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Mini Australian Shepherd with a mystery disease

March 26th, 2006, 03:51 PM
Our five year old Mel, a miniature australian shepherd, has become ill and even the specialists are puzzling over it. I would appreciate if anyone has heard of anything similar that we might just have overlooked...

Five months ago, Mel became suddenly lethargic. He was an extremely healthy, active, fun-loving and well-exercised boy. We had just started flyball training a month before, and had therefore had his vaccinations about a month before also. Vaccines may have triggered it all, nobody knows.

On Oct 30, he developed a high fever, and we took him into the pet emergency hospital, on our vet's advice. His platelet and white blood cell counts were almost non-existent. The hospital ran tests, did x-rays, and finally sent us to the Vancouver critical care centre, for the care of a internationally recognized internal medicine specialist. After a week there, and bone marrow tests, ultrasounds, every imaginable test, they sent him home with us, still no diagnosis, no cure....

It's been months of prednisone, cyclosporine, blood tests, wildly fluctuating white blood and platelet counts, and weekly or bi-weekly vet visits. They tentatively think it's some type of auto-immune disease, and are hoping to stabilize him and get a meds dosage that works. It hasn't been working.

Last week we were in the vets on two different occassions, with high grade fevers, brought under control by subsequent antibiotics. Four days ago, Mel came down with a terrible limp, and on our 3rd visit in, the vet can't find anything in his paw to be accounting for it. She wants to do x-rays next week.

We're now nearing the $10,000 mark for our vet bills, with an endless tunnell of emergencies, meds adjustments, uncertainty and stress stretching ahead of us. It's not about the money, as we've already gone well overboard, but at what point do we give up?

Anyways, we are all in a stressed out state about this and I would appreciate it so much if anyone has ever heard of something similar, or has any thoughts on ... anything related to it...

Many thanx...

Mel's worried family

Here’s a link to our handsome dog's pictures…

March 26th, 2006, 04:12 PM
Margumby,he certainly is beautiful:love:
I have no help to offer,I am sure you will get plenty of answers here soon,I just wanted to commend you on your struggles and doing everything possible for your pup:love:

March 26th, 2006, 06:37 PM
I am sorry you are going throught this, no idea where you live, but everything you described can be symptoms of tick disease, if there is any chance that this is what it can be have your vet do a blood draw and have it sent to a lab for testing there are a couple labs listed in the link I am providing another good lab is Protatek in Arizona(do an internet search, You will find). Though you may want to have the vet look at interactions with prednisone as their is some debate whether to use together. It is mostly a problem in much of the US but there are pocket areas in Canada, due to migatory bird having infected ticks hitching a ride, Most Canadian vets are not too familiar with tick diease other than lyme disease but erlichia and babesia have also found their way here, so important to test for all, even in the US vets tend to miss this possibility when presented with similiar symptoms. Print out the link for yur vet.
Doxycycline*** (a semisynthetic tetracycline) at 10 mg/kg of dog's weight (2.2 pounds = 1 kg), twice per day given 12 hours apart for 6 weeks or longer. Sometimes more than one course of therapy is necessary. Doxycycline should not be given with food (milk or yogurt) or supplements containing calcium iron or magnesium (like antacids) because these agents will interfere slightly with the absorption of the antibiotic. (Allow at least two hours pre or post doxycycline administration.) Do not give Doxycycline on an empty stomach--so administer the medicine with food or 30-60 minutes after the dog has eaten. Wrapping the pills in piece of bread often helps alleviate the upset stomach. Another thing some owners have found helpful--if you can do it with your work schedule--is to keep the dog somewhat active for a while after giving the doxycycline--if the dogs go and just sleep right after administering the doxycycline--the medicine sits in one spot in the stomach and seems to be more irritating to the stomach lining.

These maps shows areas where the various forms can be found in the US
so you can see it is wide spread

March 26th, 2006, 07:48 PM
Please do not give advice to self medicate, that is what a vet is for.

March 26th, 2006, 07:56 PM
Thank you, OntarioGrey, for the suggestion re ticks. We live on Vancouver Island, so ticks do occur, altho rare. That was one of the first things they investigated when Mel was hospitalized back in the Fall, as some of his symptoms were suggesting that.
The internal medicine vet specialist in Vancouver used to practice in Florida, so she said she was very aware of tick-related illnesses. A titer (sp?) was sent to a lab in the U.S. that tests in-depth for all types of tick-borne illnesses -- all came back negative. We had pinned a fair bit of hope on that in the 1st few weeks, as it can be treated, as you mentioned.
Do appreciate the thought though, we are looking at any and all areas we can...

