After three rescue dogs, and also having raised three puppies for Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, one Lab and two Standard Poodles, my name was on the list for that first poodle for me. I researched responsible breeders and picked one that expected reds. Kahlu was born July 2006. He was to become my agility champion, I wanted to take him to many trials maybe even Nationals. Hopes and dreams. But most of all he was to be my buddy and a family pet. At 1 ½ Kahlu competed in his first agility trials and got his first titles. He got also certified as a Therapy dog and we made weekly visits at a senior’s home.
Kahlu came with his first shots and, wanting to protect this precious puppy, I took him to our trusted vet who did all the scheduled boosters for core vaccines (parvo & distemper) at 12 & 16 weeks and then again after a year. At 24 weeks he got his first rabies shot. When Kahlu was one, the vet suggested that besides the core vaccines it would be good if Kahlu would also get bordatella and leptosporosis. An other year later, all the vaccinations were boosted and the vet recommended adding vaccinations for Lyme disease and giardia. Kahlu was such an athletic and healthy pup and I wanted to keep it that way, so the immunizations were done, all on the same day.
Three months later, when Kahlu was just 2 ½, I noticed he was less energetic and did not eat well. A few days after that he threw up and seemed dizzy. We took him to the vet immediately. A check of the gums showed that he was anemic. The vet cornered Kahlu and tried to take blood from a front paw. Kahlu felt threatened and squirmed out of my hold. The vet gave up and said there is no way to take blood from this dog. He sent me home with a pamphlet about Addison’s disease, shaking his head saying that Kahlu would not die tonight and I should call back tomorrow.
No improvement the next day so I picked up some pills at the vet (Zentonil) that were supposed to help his liver. With still no improvement the following day, I decided to see another vet that came highly recommended. When I described Kahlu’s symptoms, I was asked to come in right away. The vet, Dr. Tutteli Pukarainen was not at all concerned about getting blood from Kahlu. She lay under my dog that was standing and took his blood from a hind leg. There wasn’t even any need for me to hold him. He totally trusted her. That was a good thing, because he would see a lot of her over the next months. Tutteli came back with the diagnosis of AIHA a few minutes later.
After days of wondering what was wrong with my dog I finally had a diagnosis and I gave Tutteli a hug. Little did I know what this diagnosis meant. After all I had never heard of this disease before and thought, how bad can it be? This boy is well bred and was happy and healthy just a few days ago.
Tutteli spent some time to explain what needed to be done. She explained all the medications (prednisone, azathioprene, sucralfate, famoditine) and also handed me a daily planner. Kahlu’s PCV was at 17, but since we live only minutes from the vet clinic Tutteli let us go home. She gave us her private phone number and the number of an emergency clinic 250 km from here in case Kahlu needed a transfusion. Thankfully that was not needed and Kahlu’s PCV/HCT climbed slowly over the weekend.
The journey, one day at a time
And so the roller-coaster ride began. A very steep learning curve started the first few weeks after this dreadful diagnosis. Thankfully I found The Meisha’s Hope website and the Vetnet forum. On the forum I got so much advice and support, I don’t know how I would have managed without all the supportive people there.There were ups and downs but over all Kahlu’s HTC climbed slowly into the low thirties and then stagnated. His liver enzymes were skyrocketing, he developed a urinary tract infection and his body started to show the signs of the high doses of prednisone and azathioprene.
One day Tutteli sat on the floor holding Kahlu in her lap saying: “I really don’t know what else to do, I need some guidance, what do you want to do? Should I call a specialist or do you want to go and see one.” That is when I suggested she contact Dr. Jean Dodds. Tutteli was exited about that, since she had heard and read a lot about her. Tutelli talked to Dr. Dodds for over an hour and that is when things really started to turn around. We added Soloxine, Denamarin and Pet-Tinic to Kahlu’s regime.After about 6 weeks he was in the normal range and we started lowering the immune suppressing drugs. I started to cook Dr. Dodds’ Liver Cleansing Diet for him and after about 3 months I started to get my “old” dog back.
