Warning About Autoimmune Disease in Dogs
Latest update at the bottom

Sept. 11, 2018
Holly Deyo

A lot has been going on in our household. The worst involves our female Kelpie, Isabella. Last Wednesday we scheduled an appointment with her veterinarian here in Pueblo West because she was very lethargic, not her normal spunky, happy self. Dr. Cassie Krenz, owner of Pueblo West Veterinary Clinic drew blood after the initial exam and found her red blood cell count was down to a meager 9%. Dr. Krenz performed the test again hoping it was a bad reading since it was so extremely low, what you might say nearly 'dead dog' low. Same result. Her gums were also very pale. We were shocked because otherwise she's in perfect health. Dr. Krenz took multiple x-rays and every organ, every joint, tendon and soft tissue is in great condition.

Bella was diagnosed with severe anemia due autoimmune disease with no known cause.

At this point we want to thank Dr. Krenz for her spot on initial diagnosis. If not for her, we would have lost Bella quickly. Also, Vet Tech Niki, who has additionally taken great care of our 4-legged kids, and Patty, their receptionist 'rock' behind the scenes. She always managed to find a slot to squeeze in an appt. for Bella and for taking down all the update info from the clinic Dr. Krenz referred us to in Colorado Springs. Dr. Krenz's practice, as is the case for most pet clinics, wasn't equipped to provide an ICU – round-the-clock care, which Bella required.

PHOTO: At Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine. Bella isn't smiling here, not her usually happy self.

We asked what caused it and they listed the 5 most prevalent triggers:
1) Pregnancy – she was spayed year ago.
2) Vaccines – she was due, which was one of the reasons we'd set up the appointment.
3) Exposure to rat poison like Ratsak – we only use a battery-operated Rat Zapper.
4) Insect or snake bite – the vets thoroughly examined her and there were no injuries.
5) Spontaneous – in other words, no known cause.

Even their food didn't fit the problem as they've been on grain- and chemical-free food since she and her brother, Jayzbo, were babies. "Spontaneous" they determined. In short her body's immune system is destroying its own red blood cells. Since they carry oxygen throughout the body and Bella wasn't getting nearly enough air, she was very lethargic.

Dr. Krenz's clinic arranged for us to 'go now, go immediately' to Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine (SCVIM) hospital in Colorado Springs an hour away.

Once there and checked in, they performed an ultrasound. Nothing there either. Then they began her first blood transfusion, which took 6 hours. It didn't help so a second one began at midnight. By 6 am it finished. At 8 am, they drew more blood and that transfusion raised the count 10 points. Now the next hurdle was 'would it hold'? They put Bella on a boatload of meds: steroids, anti-nausea, blood thinner + 3 others. She didn't want to eat or drink and just lay quietly in the ICU wing for the next 5 days. We didn't know if she would live or die. It was awful – the heartache.

We drove to see her daily and while loving and sweet as darling Bella normally is, she had little energy. Let us share that Kelpies are Australian cattle dogs. They are working dogs, which means they are usually full of boundless energy, very smart and clever. So while visiting we got lots of kisses, she didn't have enough energy to crawl up in our laps – all 68 pounds of her. Every day we cried and prayed a lot not knowing if she would make it.

By Sunday she looked a bit better, but nowhere near normal, and Dr. Miles said she might do just as well at home. Once home, Jayzbo was overjoyed to see her and she greeted him as best she could in her depleted state.

PHOTO: At SCVIM Bella was totally disinterested in food, but then again, it wasn't the 'gourmet meals' her dad fixes for them. They'd shaved both front legs for transfusions and her tummy for the ultrasound. The green strip around her neck is the same as people's hospital arm band ID.

She ate a bit of chicken Sunday, but not nearly enough. In 6 days she'd lost over 4 pounds while doing absolutely nothing. Normally when she hears Stan or me in the kitchen, Bella is johnny-on-the-spot to see if she can 'help'. She couldn't have cared less about food and she had to eat in order to make more red blood cells.

Sunday night she did eat some and we were encouraged. Then yesterday she took some steps back as she became totally disinterested in food again. Monday we took her back to Dr. Krenz and she drew more blood and her red blood cell count was holding, but not rising. Dr. Miles and Dr. Cannizzo, vets at SCVIM, both said that it could take 6 days for the steroids to work their magic and suppress her immune system. It took every bit of that.

By that evening she was ready for food and once again we were encouraged.

UPDATE: It's now been a week and Bella is making quiet progress. In two more days, she'll see Dr. Krenz again for another red blood cell count. Hopefully she'll see improvement.