March 26th, 2006, 08:02 PM
But I'm just wondering, in re-reading your post ... how reliable are those tests? i.e. could they have had a false negative back in the Fall?

I know there have been a number of CBC (blood count) tests etc. over the past few months where we've been told to ignore the results, they were too high or too low, and to re-test.

It's raises a good point -- I'll discuss with my vet if she thinks we should consider re-testing for tick-borne disease.

Thanx again, OntarioGreys.

March 26th, 2006, 10:07 PM
:eek: Lead poisonning??? Please read about lead poisoning in dogs on the net. Just a suggestion russte

March 26th, 2006, 10:11 PM
lol are you trying to scare the poor girl?

March 26th, 2006, 11:08 PM
Russte, I've read on the 'net about symptoms in canines of lead poisoning, but don't see what you might have seen in my description to suggest that -- can you be more specific?

March 26th, 2006, 11:48 PM
Margumby, are the red blood cells affected? You mentioned the white blood cells and platelets being affected but nothing concerning the red blood cells. Are they low? There is a reason for my asking.

March 27th, 2006, 10:28 AM
Margumby, are the red blood cells affected? You mentioned the white blood cells and platelets being affected but nothing concerning the red blood cells. Are they low? There is a reason for my asking.

Thanx for pondering this, justncase.

Throughout this ordeal, his red blood cells have stayed within the normal range of 5.5 - 8.0. Mel's have usually been in the lower range, between 5.5 and 6.8, but never below the bottom line point.

Vets have been more interested in examining the fluctuation of his neutraphils and lymphs. His neutraphils have varied wildly over the last few months, from an almost non-existant low of 300 to an extreme high of 24,000.

His lymps too have fluctuated, from a low of 140 to a high of 1,500. They examined these fluctuations in relation to his meds dosages, and are trying to stabilize in looking at those patterns.

They have noted that on the good side, his bone marrow is capable of producing the required elements, it's just what is happening to those that is causing the problems.

They've also said it's obvious he is "cycling", not unlike cyclical neutropenia, which to date has only ever been diagnosed in grey collies. It was in fact so similar to what is seen in grey collie puppies that my vets talked to a researcher out east who specializes in cyclical neutropenia, but they've ruled it out now for a number of reasons.

OntarioGreys, regarding your earlier post about Doxycycline, they did put Mel on that in the earliest days of this illness, for a rew weeks, as a "just in case", but took him off once the tick titer tests results came back from the States.

We have another vet appt. this afternoon, as his sore paw is getting worse, and last nite he was sneezing blood, which has never happened before. We're feeling the pressure of trying to find a concrete solution for our little guy before something terrible happens...

Thanx everyone for the thought you're putting into it, and any and all possibilities/suggestions most appreciated.

March 27th, 2006, 12:33 PM
It sounds like your dog might have systemic lupus erythematosus(SLE) . Have your vets tested for this? Meds like Danazole or Cyclophosphamide can be used for this?

March 27th, 2006, 01:05 PM
Lupus is often very hard to diagnose and very serious.

Good Luck with Mel....our paws:pawprint: and fingers:fingerscr are crossed for you.

March 27th, 2006, 07:00 PM
I am sorry you are having to go through this. It must be so difficult. Only you will know when you have done everything you can for your dog.
Can you think of anything that changed around the time Mel got sick? I know you mentioned vaccinations but how about environmental changes?
Good luck and I hope someone here has some suggestions for you.

doggy lover
March 27th, 2006, 07:17 PM
Hi sorry to hear that your dog is sick, I was wondering how you get a mini Australian Shep.? I hope you find out what is wrong with you dog he is beautiful reminds me of Willow another Australian Shep on this site.

March 28th, 2006, 08:19 AM
margumby, sorry I did not reply sooner.

There is a possibility it still is a tick disease,

there is a couple reasons why a tick panel can be negative and he can still have

the first reason , shortly after a dog is bitten they will have an episode of tick fever which is the acute phase, where the dog will have flu like symptoms, pain , fever , changes in Blood count etc but if tested within the first 4 weeks, it may not be detected as not enough organisms has developed in the bloodstream, with some dogs the symptoms can be very brief and mild most owners may not think it is anything, as most dogs recover from this stage in a few days as long as their immune systems are healthy but being the organism is still there is keeps multiplying and slowly attacks the dogs organs 3 or 4 years later and an odd here and there symptoms start showing up, rarely does a vet catch it right until the dog become very ill when they start having multiple problems. With dogs with immune problems they can deteriate right from the onset. In the majority of cases a dog has to be bitten to become infected, but there are exceptions one way is if they recieved tainted blood transfusion the other they are born with it, and the mother was infected. So if your pup came from a breeder in the US somewhere(location could prove helpful)

The other possibity is that the wrong organism was tested for, there are several strains of erlichia and a couple of babesia. One dog locally was lost just for this reason. The typical panel we do on the greyhounds we recieve from the track includes testing for lyme, babesia canis, erlichia canis and erlichia risticii, this dog's panel came back negative but like yours was extremely ill, he had been on the doxy treament while waiting for the results, he improved considerably, but when the tests came back negatice the treated ended, He did fine for about 3 months and then started crashing. The vet all sorts of tests trying to find other causes much like yours has done. Because he improved while on doxy the vet contacted the lab that did the titer and talked to the doctor there and related what had happened and if possibly the test results were wrong , she suggest redoing but also to include other strains, unfortunately by the this time the dog was too far along and did not survive, but tests showed he had erlichia equi this is a strain mostly found in horses.

Maybe have your vet phone the lab the he or she used , or the one shown in the link below contact info is included, the name of the doctor at Protatek is Dr. Cynthia Holland, she is their expert on tick diseases, since you are close to the north western US border, ask what strains she would recommend testing for , if your dog has had any signs of a skin rash, include testing for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as the symptoms are the same but the dog will also have a rash. Your vet can ask the labs vets about starting treatment right away if you decide to go ahead and also ask about any conflicts using any current medications the dog is currently on.

The link is a copy of one of our tick panels requistions , the dogs shown all had exposure to Babesia, the reason I am providing this copy as it shows the different strains, supposably dogs can be infected with 2 strains of babesia, which is a fairly new finding, I am not sure what strain this is and I have heard that there is one strain of erlichia that testing can't pick up, I am not sure if that is true though the lab tick expert would likely know if this is true. Feel free to print out for you vet.

One of my own greyhounds is a low babesia positive she also has an autoimmune disease called Lupus and a blood clotting disorder. Because it was a low positive, it normally would not be necessary to treat unless there are symtoms, I wanted to know if the Lupus and blood clotting disorder was possibly caused by the babesia, So what I had done was run a PCR DNA test, what this test does is look for the babesia organisms DNA in the blood, if it finds it tells me that the Babesis active and alive, if it does not than the babesia is dormant and is not the cause of her problems . Since hers was dormant, we knew we could safely give her prednisone for the Lupus if needed and we did not have to treat the babesia with Imizol, it is one of the safest anti-babesia drugs available, and not likely to kill a dog like many of the other types can, but can still have serious possible side effects , so I did not want to use unless I absolutely had to. This particular test is normally only done after a low positive titer is found to determine if it is active or as a way to see if treatment worked to kill of a particular strain , as it is too expensive to test for each strain individually($300 to test one strain).

April 1st, 2006, 04:03 PM
Thanx OntarioGreys, for all the info.
I've talked to my vet about it, she wasn't aware re the tick panel possibly being negative but him still having it. She's checked further, including talking to the pathologist analyzing his blood tests, and of course you are right and they agree. They also note, especially the pathologist, that some of his testing results are suggestive of the erlichia possibility. We're definitely thinking of having the titer run again (sigh, another $100), so thank you for that very helpful suggestion!

Our pup came from a breeder near Vancouver (Maple Ridge, BC), but that doesn't rule out the possibility of the mother being from the U.S. The breeder has disappeared (perhaps for good reason) and despite intense efforts on our part we haven't been able to find her. We found the owner of the stud, but after I contacted her a few times and got into the details of what was going on ... that breeder disappeared too. We've learned a valuable lesson about reputable vs. non-reputable breeders, but that's a whole other story...

Re the strain of erhlicia tested for, his titer was sent to North Carolina Sate University for a tick panel. My understanding is that it was sent there because they do a very wide testing for a number of strains.

Initially I was quite focused on the tick possibility, because we had been flyball training in a horse barn, and my gut was there was some connection... however I'm torn between the connection to the recent vaccinations and that... and your comment about the dog that died while awaiting re--testing having a strain most commonly found in horses again takes me back to the flyball/barn scenario...

I will be printing your comments off and taking them to my vet office on Monday, thank you so much once again, hopefully one of these days one of these many paths will get us to the solution, for our little Monkey Boy's sake! :sick:

April 1st, 2006, 04:23 PM
Margumby,I am sure everyone here in this Forum are keeping their fingers crossed for you and Mel,please keep us posted:fingerscr :fingerscr :fingerscr :love:

April 2nd, 2006, 12:32 AM
Praying you find answers, keep us updated. North Carolina State University is a good place to have the testing done, the tick panels I had done in Texas, but used the NC lab for Maya's babesia PCR-DNA tests, so they offer some very advanced testing when it comes to tick diseases.

