It was my birthday a few weeks ago, and I had it all figured out. Birthday time would begin with a ladies’ night drink at one of my favorite new restaurants. The next day my boyfriend and I planned to go to New York for a long weekend to celebrate with friends. We were going to take a pasta-making dinner class at Eataly, something I’ve always wanted to do. We were going to try to eat dinner at The Water Table in Brooklyn, a seemingly amazing place for a night out. Food and friends are top of the list I guess!
So the week before all this I took my puppy, Adelaide, to the vet for a vaccine which her daycare now requires. The next day, while making her dinner, a little voice in my head told me to look in her ears because I never really have a good look in them (they stick up and are fairly wide open, flopping over at the tips, pretty adorable). In them I saw two blood purple scratches, which seemed not too out of the ordinary because on our walks she runs with abandon through the fields and woods around our house. But then I saw similar spots of blood under her skin on her temples. I followed this under her fur, across her forehead to the other ear, seeing increasingly larger patches as I went.
I’m not going to say I’m not a hypochondriac (she’s my first dog and has definitely already had her share of “situations”, like when we stumbled into a bee’s nest last summer.) But this seemed not right in a meaningful way. So after a google search and a phone call we were at the emergency vet. It turns out that she had a very rare reaction to the vaccine which caused her body to kill her platelets – she had almost none. The marks that I was seeing were from her body essentially hemorrhaging because it couldn’t clot. She was started on medication to suppress her immune system to stop it from killing her platelets. But this can be slow to start working. Days were going by and she had no platelets. That means that she was in constant danger. If she fell, bruised, or cut herself it could be catastrophic. She couldn’t play with balls or bones, wear collars or harnesses, go for walks, run or jump, or even eat hard food – she had to be handled with kid gloves. Even the vet visits were dangerous but we had to go daily for blood tests. And, during all of this she had no idea because she felt fine, except for the fact that I never left her side.
After no immediate improvement we saw a specialist who gave Addy a chemotherapy drug which could help flush some platelets out of her bone marrow, and then we waited. And waited. And had a number of blood tests that returned no better, and sometimes worse results. And then finally, after nine days of watching, monitoring, researching, hugging, loving, holding, praying, and trying to believe in the positive, her count rose into the safe zone. She is not completely back to normal, and there is a fairly long road ahead to wean her from her medications, but she is out of danger and returning to a normal life. I am the one who is having a hard time at letting my guard down. It is a terrifying experience to deal with such fragility.
I am writing this to hopefully help other dog owners. Though this is a rare reaction to a vaccine, it can also happen as a result of a tick-borne disease and certain types of cancer. Quite often it is not discovered until too late because the blood spots (petechia) are hard to see on a dog covered in fur. So please cuddle with your dog and give them a good inspection on a regular basis, and especially after vaccines and unusual situations. I am so thankful that I heard that little voice in my head.
So though it was the birthday that nearly broke my heart, it is the one that I got the best gift I could have ever received. Adelaide.
To learn more about this condition click here: Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMT)