D. E. Larsen, DVM
Jim waited patiently in the reception area with George lying at his feet. He tried to busy himself, looking at his hand, then out the window. I hurried to the next exam room so we could work George into the busy schedule.
“Dixie, get Jim into the surgery room, and I will look at George as soon as I am done here,” I said to Dixie as we passed each other between the exam rooms.
George was a farm dog, and he sure wasn’t much to look at, but he was a constant companion for Jim.
Jim and Joyce had a small farm out on the Calapooia River. They had a few cows, a few sheep, a lot of cats, and George.
Dixie had George up on the surgery table when I stepped into the room. George was lying with his head stretched out on the table.
“I’m sorry to be such a bother,” Jim said. “I guess I never realized how sick George was. He hasn’t eaten for several days, and I noticed he vomited some water in the yard this morning. Then this afternoon, I saw him take a crap, and it was like brown water.”
I ran my hands over George. I could feel his ribs with no fat covering them, and I noticed a few swollen lymph nodes.
“Don’t worry about the bother, Jim,” I said. “We are happy to work you in when it is something that needs attention. It feels like George has lost some weight.”
“Yes, I noticed that when I picked him up to put him in the pickup this afternoon,” Jim said. “You can’t see that looking at him with all that hair.”
I lifted a pinch of skin up on the back of George’s neck, and it was slow to return to normal when I released it. Opening his mouth, his tongue was shrunken and wrinkled, and his tonsils were swollen and red.
“What do suppose is wrong with him, Doc?” Jim asked.
“George is vomiting and has diarrhea, his lymph nodes and tonsils are swollen, and he is dehydrated and losing weight,” I said. “In my mind, George has salmon disease until I prove otherwise. We can confirm that when we have time to do some lab work.”
“Doc, I think a lot of George, but the facts are we have limited funds to spend on him,” Jim said. “I don’t know how he could have salmon disease, but I don’t think that sounds good.”
“Jim, you live on the river,” I said. “There would be ample opportunity for George to get a bite of dead fish or fish guts, and I would be making the same statement if you lived in the middle of Portland.”
“So, what do we need to be doing for him?” Jim asked.
“We need to keep him for a few days and treat him with IV fluids and antibiotics,” I said. “He is in the advanced stages of this disease. Over ninety percent of dogs with salmon disease die within ten days of becoming ill if they are not treated. Hopefully, we can turn things around for George.”
“I trust your diagnosis,” Jim said. “Let’s put our money into treatment rather than a lot of lab work.”
“Okay, I will be able to confirm the diagnosis with just a fecal smear at this stage of the game,” I said. “George will need a lot of fluids if he is going to survive.”
“I need you to keep a running tab for us,” Jim said. “I would guess that we will reach a point where we will have to draw a line.”
“If you have a few minutes, I can give you a pretty accurate figure for the first two days,” I said. “But the problem, Jim, is George will not be well in two days.”
Jim looked at the estimate I handed him and shook his head.
“Doc, we will give him two days, but there will be nothing beyond this estimate,” Jim said. “Do your best, but if he is going to die, I will take him home to die, where he will know his surroundings.”
We hospitalized George and placed him on IV fluids and doxycycline. His fecal smear showed large numbers of fluke eggs, confirming the diagnosis.
George somewhat stabilized with treatment, but when Jim came to check on him, he was still quite ill.
“The thing I don’t understand, Doc, is how come they can feed salmon to dogs in Alaska with no problem, but it kills dogs here?” Jim asked.
“It is a complex life cycle, Jim,” I said. “The distribution of the disease extends from northern California to the Puget Sound. Maybe a little further on both ends; I don’t have the latitudes on the top of my head. It also occurs on a similar range of latitudes on the east coast of Siberia. That range is controlled by the presence of a snail involved in the life cycle.”
Jim gathered George up in his arms to carry him out of the clinic. George’s eyes were bloodshot and had mucus in their corners. I doubt if he weighed thirty pounds.
I patted George on the head as I handed Jim a bottle of antibiotics and wished him luck. I was sure it was the last time I was going to see George.
It was probably two months later when Jim called for me to come by and pregnancy check their little blind heifer.
I pulled into the driveway and stopped at the house before going to the barn. To my complete surprise, George came bounding off the porch to greet me. He was back to his old self. Joyce stepped out of the house.
“Jim will be out in a moment,” Joyce said. “We have the heifer in the barn.”
“George was a complete surprise to me,” I said. “I figured he had zero chance to survive.”
“It looked that way for several days,” Joyce said. “After Jim brought him home, he laid around here looking like death warmed over. One evening Jim was telling me that he would take George out behind the barn in the morning and shoot him. I don’t know if George heard his comments or not, but that next morning George was at the front door, wagging his tail and looking for food. It was just like that, and he was instantly well.”
George followed Jim and me to the barn, and I checked the heifer. She was two months pregnant.
This heifer had been born with tiny eyeballs in her eye sockets. Microphthalmia was a rare condition and could have been genetic.
“It will be interesting to see she has a calf with normal vision,” I said.
“Yes, it will be interesting,” Jim said. “But it doesn’t matter. We will keep it either way. Beth here gets along fine in her pastures.”
George escorted me to the truck, and I patted his head before I left.
Photo by Bojan Popovic on Pexels.