We have had some rough days in our house recently. Piper, our youngest and most playful rottweiler, became super lethargic. She refused food and seemed uncomfortable laying down. She eventually stopped going to the bathroom after having bouts of runny stool with mucous and blood. (Sorry for the graphic description, but it could help someone later.)
We took her to the vet and had several scans and tests. Eventually an oncologist said it looked like Piper had lymphoma. She was 90-percent confident.
I remember exactly where I was when my husband texted me. I was covering Hurricane Harvey in a Houston suburb. The rain was coming down sideways. I was standing at a makeshift evacuation shelter at an area high school when people started frantically arriving with their most prized possessions in trash bags. I talked to some teens who had been bussed in from an hour away and separated from their parents. I saw little kids with no shoes or rain jackets as they had been rushed out of their homes in a mandatory evacuation.
In that moment, I knew I couldn't focus on Piper, but I couldn't stop the tears from rolling down my face. I was a complete wreck. My friend and producer Alex looked at me and said, "Even if you weren't here, it wouldn't change the outcome." I knew she was right. Still, I was devastated.
Piper's white blood cells were up, her calcium was elevated. She had high levels of histamine. A mass was growing in an intestine. Nodules were showing up on her liver. All of the signs pointed to cancer.
Thank God my husband did not give up. He kept talking to the oncologist in Edmonds, who also happens to be a Missouri veterinarian school graduate. Interestingly enough, Minnie went to MU to get her TPLO surgery when she tore her CCL many years ago. We love Mizzou for that.
Anyway, the vet said something didn't look right with her labs. They could not find cancer to give her a diagnosis. She started to consider blastomycosis.
What is blasto? Well, I started looking into it but soon stopped when it seemed like it could be just as deadly as cancer. Short answer is it's an uncommon fungal infection that impacts the lungs and happens more frequently to dogs in states like Wisconsin.
Could our dog show signs of blasto even though we left Wisconsin more than a year ago? The vet said yes.
So we began more testing.
In the meantime, we started hand feeding anything and everything to Piper. She wouldn't eat her dog food, but she seemed to always like shredded pork and scrambled eggs. She also would take a handful of shrimp and cod. She was not impressed with sardines or chicken. We got to the point where if Piper would eat, we would feed her until she refused food. She got down to 82 pounds and seemed to be losing weight no matter how much we fed her.
In the meantime, the vet gave Piper antibiotics and Benadryl.
Piper's case was starting to pique the interest of our oncologist and her friends and colleagues across the country. Jim took Piper in for more blood work which got sent to Michigan. The vet even called Jim when she was on a trip in New York. Everyone seemed to be very curious as to what was plaguing Piper.
17 agonizing days later, we got another call from our vet. Jim answered the phone, and I could hear that the conversation sounded a little more upbeat. I could hear them rule out lymphoma and blasto. Jim appeared to be getting some orders from the vet, and it sounded like he was getting an order to pick up steroids at the pharmacy.
Turns out, Piper has a condition that is rare to dogs but more prevalent in rottweilers. It's called hypereosinophilic syndrome, which at the heart of all things, turns out to be some sort of severe reaction to an unidentified antigen.
In very simple terms, Piper likely ate something she was allergic to and her body went on the attack, which caused a lot more chaos. It can cause organ damage and if you read the reports, it frequently has a fatal outcome. However, our vet seems to think steroids will help Piper fight that mass in her tummy and get her appetite back up to normal. And she seemed excited to tell us this news as it might be our best scenario.
How rare is it? There are vets across the country who want to track Piper's health because this condition is so rare. Our vet told Jim that one of her colleagues wants permission to look at her labs because he hasn't seen anything like this in 20 years.
The good news for us is that we don't have a lymphoma diagnosis looming over our heads. The bad news is that we still don't know exactly what this new diagnosis means. But we are almost elated.
I wanted to post this because as I looked around the internet these last few days, I couldn't find a lot of helpful information. It was kind of like drinking from a fire hose. I thought if I posted this information, it might help other rottie owners rule out certain health scares.
I know everyone thinks their pets are special, but our Piper is really something else. One vet wrote, "Piper is the sweetest rottie we've ever met." Our oncologist said she didn't believe it until she actually met Piper. We all have expiration dates, but it gives me a lot of relief right now knowing we can help Piper live a quality life. She sure has us wrapped around her fingers. And don't worry about Minnie -- she is doing just fine! She gets a lot of Piper's food so she's enjoying life right now, too.