Another possible form of tick disease is Bartonella vinsonii which can affect the immune system and not included in standard tick panels

I am going to throw more info your way for your vet to go over, a lot of studies are going now much new info coming out, some believe there are strains that cannot be detected yet but will respond to doxy so the recommndation is often to continue the full treatment even if you get a negative if improvement is noted

Due to the rapid spread and inadequate publicity the single biggest failure has been the failure to recognize and test for the disease. Perhaps the strongest recommendation that can be made is to eliminate ehrlichiosis first as a possible cause by treating with appropriate antibiotics to see if the animal responds. If an animal has any of the above signs an excellent path would be to take blood for a Indirect Fluorescent Antibody (IFA) test and start the animal on doxycycline immediately.
If the titers return as negative, but the animal is responding to treatment, he should be kept on the antibiotic and re-tested in a couple of weeks. The IFA test looks for the presence of antibodies produced by the dog's immune system and it may take as long as 30 - 45 days for the immune system to respond with the production of enough antibodies to detect. As doxycycline does not affect the production of antibodies it will not interfere with the test results.

We strongly advise against waiting for a positive result before treating with doxycycline. Vets should also be cautioned about the use of steroids in a dog who may have ehrlichiosis. If Lyme disease is the suspect then treat with doxycycline. Although some chronically-infected dogs may need steroid treatment, this should always be done in conjunction with doxycycline treatment and only as a last resort measure. In cases where the vet feels more than one disease may be involved, ehrlichiosis should be given the first priority.

While doxycycline is frequently used to treat Lyme disease other drugs have been used. Amoxicillin is a recent trend in the treatment of Lyme disease but has no effect whatsoever on ehrlichiosis. As both Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis share some signs a misdiagnosis of ehrlichia as Lyme disease could prove fatal to both dogs and humans if not treated with the proper drug.

This article is written by the vet who specializes in tick diseases at Protatek labs it includes different forms of treatment and the dosages, and supportive treatment for dogs suffering from severe symptoms.

Most cases have shown a good response to treatment with the tetracycline family of antibiotics. Doxycycline is the preferred drug as it has less potential side effects and better penetration of certain bacteria (Merck). Inoculations as well as injectable antibiotics should not be administered to a dog suspect for ehrlichial infection, as reactions have been reported, some of which proved fatal to the patient (the immune system is already taxed due to the action of the disease

Prednisone -- to use or not to use?

Much has been written on other web sites admonishing against the use of prednisone for dogs with tick-borne disease. One needs to consider such advice with caution. Owners may attribute the death of their dog to use of prednisone, but in reality they can not know if that dog would have died regardless of whether prednisone was used or not.

In general, it is advisable to avoid use of steroids concurrently with antibiotics. Steroids may suppress the immune system, reducing its ability to work with antibiotics to kill the offending bacteria. This may be especially true when treating with doxycycline which requires the dog's immune system play an active role in killing the targeted bacteria. Many tick-borne infections are quite immunosuppressive, thus further immunosuppression by steroid use would not seem to be sensible.

On the other hand, many tick-borne diseases trigger a wide array of autoimmune problems in infected dogs. Once triggered, theses autoimmune processes do not simply stop when the infecting organism is killed by antibiotic therapy. Often it is necessary to use immunosuppressive therapy (steroids or other drugs) to address immune-mediated symptoms and return the immune system to normal function. For at least one of my dogs (see Jasper's Story below), use of high-dose immunosuppression may have saved his life.

Certainly, use of steroids for dogs with tick-borne disease should be a carefully considered decision. Dogs with tick-borne disease should be carefully and frequently monitored while on steroids. Common sense would suggest that steroids may be most safely used for these dogs in conjunction with antibiotics selected to target the infecting organism(s). Since your dog is on pred, I included this article, there is debate on whether to use or not, it is something you and your vet need to discuss, the dogs conditions will play a large part in the decision, the article also includes info on diet

Ehrlichiosis is more than E. canis. Way too few vets seem to know much about tick-borne disease, fewer seem to realize that a dog that tests free of E. canis on the popular Snap test for heartworm, E. canis and Lyme, may still have another strain of it or another form of TBD altogether. (Some are resistant to even considering testing for tick disease and if you run up on one of these, don't let the door hit you on the way out! Go find a vet who will.)

