Family, Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Pets, Where the Heart Is

My Absence and the Beast They Call IMHA

My last post, March 7, 2019… before life got more complicated than we thought it already was in the midst of building a house while living with my parents. In addition, work was progressively getting busier as more people discovered that there was a pediatric walk-in clinic in town, yet I still managed to scrape together some blog posts from time to time.

When Eliott and I decided to take one last trip, one last vacation, before we had full on farm responsibilities, we knew it would be a while before we were able to take week long trips again…if ever. What we didn’t expect was that it would be our last solo outing in general without significant time constraints for the foreseeable future.

While on vacation, my mom informed us that Mac our mini schnauzer had been acting like his back was bothering him and that she had taken him to our vet where he had been prescribed some pain medication after all his labs and X-rays returned normal. No big deal, this was something that had occurred from time to time in the last few years when he landed funny jumping off the bed or couch; at 11 and a half he was not a young pup anymore.

The Calm Before the Storm

A week after we returned home in the beginning of June 2019, we had a fairly normal morning. Eliott had taken care of the chickens, dogs, and horse while I went to work my 5-hour shift at the walk-in clinic. During all that Mac had been running around the yard, barking at the chickens and generally enjoying himself that morning. When I returned from work that was not the case. Mac, who usually met me at the door whooping and hollering that I’d left him ALL. DAY. LONG. was sleeping on the couch when I walked in. Except he wasn’t, I quickly noticed his eyes were open with not a peep or movement to announce my arrival. I quickly called around and got him in with a vet, but my worry deepened when I changed and I put my shoes on in front of him (a sign that signaled “outside” and joy for him), still with no response.

After getting him off the couch, Mac still didn’t want to even lift his head.

At the vet they discovered that he was anemic (nothing life threatening at this time but his levels were low), he had high blood sugar and an enlarged spleen with a possible mass in his abdomen. They had us start insulin and recommended following up the next day with an Ultrasound at an animal hospital in the nearest city. We made the appointment and took our baby home.

Holding him at home after the 1st Vet Appt.

That night Mac continued to get worse, unable to walk steadily or support himself while he urinated and he was seemingly disoriented. Between 2 and 3 am we took him into the Emergency vet where they gave him a short acting insulin to lower his blood sugar (which had spiked) and IV fluids. After returning home, we slept with Mac’s bed between us on our bed for 5 hours as he continued to worsen again. I was unsure if we were even going to make it to our appointment later that morning before we lost him as I prayed and cried and prayed some more, and probably didn’t actually sleep a wink as I repeatedly checked his breathing through the wee hours and on our drive into the city at 9am.

Mac sleeping between us on his bed and a soft bath mat
On our way to the vet in the city for the ultrasound

There the vet diagnosed him with IMHA (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia) and pancreatitis, in addition to the other issues the prior vet had found, but thankfully no mass. For anyone reading this that isn’t medical, IMHA basically means that his immune system was recognizing his own red blood cells as a foreign invader therefore attacking and killing them off. There are several things that have been known to cause IMHA but we will never know what caused Mac’s because several of these things had been introduced to him in the last 2 months. These include: vaccinations within the last 2 months (he’d had his at the end of April), chemicals (my parents had put a Seresto collar on him while we were gone), and tick-borne illness (he returned positive for this as well when the vet checked him).

By this time Mac was starting to have a hard time breathing. The vet told us that it was a 50/50 chance that he’d make it, but that he was convinced it would be worth the try and that if he made it past 48 hours the odds were more in our favor. The treatment was an oxygen cage, a blood transfusion, immune suppressant medication, steroids and IV fluids. In my medical mind, Mac was suffering and I knew that all those things they were going to try would ease that pain and suffering even if they didn’t work. So, with Nationwide Pet Insurance at our side, we decided to give it a go. It was one of the longest 48 hours in my life up until that point. But we made it. What we didn’t know is that we were far from being home free.