We were going on longer walks and 6 months after diagnosis Kahlu seemed totally normal to anybody that saw him. He was still on small doses of prednisone and azathioprene but I could see the end of that and had high hopes that we could do agility again. We started jumping exercises and went swimming together in one of the beautiful lakes near by. Slowly Kahlu’s muscles started to get stronger. One of my best memories is swimming beside him, in the cool lake on a warm July evening.
Kahlu still had a lot of UTIs that needed attention. We did full CBCs before every reduction of prednisone and azathioprene and, except for the liver enzymes, everything was always in the normal range. Towards the end of the year a pathologists report came back saying: “HCT has dropped a bit, of concern is polychromasia and spherocytes noted. Concerned for possible early re-occurrence of disease.” My heart dropped. We sent blood to Dr. Dodds immediately and her results came back as normal. I relaxed, looked forward to Christmas and a healthy New Year.
The Relapse and the End
January 3, 2010
Kahlu collapsed and we were at the vet immediately. A quick PCV showed 15% and we were all devastated. But then I had read about so many dogs that relapsed and recovered. I had done everything right, consulted with Dr. Dodds, the foremost expert on this disease; I fed Kahlu the best food, gave him all the supplements and reduced the drugs very slowly. Of course there were no immunizations or flea control used on him.
Of course I was worried, but I was also pretty confident that we could beat this relapse just as we beat the disease the first time around. But the PCV kept dropping and my sweet boy started to feel worse and worse. This time we had added cyclosporine to the prednisone.
January 5, 2011
It was evident that Kahlu would not survive without a blood transfusion. Kahlu was only 3 ½ and I had to give him the chance to fight this again. All went well and for a few hours it seemed that he would recover. But then it became pretty clear that this was not going to happen. He got weaker and weaker. I took him to the vet again and was soon faced with the grim diagnosis of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). By then Kahlu was on intravenous fluids. We could clearly tell that he was too tired to fight this again and I made the heart breaking decision to let him go. Everybody at the clinic was in tears.
Grieving and the Rescue
Everybody that has lost a dog knows how devastating it is to come home to an empty house. Thankfully we had a second, older dog. Ripley was a Guide Dog “failure” and very much helped us over these next sad days. He himself also seemed to grieve his buddy. I was heart broken and it was difficult to make sense of this devastating outcome. Kahlu was strong and healthy just a year ago, we seemed to be doing everything right, did not spare any cost and still, Kahlu did not survive. Was it the over immunizing, his genes? We will never know for certain.
His breeder offered me a puppy that would be born in a few days. The mother was Kahlu’s sister. I contacted Dr. Dodds and asked for her advice. Was I asking for trouble? Her answer:”Every dog can get this disease. Get the puppy, feed it the best food you can afford, follow my immunization protocol and give it lots of TLC.”
I followed her advice and now have an almost 4-year-old red Standard Poodle, my clown Enzo. He rescued me out of a deep hole and saved my broken heart. We have gone to Provincial and National agility championships together and a couple of months ago started visiting seniors in a care facility. The fear of Enzo getting sick is always there and I check his gums a lot. Whenever he is under the weather, the memories of this awful disease come back. I never take him or his health for granted. One day I will have to face the world without him so I make sure we have lots of great memories.
Kahlu is not at all forgotten. Only a few weeks after his death I started to do fundraisers for the Meisha’s Hope foundation. I did raffles and collected quarters for course maps at agility trials. This forced me to talk about AIHA/IMHA, over vaccinating and flea control. I had to talk about Kahlu’s illness and his death. Everybody deals with grief differently but for me this was very healing. I collected over $1000.00 in a year. This money was used to fund research into the disease.
Kahlu was cremated and we put his ashes in a creek where he used to swim lots and we did our daily walks. I have talked about Kahlu’s story a lot, but this is the first time I put it down “on paper”. This has also helped to heal. When I think of Kahlu now the memories are of swimming and running as a team through an agility course.