into anaphylactic shock. His breathing became very labored. Inside their office, they checked his temperature and discovered that it was 105.6F. Normal body temperature for a golden retriever is 101F to 102F. Brain damage can occur at or above 107.6F. The vet started an I.V. and to help reduce his fever they packed his I.V. bag in ice, sprayed him with cool water and rubbed isopropyl alcohol on his pads. Hunter’s fever responded by going up to 106.2F. They treated him with higher than normal dosages of antihistamines, antibiotics, and steroids, and plenty of fluids. For the next 24 hours, Hunter fought for his life, and we continued to get updates on his condition every few hours. At around 5pm when the vet closed, we transferred him to the emergency hospital where he could receive round-the-clock care through the night, and back to the vet when they reopened in the morning. By morning, he had stabilized and his fever was bouncing up and down near 104F. By mid-afternoon, his fever was falling, and by the end of the day, it was low enough that he could come home.

The question that remains, however, is, “what happened?” Today, more than a month later, with Hunter happily in his forever home, and Logan happily in his forever home, that question still haunts us.

Our best guesses are the following. Both were suggested by Hunter’s vet.

Hunter may have eaten a spider. He had been busy consuming every June bug he could find, and in Missouri in April, June bugs are plentiful. I could see him pouncing on a spider in the absence of an available June bug. His reaction appeared to be an allergic reaction, but it was extremely more severe than a simple spider bite or bee sting, even if he had been allergic. In fact, if we hadn’t been home when it happened, he would have died. In fact if we had given him an antihistamine at home and played the wait and see game before taking him to the vet, he may still have died. When a poisonous spider bites (brown recluses are common here), it only pumps a small amount of venom into the wound. But if the dog eats the spider, he ingests all of the venom contained within the spider and absorbs it through the stomach wall, so the toxicity is MUCH higher.
Hunter’s blood work was evaluated by the vets on-site on the day of his admittance. They usually send the blood work out to an outside lab; but there wasn’t time for that. A couple of days after he had come home, they repeated the blood work, and sent both samples to the outside lab. The results showed that at the time of his admittance he was anemic and the second sample was not. It also showed that his blood was having difficulty clotting during the first and second blood tests, but now, 5 weeks later a blood test (at the same vet and paid for by Rescue) showed that problem has cleared up too. One of the things that causes anemia and clotting issues, is rat poison. We bought nearly sixty 40lb bags of top soil at Home Depot and Lowes the two days prior to his illness. We emptied those bags into the new raised garden on the day before. We (the vets & us) theorize that Hunter may have found a piece of a dead animal that had been stricken by the poison and had died in the dirt before it was bagged.
Either one of these guesses are a real possibility. We were lucky; we were home when this happened. If we hadn’t been home when he fell ill (may not have happened immediately after exposure) he would have died before we could have gotten him to treatment. If we had just given him an antihistamine and waited to see what happened, rather than take him immediately to the vet, chances are better than average that he would have died. The “What If” question still haunts us. I’d feel better with a definitive answer about what the cause was. But we won’t get that. And in a week, we’ve got two 1 year old golden retriever siblings showing up for a foster visit.

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