Mac in His Oxygen Cage

Over the next several months we had to make a lot of changes to our household. It was the best of times in that we were able to move into our own newly constructed home, but we were working on this home ourselves as we constantly cared for our newly diabetic and recovering IMHA dog. He was unable to be left at home for more than an hour or two as his high blood sugar induced frequent urination. He was also on steroids which kept his blood sugar elevated. Mac also had to have regularly scheduled low fat meals 12 hours apart with injections of insulin in addition to his daily steroid, immune suppressant medication and blood sugar checks.

Mac’s Weekly Care Sheet

We went along in this manner positive and hopeful as we slowly saw improvement in our boy from June through the end of September when we began to notice that Mac could not see as well at night anymore. He was finding the door to the basement instead of to our bedroom after late night trips outside and running into things outside while he was out in the dark. The blindness progressed rapidly. In a matter of two weeks he was running into things in the house in the daytime. He could no longer follow us from room to room as he desired, and would sit in the middle of the living room barking for us until we came to get him. Mac was sad and depressed, sleeping most of the day and night except when he needed to go outside and generally just not enjoying his life anymore unless he was being snuggled by us; we just couldn’t stand to see him like that.

The Beginning of Vision Loss

At our next scheduled follow up, we discussed the new events with our specialist who diagnosed Mac with diabetic cataracts and recommended a trip to the state university’s veterinary hospital for a consultation with a small animal eye doctor. She felt that if they could remove the cataracts, Mac’s quality of life would improve tremendously and our boy would be happy again.

However, once at the eye doctor, they informed us they wanted us to be followed by their own internal medicine vets in order to get Mac’s blood sugar more regulated prior to attempting any type of surgery. We worked with them for a few months in the hopes that we would be able to work toward vision for Mac.

Sleeping at our first eye doctor appt

Those few months were hard. Though we had changed his medication regimen and started making him prescribed homemade and low-fat meals, Mac continued to progressively worsen. He lost more and more weight, though we increased his feeding amounts weekly to try to bridge the gap. The depression continued to worsen and I had purchased a wearable dog carrier to keep him with me while I was doing chores and housework to keep his stress and anxiety down as he would constantly bark for me if I wasn’t beside him. Then he started getting other acute illnesses. Emphysematous cystitis, another round of pancreatitis, UTIs, diarrhea from unknown cause which progressed into bloody diarrhea and acute hypovolemic shock requiring another hospitalization for Mac.

Mac in his wearable carrier

Mac almost died for the second time in 7 months on our way to the university vet with that last one. It was then that we asked the internalist the hard question for what seemed like the millionth time, but this time we were more specific. “We are worried about his quality of life progressively worsening. At this time do you even see a possibility of getting to the point where we can have his cataracts removed because that is why we agreed to put him through this in the first place.” The internalist responded that he was unsure. That night, we made a difficult promise to ourselves and to him. Mac was sad, Mac was not getting better, and with each illness he recovered less and less to his former self.

Home after his hospitalization from hypovolemic shock
We promised that we wouldn’t let him continue like this. We promised that if he got ill again, we would let him be at peace. It was the hardest decision I’d ever made in my entire life. We were so hopeful when he was almost like a new dog after his hospitalization, but when the antibiotics ran out, he returned to how he’d been right before this last illness, if not worse.

Two weeks after his hospitalization, he began to have diarrhea again. Being late at night we knew there wasn’t anywhere to take him but the Emergency vet, where they could at least help us make him more comfortable. He received IV fluids and some antibiotics, which did the trick for comfort level, and the next morning I made a phone call to one of my high school friends who’d become a vet and recently moved back home to practice. We had decided that we wanted him to be at home surrounded by us and comfortable when we let him go and my friend was willing to make a house call for us. My friend also agreed that it was probably time to let him rest and that since he did well while he was on antibiotics, we could spend the next few days loving on him and making his last few days with us the best we could.

Unless he got too hot, Mac slept with us at night.

Those last days we did nothing but cuddle, love, dote on him, and give him his favorite foods and treats. When it was time for him to go he was so tired and ready that he remained relaxed through the entire process, not even flinching for the injections. He went peacefully, falling asleep in my arms.

