He couldn’t even raise his head, his gums were pale, his pulse weak and thready. Had an injury caused this black German shepherd mix to bleed internally? Was he anemic from an autoimmune disorder? Had he been poisoned? I remember wishing he could tell me what happened.
Only a minute earlier, this big dog had burst through the front door, just not under his own steam. His 80-pound self was hefted by a couple of burly, bearded men, so highly agitated they were shouting over each other. They’d found their dog barely conscious only 30 minutes earlier next to their home in Placitas. They were frantic for a miracle.
Martha, the quiet example of composure, was the usual first stop for our clients, but had been bypassed this time. She immediately joined the action by inviting these rough, but earnest, men into an exam room to gather a history. That freed me and Amos to do our best to help – fast.
While holding “Big Blue” on his side on the treatment table, Amos spoke in soothing tones as I palpated the somewhat distended abdomen. Using a syringe I easily withdrew a generous quantity of blood. A quick microscopic exam showed no sign of clotting. Rodent poisoning with an anticoagulant like d-CON topped the list of suspects.
As I ordered a vitamin K1 injection from another veterinary nurse, and a venous sample to estimate blood loss from another, Amos started warming blood for a transfusion. Speed matters in emergencies, but it isn’t always enough. Big Blue passed away in front of us.
Explaining death and comforting grieving pet parents is part of being a veterinarian. It felt exceptionally hard during my first years in practice. It’s no easier now. As I shared my condolences and the likely cause of this tragic loss, larger questions began swirling in the back of my mind: Like many dogs in the free-living community of late 1970s Placitas, was Big Blue allowed to run loose? Would this be an isolated case?
Next week: Conflict: The real diagnosis.
• For help with behavior problems, you can sign up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in person and via groups on Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week, he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.