If it's not E. canis, it could be equi, platys (a form that attacks the red blood cells), ewingii or risticii, though there are others, some unnamed. And, worse luck, cross infections with more than one type of TBD are common.

My dog died of E. risticii, the only form of this awful disease that is 'not' carried by ticks. The vector has only recently been found to be the larvae of the flukes that live on water snails. Think of it, imagine how tiny they are. It is believed that they may be ingested by dogs as they drink from river water, water in fields flooded or irrigated by rivers, or that these extremely small organisms may conceivably pass through the dog's skin with their deadly cargo. There is a possibility that E. risticii, now known as Neorickettsia risticii, is also harbored in horse manure, and it has been proven that horses which ingest caddis flies infected with this rickettsial organism can come down with the disease. The likelihood is that dogs may be infected in this way as well.

May 20th, 2006, 01:47 PM
I'm so sorry to tell everyone who tried to offer suggestions... our beloved Mel passed away one month ago, a few months shy of his 5th birthday. We are truly devastated, as we put so much or our lives and hearts into that little dog. He went very suddenly, started vomitting one nite, was gone the next afternoon. The vet's guess, and it was speculation only, is that a massive infection took hold of our poor little boy, that he wasn't able to combat. Even five weeks later we cry every day -- for what we have lost, for what might have been (another 10 years of joy with our wiggly bum boy), for what Mel went thru, and the unfairness of it all.
We spent over $10,000 trying to help him, simply prolonging the inevitable, we now know. And we know little more now than when he took sick in October 2005. That isn't right ... but if love would have been enough, he would still be sitting here beside me today, poking me with his soft muzzle, seeking a scratch behind the ears.
Instead, I'm looking only at his favorite stuffy dog, sitting over there on a desk, with Mel's collar and dog tags around its neck, and none of it makes sense, but it's only too real.
He was such a special, loving, happy little bundle of energy, a genuine character. We will miss and remember our little Melbourne forever...

May 20th, 2006, 03:05 PM

I am so sorry to hear about your loss, Mel is running free at the Bridge now,
God speed little Mel.....

May 20th, 2006, 06:23 PM
I am so sorry. My heart goes out to you and your family.


May 20th, 2006, 08:09 PM
I am very sorry for your loss, and I know it is extremely hard emotionally when you lose them at a young age :grouphug: and thanks for updating I have thought of you and Mel often since you posted last

May 20th, 2006, 08:57 PM
I didn't see this thread before but I just read it with increasing trepidation. I'm so sorry to hear what has happened to your beloved Mel. His pictures show a beautiful, mischievious puppy and adult dog. I know he was well loved. His life was short, but you gave him your best and stuck by him. He was such a lucky boy!

jesse's mommy
May 20th, 2006, 09:47 PM
I am so sorry for your loss.:grouphug:

May 20th, 2006, 10:00 PM
So sorry to hear of your loss. I know what you are going defiinitely does take time.:grouphug: :grouphug:

doggy lover
May 22nd, 2006, 03:41 PM
Sorry to hear of your loss, I think most of us here have loved and lost a pet in our time, and we understand what you are going through. My thoughts are with you.:angel:

May 22nd, 2006, 05:37 PM
... for your very kind words and sympathy.

I've updated Mel's website in his memory, have added some pix and many of my favorite 'dog quotes'. I hope you enjoy viewing it, at:

Thanks again.

May 22nd, 2006, 05:46 PM
Mel's pictures speak for themselves showing a much loved and pampered baby. At first I despaired the sizes were so small, until I noticed the button to view as a slideshow. Your memorial to him is beautiful, moving me to tears as I viewed it.

May 22nd, 2006, 06:00 PM
Thank you, glassglass, it moved me to tears doing it, also.

If you double-click on a particular thumbnail picture, it will bring them up individually in a larger size, with the text that goes along with the picture.

When you're viewing them in "slideshow", you lose the text/quotes that are attached to each.

Thank you for seeing a little bit of the love we poured so hugely into his short life...


May 22nd, 2006, 06:12 PM
What a sweetie....What an expressive really brought tears....I know how much you miss him. You are brave to do this. Sable, my rough haired collie, passed away October 31, 1998... It took me 4 years before I had the courage to look at any of his pictures without crying.

May 22nd, 2006, 06:26 PM
Thanks, cpietra16, he was as sweet as his pictures suggest -- even moreso.

But just to be clear -- posting his 'memory album' was certainly not done without tears, on my part! I'm considering it grieving therapy....

Thanx again for appreciating him.