I let go of my first baby on January 27, 2020 at approximately 5:30pm. It was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do thus far in my life. I have cried more tears since June 11, 2019, than I think I’ve ever cried before, maybe even cumulatively up to that point. In fact, I’m weeping as I write and edit this almost exactly 12 months later. Most people who don’t have animals won’t understand, some even with animals may not. I lost a piece of me that day.

The point of my sharing this with you all is:

1. Maybe other people out there who are going through this know they aren’t alone
2. It is a rare illness from what I gather, and perhaps I can make you aware of the signs and symptoms so that maybe you can ask “Could it be IMHA” before it progresses to the point it did for us.
3. It is apparently even rarer for a dog to develop diabetes concurrently with IMHA, which makes the entire treatment process more complicated and more difficult to recover from. So, I share so that you may be better able to make quality of life decision for your dog earlier on in the process if you know the possible outcome.
4. Life has been complicated and sad the last several months. It happens, that’s what life on this world is. Though I may not have been posting, life was still happening here. The house was still getting worked on, the farm animals were still being cared for and learning was happening.
5. Though I missed blogging, taking care of Mac and loving him was our top priority. I wouldn’t trade any of the time we spent loving him, caring for him or snuggling with him for the most successful blog in the entire world. Don’t take your furbabies and other loved ones for granted ya’ll. Their time with us on this earth is FAR too short.

In Loving Memory of my Soulmate Dog

Mac Johnson

October 2007 – January 27, 2020

Mac as a Puppy
He ALWAYS looked at me like this ❤️
My Cuddle Bug
My Handsome Boy
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It’s a Ruff Life

It’s a ruff life for a long haired, adventurous pup on a farm ya’ll. I didn’t realize quite how bad it was until we’d lived inside Colorado Springs limits for 2 years and then moved back to the farm. Poor Mac, our mini schnauzer, literally gets everything his fur.

Mac needed a trip to the groomers about every 2-3 months in Colorado still, and those winter snow drifts could really mat up his fur, but it’s nothing like life on the farm. Here he needs grooming at least once a month and a bath every week to every other week. the cost really adds up.

To save money, we decided to start grooming him ourselves. My dad bought some Oster Clippers made for pet grooming, some hair shears, and a mini clipper and we got to work.  Yes, it is slightly expensive, but in 3 months it paid for itself. The bigger investment is the time it takes.

It takes anywhere from an hour and a half to 3 hours to groom Mac. He hates it. I mean he loves getting toweled off at the end, but everything else is a definite hate. So it really depends on how well he cooperates with us. Additionally, about once a year Mac’s beard just gets too long, is easily matted and needs either a serious trimming or to be completely started fresh.

This last time we had to start fresh.  And that takes more time.

I generally start with the Oster Clippers on Mac’s back and neck clipping against the direction his fur grows. I also hit his tail and legs with it as well as the tops of his ears. It is important to be careful not to catch any of the edges or the thin skin flaps of the ear and around the upper leg where the thin skin membrane attaches from the leg to the belly.  Ask me how I know.

Next I use the shears to trim the hair on the edge of his ear as I firmly hold the edge between my fingers to ensure I do not clip him. I trim his eyebrows with these as well, clamping my fingers together firmly at the base of them to protect his eye. The rest of Mac’s face is trimmed with the mini clippers that are blunt and much safer around his eyes.

When we are finished trimming and clipping and cutting, Mac gets his bath. In case you wondered… he also hates this part. He shivers in the warm water with his ears pinned back, standing stiff legged and unmoving while I douse him under the water spout and lather him up with Citrus and Sea Salt wash.

I use this soap because there has been so much controversy over the name brands available at our local stores. I figure it’s less dangerous for him and the label even says it is versatile enough for pets. After I rinse Mac off, we finally get to his favorite part; he LOVES being toweled off. He will charge the towel over and over like a Spanish bull, tail wagging the whole way.

Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Pets

My Experience with Pet Insurance.

I know what you’re thinking… and no we aren’t those crazy pet people. Never in our lives had we considered getting pet insurance. That is, until we got Doc, the bloodhound mentioned in my previous post. No, Doc wasn’t something so costly that we felt we need to insure, in fact I mentioned he was a clearance puppy in my prior post.

