This is a long and sordid tale, but my hope is that by sharing I might come across someone who has gone through something similar in their kennel and maybe I can pull some answers about what we've been experiencing.
It's early February during this crazy winter where we're dealing with the unprecedented lack of snow in Northern Wisconsin. Of course there are some people thrilled with that, but every musher is struggling. We'd been training harder than ever in the fall and early winter so that we could be successful at the sprint and mid-distance races we intended to enter. They have all been canceled.
We have also done a ton of work and maintenance leading into the sled dog ride season, hoping to have one of the better years for our business in order to grow it into more than just a winter event. There were big aspirations to make it year-round and to share the joy of sled dogs with the visitors of our area, no matter when they come. Instead, we've had to cancel and refund almost every single reservation.
And finally, we're still reeling and trying to recover from the loss of Moon, Diane's wonderful male, who passed away mid-December from a horrible disease called IMHA. It is expensive and horrible to battle, and even worse when all of the resources are for naught because the treatment doesn't work. Poor Moon didn't respond at all to any of what we tried, and eventually, we had to put him to rest. Losing him has been so hard on our hearts and on Diane's teams.
Despite all of those difficult letdowns and sorrows, we were still making the most of the training opportunities while we could. The dogs don't know there's another race or sled dog experience canceled: They just want to work! And through January, despite a roller coaster of weather conditions, we let them do that as much as possible.
Then during the last week of January, a little bug started going around Amelia's kennel. The weather had just gone from -20 up to 40+ in a very short window, and it's not completely unusual to see some loose stool in a racing kennel such as ours. When it does come around, our protocol is to treat for parasites and add an antibiotic to the sick dogs.
In this case, the bug started with Heels. She first had diarrhea on January 30th, and I treated her for 5 days with Metronidazole and Valbazen as per usual even though it wasn’t the usual Giardia-looking diarrhea and lacked the sign of blood. Hers was a little more yellowy-brown. She was also a little off food at first when she presented, but through the Metro and worming she improved. I also treated the whole kennel with 3 days Valbazen since they weren't presenting symptoms yet, but I usually treat the whole kennel.
Four other dogs, Eclipse, Only, Milly, and Nox, all presented with diarrhea in the following three days. Only and Eclipse went off food for a day. I stopped feeding them raw and started adding rice and burger to their kibble and put water back out since it’s been so warm. Scraping and cleaning everything as best I can considering the warmup and sick dogs that seem to have a bug.
Heels was improved Friday and Saturday. She was eating and playful; her poop was better; and I thought we were through whatever GI issue she had. She even went on a short and slow training run on Saturday and did fine. She was excited to go, pulled the whole time, drank after. There was nothing that called out she was struggling, though we did half the mileage at a slower pace due to the temperature.
Then Sunday afternoon she started vomiting. Sort of an orangey-brown, not all that different than the diarrhea. She was also not interested in eating or drinking. By Monday morning she had dark bloody liquid diarrhea, completely different than the onset, and I rushed her into the vet. While there, she was given subcutaneous fluids and Cerenia, and a blood sample was taken. I also brought in fecal from her, a different dog with diarrhea, and a dog showing no symptoms. It was clear Heels was not well, but she walked in and pulled me out, seemed more anxious than anything, but she did also have a fever of 104. Her blood and the fecal were sent out for next day results, instead of anything in-house (not abnormal in this area because we're rural), but it would turn out that she was too sick to wait.
Anyway, we went home with the hope that her fluids and the Cerenia would make her feel better and start to improve. She drank a lot at home Monday, she was clearly not feeling well but she pulled me around and waited to potty outside, but she continued with the super bad black bloody liquid diarrhea. At about midnight she went into shock and was unresponsive. I cleaned her and loaded her, and 45 minutes into the 2-hour drive, she passed away.
The next morning, the vet who saw her called me the second the clinic opened with her blood results, and her WBC was 0.7, so she was in serious trouble, and keep in mind that was 13 hours before she passed. The fecal results were negative for any parasites. I feel that both me and the vet failed her by treating her so conservatively, but she wasn't acting like a dog who was THAT sick where I thought she should be hospitalized, and, though I was worried, I took her home.
Now that she's passed, there is a bigger problem: I have four other sick dogs. Eclipse and Only have seemed to make it through the illness as they were eating, playing, had solid stool, etc., but Heels also had two days of feeling and doing better. Nox and Milly continued to have diarrhea, so I bring Nox (the dog who's had the yellow-brown diarrhea the longest) and deceased Heels in to my regular vet office on Tuesday morning and am seen by a different vet there.
He opens Heels up and they find a section of her small intestine that has died. Nothing else abnormal that is observed - no torsion, no blockage, no tumors, no Pyo, and no indication of Parvo. A biopsy of her intestine is taken and sent it, and I'm still awaiting results.
Nox doesn’t have a fever and his WBC is 5.4. We send in a diarrhea PCR and I’m waiting for those results. They do an in-house Parvo test which is negative.
Wednesday morning neither Nox nor Milly eat, there’s a pile of kibble vomit in their kennel, and I observe Milly throwing up. They are also on day 4 of the diarrhea, so I bring them both in again for subQ and Cerenia. While there, we recheck Nox’s WBC, which has increased slightly overnight, and neither Nox nor Milly have a fever. They do, however, have liquid diarrhea all over the vet office, and the vet takes a look under a slide but doesn't see anything worthwhile.
We decide to start them on Metronidazole and a probiotic and continue to monitor for changes, knowing that even a small change could be critical. At home, they both eat dinner and their medications and drink. Neither had vomited prior to going to bed, but instead Eclipse, who was one of the initial sick ones and who had gotten better, has the diarrhea again and a new dog, Violet, has the diarrhea now. I put them both on Metronidazole as well.
I’m trying not to lose my mind waiting for results and not knowing what the heck is going on. The vet is thinking maybe Salmonella, though the way it’s moving around seems so much more like a virus. I have a puppy in the house so I’m super cautious about him. And I’m so sad over my poor girl Heels. Why did she die? Was it secondary to whatever the diarrhea is? My two teams train on different routes and the dogs that are presenting are in different areas of the kennel. Some never really interact this time of year. My mom also feeds the same beef and the same kibble from the same pallets and she doesn’t have anything at her kennel. She runs the same trails. It's mind-boggling.
While I wait and wait for answers, I focus on the wins, even if they are small: everyone ate breakfast and dinner with vigor, no one is throwing up at this time, and there's no blood in any stool, my puppy hasn't gotten sick, and this afternoon we went 5 hours without a single new pile of diarrhea anywhere.
The outpouring of love from our doggy network is felt, and it makes the huge loss of Heels a little easier. She was such a beautiful dog with such a bright future and would have turned 2 next week.
Through all of this trauma and stress and grief, a GoFundMe has been created and shared, and while the thought of accepting such generosity makes me feel ill, I'm so appreciate any support, big or small. If you are able or inclined, you can donate to our vet fund here: gofund.me/572086c4
Thank you for reading, and if you have any thoughts on my experience or have gone through something similar yourself, please reach out. I'm looking to collect as much information as I can in the event the results that I'm waiting for are inconclusive.