Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Back from the Brink of Death

I'm back after a long silence, and I want to begin by re-posting a picture from my last post on Aug. 23, showing Zephyr gleefully racing a pig along the fence.

This picture made me chuckle when I posted it.  It makes me breathe a prayer of thanks to God as I re-post it.

It also makes me think of a line at the end of "While You Were Sleeping" where Ox Callaghan tells his son Jack that there is a moment in time when everything is good, everyone is healthy and happy--and Jack tells him, "This is not that moment."

This may have been a moment when Zephyr was happy and healthy--or maybe not.  We'll never know exactly when things changed, but I'll never forget the moment I found out . . .

Our daughter and son-in-law, Jenny and Jean-Marc, evacuated from Hurricane Irene to avoid power outages that would make it impossible for him to do his online job.  They arrived Saturday night, Aug. 27 with Tai (who has grown considerably since their last visit).  Sunday we had a commitment at church that kept us there till the afternoon.  When we got home, I noticed that Zephyr was not herself.  She seemed stressed and panting, wanting to hide out in our room.  I figured that Tai was just one big dog too many for her and that she was going to have to get used to him all over again.  When I found blood on her mouth, I figured Misty's sharp puppy teeth had hurt her, and I made her a bed in our room so she could take refuge.

Then Zephyr wouldn't eat supper.  She LOVES her food!  She began gagging and trying to throw up, though nothing came up.  I thought she might have something stuck in the back of her jaw that was troubling her.  (This happened to a dog of ours once before.)  I stuck my hand in her little mouth, trying to feel back behind her teeth, and my hand came away bloody.  About that time Jenny noticed more blood coming from Zephyr's mouth, and this was definitely NOT from Misty's teeth.  Poor Zephyr was in too much distress to consider a wait-and-see approach, so we decided to take her to RIVER, the emergency animal clinic.  Jean-Marc drove, and Jenny came, too.  I was still sure it was a bone stuck in her jaw, but one I couldn't get to.

The clinic is nearly 45 minutes from home.  Everything is far away when you live in the country!  When we arrived, I led Zephyr the few steps from the car to the clinic.  As we walked in the door, she gave a deep cough, and a huge gob of foamy blood hit the floor with more dribbling from her mouth.  All I could think was, "Well, at least this wasn't a silly scare on my part."  I still had no idea . . .

Some time later we stood in a consulting room with the vet, looking at Zephyr's x-rays.  We could see that her lungs were whited out with the fluid that filled them.  The vet said it looked like pneumonia, but she had no fever and no symptoms beside shortness-of-breath.  She had only 25% of her lung function left, and he needed to do blood work to try to find the source of the problem.  Meanwhile he would start her immediately on an antibiotic and an anti-fungal in a one-two punch at the two likeliest causes of pneumonia in a healthy dog in the summer.  He said they definitely needed to put her on oxygen and keep her overnight, that it would take an hour and a half to get the lab work back, that we should go home and he would call with the results about midnight.  We told Zephyr goodbye as she lay inert (from the sedation for the x-ray) while a tech held a tube by her nostrils to give her oxygen.

No question of trying to sleep!  I waited up for the call . . .  The news was the worst possible.  The lab work showed that Zephyr's clotting time was extremely elevated, meaning that it was taking a very long time for her blood to clot.  However, her platelets (which cause blood to clot) were normal.  Other than bizarre cancers, unlikely in a young dog, the only cause for such a scenario was rodenticide poisoning.  In other words, Zephyr had eaten rat poison.  She was hemorrhaging into her lungs, which were full of blood (thus the x-ray), and she was struggling to breathe with only 25% of her lungs left able to function.  The vet said that the antidote was Vitamin K; unfortunately, the Vitamin K would take 6 hours to begin working, and Zephyr did not have 6 hours to live.  Her only hope was that a transfusion of platelets from a donor dog might buy her enough time to let the Vitamin K start working.  Of course, I told him to go ahead.

I didn't sleep much that night.  Mostly I laid awake praying for Zephyr, that God would be merciful and perform a miracle to save her life, but I had heard the caution in the vet's voice.  I knew she was one critically ill little dog, literally at death's door.

I did sleep a bit towards morning and woke up thinking of Zephyr, yet afraid to call.  I was so afraid she had not made it through the night, and I was reluctant to hear the words that would make it final, yet I still hoped for good news and a chance to bring her home again.  I made myself dial the number, and let me tell you, that several minutes on hold, while the receptionist called the vet to the phone, seemed eternal.  Finally, the vet came on the phone with the news that Zephyr had made it through the night.  The next 24 hours would be critical as we waited for the Vitamin K to work and the hemorrhage into her lungs to stop.  Even then there would be the danger of pneumonia with her lungs full of blood that would take about 2 weeks to be reabsorbed by her body.

Here is Zephyr in Doggie ICU on August 30, feeling a bit better but still on bilateral oxygen.  The orange nasal cannulas were stitched onto her nostrils and she had an IV for antibiotics in one leg, EKG leads on 3 legs, and a collar to keep her from shaking her tubes loose.  Actually, the nurses always said she was very good and sweet.  She is still her sweet self, having just finished giving me a kiss.
I didn't dare take a picture of Zephie before this because I was still afraid she might not make it, and this was not the way I wanted to remember her.  But now I was beginning to think this might be something we'd look back on later and say, "Remember when Zephyr nearly died?"

She still got short of breath without oxygen, and her clotting times still weren't normal, though the vet said she had finally stopped hemorrhaging.