We also have a 10 year-old miniature schnauzer named Mac. It was Mac we really got the insurance for. From the moment we brought Doc home, he thought Mac was his own personal play toy and Mac played back. Doc just kept getting bigger and bigger and the only one who didn’t seem to notice, was Doc.

It wasn’t long after, that Doc playfully put down a paw in the middle of Mac’s back and Mac had to take a visit to the vet for some pain medicine and steroids. In Missouri, those things don’t cost much, but in Colorado (where we lived at the time) a sick vet visit can range anywhere from $200-$400 a pop.

Realizing this could continue to be a problem in the future, we immediately started researching pet insurance. In the end we did end up getting it for both dogs, after all we did pay actual money for Doc and Mac had actually been free. Thus far we haven’t been disappointed.

There are several different brands of pet insurance including Embrace, PetPlan and Geico, but we ultimately went with Nationwide Pet Insurance. None cover pre-existing conditions, and many will not cover routine dental care, but they pay for yearly exams, vaccinations and medicines. Let’s just say, at this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten the better end of the stick.

Two weeks before Eliott left for his last deployment, we were packing as much of our home into a storage unit as we could. For a little context, Eliott was separating from the Air Force right after he returned from Africa and thus I would be moving us back to Missouri so I could start the new job that was allowing us to move home while Eliott was gone.

During this time, Mac needed some teeth pulled (apparently mini schnauzers are prone to bad teeth). The procedure was done and he returned home to softened food while he healed. We went about a week without incident as we packed and moved and had things strung about our home before disaster struck.

Mac got a hold of a bone. While we were out to dinner, no less. I cried when I got home and found him whimpering and shaking, thinking he had only broken a couple of his stitches. I gave him some of his left-over pain medicine from the prior back incident and cradled him against me in our bed all night as I wept.

I cried harder when we took him in first thing the next morning and found out the full extent of what had happened. Normally, this probably would have only popped some stitches, but apparently one of the tooth infections had affected Mac’s jaw as well. That bone broke Mac’s lower jaw.

The vet available that day did surgery immediately, but something wasn’t right. Each time we removed the dreaded cone, Mac would violently push at his jaw with his paws. I investigated under his beard and found that his lower jaw was significantly misaligned with the top.

I immediately called our vet and left a message with what I’d found. He called us back in to re-evaluate Mac’s condition and his colleague’s work to find that Mac would need a specialist. Thankfully, the specialist he referred us to was able to see Mac the following day and took him for the surgery at that very visit.

Mac returned to us with his jaw essentially “wired” shut with acrylic caps attaching his upper and lower canines, as well as wire reinforcing his jaw, and his jaw was aligned. He would need another surgery to remove these caps, but my baby finally was comfortable enough to be without the cone.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. After those 3 surgeries, Mac still had to wear a muzzle for an additional 4-6 weeks to stabilize his jaw when not eating. It was then I noticed the swelling under his tongue. On to the emergency vet we went to find Mac had an enlarged Salivary gland that needed drained and had to be monitored at home for recurrence. Well… it recurred. After I had moved home.

Luckily enough, Mac’s surgeon from Colorado had a prior colleague in Kansas City, so two hours north we went. There we found out Mac needed another surgery… this time to remove that salivary gland. Thankfully that was the last trip we’ve had to make North, and the last time Mac needed anything other than routine care (except for an irritated eye) in over a year.

I’m not exaggerating when I say those 3 months were rough. I couldn’t stop the random bursts of crying for weeks during that time period. My furbaby was in pain because we had been careless enough to leave out something he couldn’t have while we packed. If we hadn’t had that pet insurance, I don’t know how we could have afforded to fix the mistake that was our fault.

That Nationwide Pet Insurance paid for 90% of EVERYTHING. 90% of each and every visit, all those medicines and four of the five surgeries I mentioned in this post. They helped us every step of the way. They were truly on our side.

And now our sweet babe is back to his normal self…

Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Pets, Popular

You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog

Consider this a public service announcement…

Ya’ll… I can’t even. I CAN NOT even describe to you the frustrations of owning a hound dog. Particularly a bloodhound.