Our warning to you is if you see your favorite 4-legged displaying such ongoing tiredness, persistent diarrhea with a really bad odor, it's best to check it out. Until this ordeal, we had no idea dogs could get an autoimmune disease. Of the canines Stan and I have had, both separately and jointly, this was something new – and deadly. If we'd waited one day later – HALF an hour, Bella wouldn't be here.

Sept. 12, 2018
Holly Deyo

HOLLY NOTE: If you missed yesterday's news about Stan and our dog Bella, you can read it at the top of this page. For Bella, improvement is slow. She's eating and drinking well, which is terrific, though her energy is still nowhere near normal. Thursday she sees Dr. Krenz for another blood draw to see if her red blood cell count is moving up. At the very least, we pray it's holding and she's not losing ground.

PHOTO: Bella and Jayzbo in 2013 waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey.

As for Stan, his CT scan revealed a "huge kidney stone". That thing has been in there a long time and shows no sign of budging. They want him to pass it, but it has a mind of its own and has shown zero inclination of moving. Waiting to hear back from the nurse how long they expect him to wait before they might consider blasting it out. His extensive blood tests came back absolutely brilliant. Nothing amiss, so what is causing the severe body cramping, fatigue and night sweats?

Funny thing, we hadn't seen our new neighbors for several months when they pulled into our driveway this morning. We've both been busy with inside house projects and it was nice to see them. I shared about Stan's and Bella's issues. We chatted for a bit and then Stan wandered outside. Deb is a nurse and mentioned that a virus is going around here that sounds exactly like what's been plaguing him – same symptoms. She said the virus is something you just have to wait out for about 2 weeks and treat with Potassium and Magnesium, and drink electrolytes like Gatorade. Maybe Stan's issue – minus the kidney stone – will be a simple fix. Time and vitamins. So hopefully the 2- and 4-leggeds will back to normal in the coming days. Many thanks to all who sent emails with prayers and thoughts. So appreciated! —Our heartfelt thanks, Stan, Holly, Bella and Jayzbo

Sept. 25, 2018
Holly Deyo

It's been 4 weeks since the nightmare began with Bella, our 7-year-old Kelpie. As recap, she was hit by a devastating auto-immune disease that nearly claimed her life on Sept. 6. She was in pet ICU for 5 days, touch and go. Two blood transfusions and a bunch of drugs later, Bella inched back to life. We took her back to Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine (SCVIM) hospital on the 18
th for a follow-up. Bella's red blood count (RBC) had moved from a dire 9 into the positive reading of 33. We took her again on the 25th and her count had moved to 40. Optimal is 40-55 – without steroids and the other medications she's taking. The other great news is that her heart rate and temperature are both back to normal and liver is undamaged – at this point. Her veterinarians eased back on the steroids from 3 a day to 2, to see if her immune systems stops attacking her red blood cells. If not, the vets warned she may have to be on them for a very long time.

PHOTO: This is Bella's part of the kitchen – her own little pharmacy. She takes 10 pills a day, 11 every other day. Four must be administered wearing gloves as they can suppress our immune systems. Since meds are given at 6 am, noon, 4pm and 6pm, we time errands and appointments in between.

Part of the side effects are widely increased drinking and eating. She goes through nearly a gallon of water a day, which means she needs bathroom breaks sometimes every 15 minutes, more often it's about every 45. All that aside, she's making great progress. The BIG thing is if her body quits attacking her immune system when the Prednisone is scaled back. Best case scenario is that she gets to come off them permanently, but that's a ways down the road. Inch by inch.

Two weeks ago Tincy S. & Akshaya A. from Kelambakkam, Tamil Nadu (India) gifted her with Nupro's All Natural Dog Supplement. It contains a rich variety of vitamins and minerals that makes into a fabulous gravy when mixed with water. Bella is a bit finicky when it comes to meals, but her brother, Jayzbo, pretty much inhales everything. They always 'sit' for their lunch and even Bella can't plant her buns fast enough when she smells the Nupro. No email or contact information was given for Tincy and Akshaya in the shipping box, so we're thanking them publicly and hope they see this message.

A week later a gift from an unknown sender in Canada sent her Norwegian Sea Kelp Meal for dogs. It too, is packed with minerals and amino acids. I know from writing Garden Gold: Grow Maximum Veggies With Minimum Effort just how depleted our foods are compared to 60 years ago. It now takes 6 carrots to get the same nutrition from just 1 back then. Since many pet foods are derived from the same sources as their pet parents, they aren't any better off. Additionally, if feeding them commercial kibble, most of the vitamins and minerals are cooked out in the processing. So thank you for thinking of them, for the gift of the Sea Kelp. Your thoughtfulness is so appreciated and such a wonderful idea that when they're gone, we will continue to give them to our 4-leggeds.