On Wednesday evening, Aug. 31, Zephyr's clotting times were finally normal and her blood count was beginning to come back up, showing she was starting to replace all the lost blood.  Better yet, she was breathing with half the oxygen, just one cannula.

On Thursday Zephyr finally graduated from oxygen, and we brought her home that evening.  Here she is arriving home after four days in the hospital.  Hero, Misty, and Tai are crowding around to greet her.

Everyone has to have a chance to Sniff-and-Greet, and poor Zephyr is definitely glad to be held above the mongol horde!  I think she's wondering how on earth Misty could have grown in four days!
 Zephyr gets a welcome home hug from mommy, too.  (Thanks to Jenny for the pictures!)
Here she is in the study, showing off her "poodle paws" where her IV and EKG leads were.

There were many times in the four very long days preceding this picture when I wasn't sure I would ever see this sight again.  While we waited to bring Zephyr home, we happened to see the vet that took care of her the first few days.  It was clear from talking to him that he didn't expect this, either.  I am so grateful to God for answering the prayers of many of Zephyr's friends who saw the news on Facebook, and I'm grateful to each one of them for their prayers, as well as their support and encouragement to me.

Zephyr is our miracle dog, and I hope I may never take for granted having our Zephyr back at Zephyr Hill Farm.

Having shared our story and our happy ending, let me now share a warning to dog lovers everywhere:  RAT POISON CAN KILL DOGS!!!  

We do not have rat poison here on the farm, mostly because our barn cats take care of our rodent problem.  The vet told us that it could have come from anywhere.  Many accidental rodenticide poisonings happen when people move to a new home and don't realize that previous owners had put rat poison out.  Even old poison is potent enough to kill a dog.  And it is even possible for a rat or mouse to eat poison somewhere else, and--since the lethal drug is long-acting--wander to our property and die.  If a dog should eat the dead rodent, there is enough un-metabolized drug in the carcass to kill a dog.

We still don't know how Zephyr got the poison.  That first night we did a flashlight search of the garage, hay barn & Kara's garage to see if we could find evidence of where Zephyr might have found it.  Unfortunately, she could have eaten it as long as five days or more before she showed symptoms, so any leftover wrappings, etc. could have blown away.

Zephyr is on limited activity for the next two weeks.  She is continuing her antibiotics to prevent her still partially-congested lungs from being susceptible to pneumonia.  She has to continue oral Vitamin K for 3 more weeks.  Our other three dogs (Tai included) began oral Vitamin K preventively for 3 weeks as soon as we could get them started.  I will not allow Zephyr out of my sight outside until I have done another search, as thorough as humanly possible, of every structure on the farm.  I plan to vacuum with a shop vac anywhere I can't actually see--just in case.  If she did get the poison from eating a dead rodent, it will just have to be in God's hands that it never happen again.

The active ingredient in rat poison is Warfarin, an anti-clotting drug.  Humans take it in strictly-controlled doses to keep from getting blood clots.  But eaten by a rat--or a dog--it causes potentially fatal hemorrhage anywhere in the body.  In a rodent, the point is for the animal to hemorrhage, become thirsty, and go outside seeking water where it will die and not stink up a house.  As we now know, in actual fact, it may have a much more sinister result.

Zephyr could have hemorrhaged from her nose, stomach, intestines or--even worse--her brain.  Unfortunately for her, she hemorrhaged into her lungs where it was impossible for us to see it.  And unfortunately for her, I confused her symptoms with emotional distress over Tai's arrival.  By God's grace, we got her to the hospital in time.

Now that I know what I know, I believe that using rat poison on our property would be equivalent to placing land mines on it.  It's only a matter of time until one blows up!  Also, I will never again begrudge what it costs to keep our two barn cats immunized.  Believe me, it's only a fraction of what it costs to bring your dog back from the brink of death!  I truly hope that the story of Zephyr's escape from death can help save some other beloved pet from such a harrowing experience.  And please, if you love animals, think CATS instead of rat poison!


  1. I am so glad that Zephyr made it through this and thank you so much for posting about it in such detail. You will have saved other dog's lives.

  2. Thanks SO much, Walter! That is my hope!

  3. J'ai failli mettre du poison à rat cet été pour éliminer celui (ou ceux) qui venait grignoter nos tomates. Il faisait ça dans la journée pendant que la chatte dormait !J'avais peur que le chien trouve et mange le poison... je ne pensais pas que Zephyr en ferait l'expérience. Et je ne savais pas non plus que manger le cadavre d'un rat empoisonné pouvait avoir les mêmes conséquences. J'espère que Zephyr s'en remettra complétement.

  4. Sooo glad to hear Zephyr is going to be OK! PTL!

  5. Kathleen, merci beaucoup pour tes souhaits pour le retour de santé de Zephyr--en train d'accomplir! A voir bientôt sur ce blog . . .

    Barbara, thank you for your prayers! Yes, praise the Lord!

  6. So glad she's well and healing! You forgot to post about her more than healthy diet in the doggy ICU! Tai's vet today had a good laugh over that ;-)

  7. Yes, I did forget, Jenny. Here goes: In reading through Zephyr's discharge instructions, I came across the daily nurses' notes. They went like this: 12 am, offered food, ate well. 6 am, offered food, ate very well. 12 pm, offered food, appetite good. 6 pm, offered food, ate well. Every single day! That's my Zephie--she loves her food! No wonder she didn't lose any weight in the hospital!


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