Dean chose his new puppy carefully: she is a Bavarian Mountain Hound, specially bred as a working dog to help him hunt deer in County Wicklow. She’ll be a fit, strong, muscular dog when she goes up, ideal for stalking deer on mountain hillsides.
She was healthy when Dean brought her back from the breeder, but a few weeks later, she fell seriously ill. Her eyes became bloodshot and started to weep, and her eyelids swelled up so that she could hardly see. She became dull, refusing to eat, and she developed a high fever. When Dean brought her to see me, I found that her muscles were very painful: she yelped when I touched her front legs, and she staggered when she walked.
At first, the cause of her problem was a mystery. There was no obvious cause of these symptoms. I gave her a general treatment to help her, and sent off blood samples to check for some rare parasitic diseases that are sometimes seen in dogs from hunting stock.
When the results came back, I was disappointed at first that they were negative: there must be some other cause of her disease, but what was it? It was around that time that she developed another sign of illness that gave a strong clue about what was going on: the lymph nodes in her neck swelled up like golf balls.
Every dog has lymph nodes in the neck, but they are normally the size of frozen peas, tucked in under the lower jaw in the upper part of the neck. At the start of her illness, these nodes were the normal size, but when Dean brought Pippa back for a recheck a week later, they had swollen up to the size of golf balls. There’s a long list of causes of this type of swelling, from infections to cancer, with many other possibilities too. I took a biopsy from each gland using a fine needle, again sending the samples off to the laboratory. It was a worrying time: Pippa was still dull and depressed, spending much of her time sleeping in her bed. She seemed more like a sick old dog than the bright, active puppy that she was meant to be.
This time, the results confirmed a definite diagnosis: Pippa had a condition known as “puppy strangles” or to use the technical term, “juvenile pyoderma”. This is a rare disease that only occurs in young dogs, and no-one knows why. It’s thought to be an aberration of the body’s defence system, where the puppy’s immune system sees its own tissues are “foreign”, and so it starts to reject its own body in the same way as a kidney transplant is sometimes rejected by a recipient’s body. There is an inherited basis to the condition, and it’s more common in some breeds (such as Golden Retrievers). Without treatment, it can be life threatening.
The good news was that once the diagnosis had been confirmed, effective treatment could be given. This involved high levels of corticosteroids which suppress the pup’s immune system, damping down the body’s over enthusiastic defence processes.
Pippa responded rapidly to the treatment: her temperature came down to normal, her lymph nodes shrank, she started to eat properly, and she began to play like a pup again. She’ll have to stay on the steroids for a few months, but the good news is that this is a short term disease: as she grows older, her immune system will naturally tone down, and there will be no need for her to stay on long term immunosuppressive drugs.
She’s growing bigger and stronger every day, and Dean’s hoping that by this summer, she’ll be a fit active young adult, out in the Wicklow hills by his side.