Life happens quickly and life-changing moments happen even faster.
If you just came from Tim’s blog, The Forester Artist, then you saw this image of our pup, Bliss. What follows here is the rest of this life-changing story…
At 12 weeks old, an alert and healthy Bliss weighed 19.8 lb. at her well puppy check up. Two days later we left for vacation in the foothills of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, also known as gold country. Of course, our golden retrievers joined us.
Sunday afternoon we settled in and were ready for another great stay at Roaring Camp. We decided not to hike upriver, as rattlesnakes are a natural occurrence along the rocky shores of rivers and streams. Sailor isn’t reliably snake-proof, and Bliss, well she’s a puppy and puppies can get into trouble in the blink of an eye. We decided to keep our activities closer to camp.
Monday morning we took the dogs to a familiar fenced meadow area. After cleaning up their morning business, we let them run a bit off lead. We didn’t verify the area was clear of dangers. Then in a blink of an eye it happened…puppy Bliss snatched organic matter from the edge of the field, from under a live oak tree, and ran with her prize to the middle of the field.
“She has mushrooms,” Tim alerted. He called Bliss and ran from her. A good move, true to puppy nature, she chased Tim while chewing on her prize. He checked her mouth and throat he found no particles. Maybe she didn’t swallow any.
Later in the afternoon, Bliss was pretty tired. We chalked it up to a busy day for a young puppy. At bedtime she was lethargic enough in behavior that I checked her gums. Moist. Healthy. Dark pink. Her behavior nagged at me, but I didn’t clue in.
Puppies are little and go downhill very fast. In wee hours of the morning, symptoms set in. Bliss was vomiting, very thirsty, and had the onset of watery diarrhea. She was still playful and appeared in good spirits, but clearly very ill. When the guides gathered for morning activities, we advised them we needed to take Bliss to the vet. We thought perhaps she picked up coccidiosis or giardia while in the woods with Tim the week before. With all the wildlife that visits our home, she could have picked up something intestinal there as well. Mike, Ricky, and Tammy all suggested we take her to Jackson Creek Veterinary. Jack guided us out of camp and through the locked gates.
Upon arriving at the vet clinic, we gave a complete history all the way through her mushroom snatch the previous day. Bliss’ temp was 104.4F, 40.2C (normal for a pup 101 to 102.5F, 38 to 39C). Parvo, salmon poisoning, coccidiosis, leptospirosis, and giardia were ruled out. Bliss’ blood work was normal, except her ALT (liver) didn’t register. The young vet kept Bliss, started her on IV fluids along with medications for nausea and diarrhea. She checked with Dr. Bob since he was more experienced and would be taking over Bliss’ case the next day.
After receiving the call on Bliss, Dr. Bob didn’t wait and started on the case that evening. He was immediately alarmed about the mushroom exposure. All mushrooms are toxic to dogs, especially their liver. He explained the next morning that the ALT didn’t read on the blood work because it was too high. He worked up Bliss’ blood for a more accurate measure of her ALT; 3670 is completely off the charts. As a rule out measure, we evaluated her food history for a recalled product. No food recalls issued. No exposure to gum (xylitol). Her fecal was negative. At this point, the top candidate in Bliss’ illness was mushroom poisoning. Bliss remained on IV fluids and
S-Adenosylmethionine (milk thistle), anti nausea and anti diarrhea medication.
She was not well enough for a visit from us.
Tim and I looked for mushrooms in the field. Hidden amongst the grass, we found dozens of little brown buttons at the edges of fairy rings. How did we not see them? Tim got a good look at what Bliss had in her mouth, and this mushroom wasn’t it. We gathered some regardless and continued searching along the edge of the field. Under the live oak tree were some white mushrooms. They still didn’t look exactly the same until we found some in their over-mature state, beginning to decay. That’s it! We dug some up and put them in a doggy potty bag. They would have preserved better in a paper bag. Due to a lack of an Internet connection, we didn’t key out the mushroom until later.
Dr. Bob reported the next morning that Bliss’ kidneys were having trouble. Her blood work showed a very sick puppy and in the early stages of renal failure. He didn’t know if she would survive and suggested we visit her sooner than later. Again, Jack lead us out of camp so we could visit our sick puppy.
The silence in the car was eerie. Much the way it was when we rushed to see Blaze, Bliss’ great grand-dam, when she died from aflatoxin poisoning. In the back of our minds the memory stuck of not making it in time.
Typical mushroom poisoning impacts the liver. Bliss’ kidney issue was a bit of a curveball. Bliss lay subdued with a haunt of death hovering over her tiny body. She managed to lick our hands and wag her tail a bit. Her response gave the veterinary folks hope. We left a shirt with our scent. Her outlook was bleak at best. Her lab values were upside-down and incompatible with life. The veterinarians were doing all they could to support her organs. We called upon dog loving friends for prayers.
