Bruce had a life threatening crisis last summer, and Sarah is happy to share his story for a simple reason: the problem could have been prevented and she’d like other people to be aware of this for their own pets’ sake.
Bruce had always been a healthy dog, and when he started to cough from time to time, Sarah didn’t worry too much. Perhaps he’d tickled his throat by chewing grass, or perhaps he had a mild throat infection. She didn’t feel the need to visit the vet urgently.
It was only when the signs of illness progressed that she brought him to my clinic. He started to lie around all the time, with no interest in anything. He just slept all the time. He was still eating, but he didn’t wolf into his food as normal. Put simply, he was just “not himself”.
When I examined him, his gums looked paler than normal, and a blood test confirmed what was going on: he was suffering from anaemia. This means that he had a reduced red blood cell count, causing him to have a reduced ability to carry oxygen around his body, resulting in a sense of lethargy and tiredness. Whenever anaemia is diagnosed, the big question is: what’s causing it? It’s important to find this out, so that the correct treatment can be given.
Broadly, there are three possible causes of anaemia.
First, reduced red blood cell production. Diseases like bone marrow cancer can stop the body from producing enough red blood cells, and anaemia is the result.
Second, increased destruction of red blood cells. Sometimes ,for unknown reasons, the body’s immune system starts to destroy its own red blood cells. When this happens, immunosuppressive therapy is needed to save an animal’s life.
Third, if there is significant blood loss (e.g. rapidly, after an accident, or slowly and less obviously e.g. from a bleeding area in the intestines).
It was impossible to tell the cause of the anaemia from examining Bruce, so a series of tests were carried out, including blood samples, xrays and ultrasound. Even then, it was difficult to pinpoint what was causing his problem: he had an unusual pattern of results. He deteriorated while we were trying to find out what was going on, and he needed a blood transfusion to boost his red blood cell count to keep him alive.
One of the unusual aspects of his anaemia was the fact that he still had a mild cough. It was not happening all the time, but it was enough to worry us. X-rays of his chest showed that he had unusual shadows in his lungs which raised our suspicions of a problem that’s becoming increasingly common in Ireland: lungworm.
This worm is carried by slugs and snails. When dogs eat these (as they often do when out in the garden, even if not seen doing this by their owners), tiny larvae travel from the gut into the lungs, where they cause an irritation. The lungworm larvae also produce chemicals that stop the blood from clotting. I have heard about several dogs dying suddenly from brain haemorrhages, with the post-mortem examination revealing that the cause was poor blood clotting caused by lungworm.
We treated Bruce with the simple, standard treatment for lungworm, which is a vial of special spot-on liquid that was placed onto the back of his neck. He started to improve almost immediately, and within a week, he was fully back to his normal self. We then realised that he must have been having small, regular, episodes of internal bleeding which were not visible, but which were enough to cause him to become anaemic.
Bruce made a full recovery, and Sarah’s making sure that he never has the same problem again. Every month, she applies the special spot-on drop to the back of his neck, to prevent lungworm from ever infesting his body again. One life threatening crisis was more than enough, for Bruce and for Sarah.