We were still living in Colorado and on our way home to Missouri for a visit when we found him on Craigslist. After searching high and low for a reasonably priced pup for my husband (even those at the shelters were $300), we resorted to checking in Missouri while we were there. When I scrolled down to those floppy ears and all those wrinkles, we called the number listed and set up a date to meet the puppies immediately. Who knew something so cute could be SO much trouble! Our clearance puppy definitely had a catch… or two… or more.

Due to being bred as a working dog, he was not very attached to us at first and preferred to roam about on his own. It took 6 months to make him lovey and cuddly… and even then it was only with us! Discipline stuck about the same, seeing as he could care less if he pleased us or not.

Then the chewing started.

When he was bored… he chewed. When he was upset… he chewed. He chewed because he was teething and even when he wasn’t teething any more. He chewed anything and everything and didn’t discriminate! I bought that dog more chew toys than ALL of the many dogs I’d previously owned combined. He even chewed on a full grown tree once. I mean… come on!

Of note: I did not actually let him chew the stick. That is very bad for doggie bellies.


Then, at one point I suspected that part of the destruction was vindictive. I’d come home from work and moved him indoors due to a huge change in weather. I made sure there was nothing he could chew and opened the doggie door… he saw me leave again. My husband came home to find our wall photos scattered in pieces across our living room. I KNEW when Doc repeatedly went directly to our visitor’s belongings to chew after being chastised by said visitor. Multiple times

Oh the shedding and the slobber! I have hair and slobber EVERYWHERE. The slobber sticks to the wall like stucco and his hair clogs the vacuum. There’s hair mixed with dust, hair in the lint trap and hair in the air every time he shakes. There is no escaping the hair and the slobber requires significant elbow grease to remove. Though the hair is not as bad as a bulldog, it’s about as bad as a lab. That with the slobber is bad enough.

Did I mention that he still thinks he is the 25 lbs he was when he first came home with us? He turns around and backs up to sits on my lap like a child. Regularly. He weights 110 lbs now folks, and he doesn’t all fit. Oh but he tries too! Not to mention he still thinks he can play with the 10 year old Miniature Schnauzer we have. Not a good idea.

He likes to perch on unlikely objects. Objects he should not be, let along, stand on in fact. The arms of couches and chairs, the backs of couches and chairs, his igloo dog house, benches, plastic storage containers… the dog doesn’t care. If it fits he sits… sometimes even if it doesn’t fit.

Water is one of his favorite things. Which is fantastic… I love having a water dog. Until he decided that it would be a fantastic idea to climb in the shower with me. But climbing into the tub willingly at bath time? Forget it. It’s like wrestling a walrus. That’s become my husband’s job because I find it ridiculous that it is so difficult to bathe a dog that loves the water.

Doc is also a very possessive being. He will push other dogs away that are being petted by us (eve the mini schnauzer that was there long before he was). He will squeeze between our legs when my husband and I are hugging. And food. Lord don’t mess with that dog’s food. Even if it’s your food he’s covetous.

The worst of it all? That nose. It has a brain of it’s own. Forget trying to get his attention when it’s elsewhere, especially if that nose is involved. Listening is not his strong suit. It also takes him on “adventures” if he’s not closely monitored. He can be gone for hours as my husband frantically searches for him. Not our favorite pastime.

I would be remiss if I did not mention all the things I love about Doc after listing all the hardships, though. Though off to a curt start, that dog is now one of the cuddliest you will meet. He leans in when he’s rubbed and wants to fit his entire self in my lap (which I did list as a fault but darn it’s so cute). He knows when we are hurt or sick and is so gentle with us in those moments. He loves smelling flowers and carrying around new toys for hours. He has a distinct “happy tail” (as I call it), a “meh” tail and a sad tail. Most of all he provides endless humor.

We love him. We would never trade him for anything in the world. We fret on the occasion he does get away from us and enjoy his presence immensely. Our homestead wouldn’t be the same without him.

But goodness, I know a lot of people who would have given up on him by now.

So… just please know what you’re actually getting before you get a hound dog.