P.S. In case you're wondering about the cooking spray… The large CycloSporine gel caps have to be put down her throat. They stink like marijuana, some people say 'skunk', so there's no way to hide them in the wad of chicken or cheese. She'd bite through it in a heartbeat and gag on the taste. We found that if you give the capsule a tiny squirt of butter-flavored spray, not only does it help disguise the taste/smell, it makes the capsule glide down her throat.

Bella's next vet appointment is Oct. 9 so we'll keep you posted. Many thanks again for your prayers, well wishes and gifts. —Stan, Holly, Bella & Jayzbo

Oct. 10, 2018
Holly Deyo

BELLA UPDATE OCT 9: Today's was the news we've been waiting for. Bella's red blood cell count is at 43 – well within the range of normal. They cut 2 medications out entirely, the Omeprazole and the blood thinner and lowered the dosage of CycloSporine by 50%. She's still taking the Prednizones and 2 other meds. So instead of 11 and 12 pills a day as in the beginning, she's down to just 4 or 5. (Every other day, Bella takes an additional tablet.) In 10 days, her vets at Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine will do another blood draw to make sure the red blood cell count is holding with the reduction of medications and check to see there's no liver damage. Today Dr. McReynolds said she'll have to be on the Prednizone for some long while, but we're keeping our fingers crossed that she'll continue to get stronger and beat this autoimmune disease to the point where they're no longer necessary.

PHOTO: This afternoon Bella harassed her brother Jayzbo in the kitchen to get a game going. Bella had just finished pouncing on him so Jayzbo is giving her the wary eye, wondering what she's got planned. Always something! That's so different from just 5 weeks ago when she had trouble even breathing!

We can't say enough about or recommend strongly enough this Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine clinic. They literally saved Bella's life. If you've read what happened initially, then you know just how thinly she clung to life. Often we don't get the same vet twice out of the 6, but each one we met with was spot on with her condition, current medications and full medical history. Not once did we have to fill them in except to update them as to what had transpired since the last appt.

Bella is naturally affectionate and even though the doctors had run tons of tests, drew blood repeatedly (as well as every time we go back for check-ups), completed 2 full blood transfusions, and generally invaded every part of her body, we feel on some level she knows they were helping her and Bella drowns them in kisses every visit. They get down on the floor with her and give her lots of cuddles and she happily sits all 60 pounds of her in their laps. (In the first 2 weeks of her illness, Bella lost 11 pounds doing nothing, but has since regained 2.)

Everyone at this clinic from the nurses and technicians, to the veterinarians and staff that make it all happen, have our deepest thanks. While there is a long road ahead for Bella to regain her perfect medicine-free health, we know now she's doing really well and can breathe easy.

We can sleep at night and not pad out to the livingroom every hour to make sure she's OK as we did for the first week. May you all have such happy endings with your 4-leggeds.

Oct. 19, 2018
Holly Deyo

BELLA UPDATE OCT. 19: This may be our last update as Bella is doing so very well. Her red blood cell count today was at an excellent 146 (140-155 is normal). The other test they performed was a liver check, which read high due to the steroids. Instead of the 11 and 12 pills she was initially prescribed, she's now down to 2 and 3. (Every other day she takes an extra one.) Bella was first prescribed 3 Prednisone tabs a day and now it's just 1-1/2. Since everything is looking so good, she won't see Dr. McPherson again for 2 weeks.

One funny thing happened while at the clinic. First let us share that Prednisone makes both people and pets absolutely ravenous and thirsty. She literally drinks a gallon of water a day now when it used to be about 1/3 of that. Animals don't develop the moon-face that people often do and that my mom did when she had to take it. However, people can take themselves to the bathroom. For Bella, there have been days when she's had to go outside 5 times in a hour and a half. She also can't wait to eat.

PHOTO: Bella is just being her girly self scratching her back in the yard and thinking life is good again.

At 6 in the morning we give Bella her meds in a nitrate/nitrite-free hotdog that she wolfs down. By their 11:30 lunch, she's ready to eat paint off the walls. So this morning she had her 1/2 hotdog and at 10:30 we set off for Colorado Springs. We arrived right when she would normally be having lunch, which was now going to be 2-1/2 hours late.