Bliss responded positively to the therapy for her liver and kidney function. The next day, she was happy to see us and over the moon to see Sailor.
We were happy to see improvement. It was a stark contrast to her condition earlier. We swapped out the scent shirt and continued praying.
By that weekend, Bliss had normal kidney values and could go home (back to camp). She was in better shape, but still not full speed for a retriever pup. Dr. Bob insisted that she have follow-up two days later when we returned to our hometown.
While we were packing for our trip home, I came across the bag of mushroom samples. They were in pretty bad shape since we stored them in plastic and not paper. We snapped a few pictures and made some notes before tossing them in the trash.
White, fruiting in the spring, a California native. The stem had a ring and a bulbous cuplike base known as a volva. Found under a live oak tree. We only had notes, but it would be enough for identification. Those who know mushrooms have already cringed while reading this.
On the drive home,
I researched mushrooms on my tablet and keyed out the mushroom Bliss chewed on. We read the symptoms of poisoning, her case matched exactly. Gastric intestinal onset, liver and kidney failure are hallmarks of the amatoxin poisioning of the Amanita ocreata. But it seemed unlikely that a puppy would survive such a mushroom when half a cap could kill an adult human. We continued our research at home until we found images of the aging mushroom.
There was no denying that Bliss chewed on an Amanita ocreata, America’s Western Destroying Angel.
Setbacks and downturns. After consulting with several quality local vets we wound up seeing Dr. Haynes in Redding. Within the period of 48 hours, Bliss’ renal and hepatic values were again in the abnormal range. She needed 24 hour hospital care. The hepatic specialists at UC Davis were ready to admit Bliss for emergency ICU treatment. Bliss would not have us nearby. We believe puppy attitude is important and also felt our local vets were already in contact with specialists at UC Davis. We decided to hospitalize her closer to home and reevaluate her condition daily.
Truth be told, they didn’t expect her to survive. Survival rate for amatoxin poisoning is slim at best. Bliss had withered to 17 pounds.
In the days that followed, Tim and I split visits with Bliss, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. We swapped her scent shirt daily and provided her something to chew for teething. With daily updates, our dog lover prayer chain continued.
As Bliss began her third week post amatoxin poisoning, she was ready to come home. She needed subcutaneous fluids twice a day at home. I made regular treks to Redding for daily renal function blood work. Slowly, her renal values improved.
On the first attempt to wean her from subq fluids, her renal function ticked out of range. We slowed the process down.
In week four, as her numbers stabilized, the local suppliers ran out of her commercial renal diet. After hours of research, I prepared a homemade renal diet. That week, Bliss saw her first smack dab in the middle normal renal numbers.
At one month post amatoxin poisoning, I consulted Dr. Betsy Adamson, a veterinary specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Studies of Rehmannia Six have shown promising results for kidney support. We added in herbal support for renal healing.
When the food shipment arrived, Bliss returned to the commercial renal diet.
With normal renal values at two months out, we slowly weaned her from subq fluids. When renal values held, we began mixing in large breed puppy nutrition in an attempt to support her growing needs. All the while we monitored her renal function with regular blood work.
Two and a half months post amatoxin poisoning, just as Bliss was on 75% large breed puppy nutrition, 25% renal, she was big enough to climb up to the stored bag of normal puppy kibble and eat more than her fill. Not surprising, her BUN ticked out of range and her CREA followed as indicators her kidneys were working overtime to clear the puppy binge. We placed her back on subq fluids and 100% renal diet. Then once in the clear, eased back to normal nutrition.
The liver has remarkable regenerative capability, so we expect full liver recovery. We continue pampering her kidneys to give them every chance for healing. Time will tell the future for this strong little pup. For us it’s been somewhat of a whirlwind. Several hours a day have been spent traveling to vet appointments, subq fluids, and supervising an ambitious, eat everything, puppy that doesn’t know she nearly died. Her growth curve at 3 months targeted an adult weight of 55 lb. She has finally returned to the pre-poisoning growth curve.
It’s been three months since Bliss chewed up an Amanita ocreata, a California native mushroom known as America’s Western Destroying Angel. We count our blessings that she’s still with us. We don’t know how full her recovery will be, how well she has done thus far is somewhat remarkable. She’s known locally as “The Miracle Puppy.”
You would never know what she’s been through by meeting her. Every day we give thanks for all the vets who’ve had a hand in her care and for our dog loving friends who’ve answered the request for prayers.
Mostly, we are thankful that Bliss is sticking around.
Here’s a gallery: