When your dog is aging, you’re (at least grudgingly) prepared to hear that your dog has a medical problem. But when you’re like me and your dog is in the prime of life, it’s a much bigger shock.
I feel like James Bond’s mother: my baby has liver cirrhosis.
We can’t figure out how this happened. We’ve kept Nala away from martinis. She’s too old for it to be a genetic issue (genetic liver problems usually appear in the first year) and she’s too young for it to be associated with aging (she’s a few months shy of 4). Our vet, the wonderful Dr. Nita Gulbas from Del Lago Veterinary Hospital, has been incredibly supportive and informative but even she isn’t sure how this happened.
When we walk into the vet office, as we’ve done countless times in the last few weeks, it’s like Bond strolling up to a bar: ladies wanting to be the first to say hi. When we walk in the door, the staff recognizes Nala immediately and comes to say hi to her. They know her tricks now, and which ones to ask her to perform to earn her treats. On Monday, they marveled at how much better she looks since the first concerned visit a few weeks ago when her abdomen was swollen with fluid.
Nala has lost 16 pounds in the last few weeks. Between the liver medication that relieved the fluid retention and the low-protein food that is easier for her liver to process, she’s a different dog. The weight we struggled with has melted away. She’s lean with a well-defined waist. We joke that her head now looks too big for her body (it does). Nala’s like a puppy again; the calmness we noticed over the last six months may not have been her finally becoming a calm adult like we thought, but a subtle sign that something wasn’t right. I’m kicking myself for not having put the pieces together sooner, though Dr. Gulbas assures me I couldn’t have been expected to think any differently.
I'm thrilled that Nala’s happy and boisterous again, and will never wonder again if she’ll ever calm down. It’s unbelievable to see how drastically she’s changed, and I can’t wait for my nieces to come over and play with our new-old Nala, the one who wants to play with toddlers all day. Nala’s dad and I rough-house and play with her in the living room, thrilled that our dog is feeling better. I look at our little family and am very thankful things are back to normal.
If I look right into the camera, will you put it away and continue our walk?
It’s never going to be normal, though, at least not the way we defined it before. Nala will always have this, and all we can do is manage it. There are still tests to do to see if there’s something causing the cirrhosis or if the cirrhosis is the end-game diagnosis. Hours of research, along with advice from Dr. Gulbas, are prepping me for what signs to watch for as her liver issue progresses. It’s not something that can be reversed, but we’re doing everything we can to slow it down like molasses. Nala has to be on a special diet from now on, and because her allergies eliminate most prepared prescription diets, we’re working with a veterinary nutritionist to come up with a custom diet. I’m a member of a group on LinkedIn called “I Love BIG Dogs!” where I asked if anyone else has dealt with these kinds of liver issues. I was hoping for support and insight but zero comments later, I’m feeling a bit alone.
Kind of like James Bond’s mother must feel when he’s out in the world, on yet another mission that might cut his life short. At least I know my girl is eating her vegetables (steamed, not raw) and leaving the martinis for superspies.
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Dog Harness No Pull Set (the one Nala's wearing in the photo)
Photo credit (top photo): Johan Oomen