About noon, Vet Tech Aly took her for a blood draw and she came back with Bella in tow laughing so hard a huge grin split her face. What was up? In order to distract animals during these tests they give them a piece of sliced turkey. When Aly brought out the container, Bella apparently bypassed the "piece" and dove for the bucket. Aly said Bella plunged her face right in and helped herself.

We were a bit horrified, but they thought it was funny. Bella is extraordinarily affectionate kissing all staff members alike from the receptionists through the veterinarians so I guess they overlooked her bad behavior. Pre-predisone days Bella was always a finicky eater. Now, everything not nailed down is at risk.

Last weekend I had peeled a cupcake liner from a muffin and tossed it into the trash. Dashing around the kitchen intent on making Stan's breakfast I didn't think much about it. The trash bucket sat out from under the sink by the stove waiting for egg shells to be tossed in. I turned my back for maybe 10 seconds and Bella had fished out the muffin wrapper and proceeded to munch through the paper. Even though it had bits of muffin stuck to it, eating paper probably wasn't the best idea. On my knees, I had to pry her jaws apart while she rolled her eyes in protest to extract the muffin wrapper.

We'll be so glad when Bella's off the Prednisone so her eating and bathroom patterns are back to normal! As it stand nows, Bella will be on the Prednisone maybe for a couple of months more. Dunno for sure, but the Azathioprine she will likely be on permanently. Dr. McPherson said today, "it's such a terrible disease that we don't want to risk a relapse." He went on to say that dogs who contract autoimmune disease have only a 50-50 chance of survival. So Bella was a very lucky, no blessed, little dog.

BELLA UPDATE NOV 14: In most people's minds, it was Halloween, Oct. 31. For us, it is when we got our girl baby back. Darling Bella has been through hell and back, no imaginary of hell of Halloween intended, over the last 2 months. We took her to see Dr. McPherson today. Her prognosis is good, great actually, but she can't ever again have vaccines, not rabies, not Parvo, nothing, as any of these can trigger the autoimmune red blood cells attack to kill her. For this, she has a 'hall pass' for vaccine exemptions.

I 'heard' Dr. McPherson say this, but thought in the back of my mind that it was somewhat of an exaggeration. Then a friend (Larry Taylor) of a friend connected us – she living in Howard, CO, where we'd thought would be a lovely place to move. We'd already scoped a nice place there. Then all of this stuff hit with Bella and launching a successful new business – the EMP Shield. This is nothing like what our friends, the Marzullis, are going through with their entire home and studio burned down in the Woolsey Fire.

So this lady shared that her doggy, Jesse, had had the same thing, had the same course of nearly non-ending medications. And she was all good. Her dog good. Then. When the course ran through and it 'looked' OK, and she was completely off the scripts, a few days later, her Australian Cattle Dog – like our breed, relapsed. Four hours later Jesse was dead.

So our darling Isabella Margarita will be on this one medication – Azathioprine – for life to stave off relapse, but for now, she is good as ever though still on steroids.

This morning she woke her Daddy up with a usual kiss on his bare arm in the bed saying, "Dad get your buns up!" and I knew that we had our girl back. Stanley rolled over and said, "Hi Bella. Thank you baby." God is merciful. We are grateful.


We are beyond ecstatic to share that our darling Isabella Margarita is doing beautifully. She seems like her old self prior to Sept. 2018's devastating diagnosis. Friday, Jan 25 will be the end of her Prednisone. For the last 2 weeks, Bella has been on just 5mg every other day, which is about as big as a gnat's eyelash. For a med so strong, people and animals have to come off it very gradually. So after 5 months, little Margaret will be Prednisone-free! (Yes, she answers to all of these names and others!) As stated in previous Bella posts, she will be on Azathioprine for life, but it's one 50mg pill every other day. It keeps her immune system in check so it doesn't attack her red blood cells again.

When we took Bella for her check-up last week in Colorado Springs, Dr. McReynolds said her RBC registered a perfect 49! Life doesn't get much better than that. Her next check-up is in a month and if that's all good, then she's doctor-free for 6 months. She was getting really tired of the twice-monthly blood draw. However, it wasn't all bad. When they draw blood, the nurse distracts the animal with a small jar of Gerber Baby Chicken & Gravy. "Yes, bribery works," Bella said, swiping her tongue around the jar's contents!

We aren't happy for any person – 2- or 4-legged to be pill dependent, but it's better than a straight ticket into the ground, which is likely to happen without the Azathioprine. We are relieved, feel blessed and appreciative, for this happy outcome for little Bella. Without this spunky Kelpie bouncing around with her brother, Jayzbo, there would be a major hole in our hearts.