The life of Rocket
Rocket was born to a large litter of Kangal/Great Pyrenees puppies that were being raised as livestock guardian dogs. Livestock guardian dogs do not herd their flocks/herds/families. They live with their charges and protect them from dangers: both human and animal. We started searching for LGD puppies that we could raise to protect our poultry flocks. We traveled to Lithonia, GA to pick up Rocket's sister, Annie, and while we were there I asked if they had any puppies left that they hadn't sold. They didn't, but they still had the runt of the litter which they did not feel as if they could sell as an LGD. I brought her home with us in the hopes of turning her into one.
Everything was great for a long time but at about 4 months old we started having issues with Rocket not eating and losing weight. We did bloodwork and x-rays and Rocket was diagnosed with hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD). My understanding of HOD is that it's somewhat common to large breed dogs and that Rocket was growing too fast and her bones were inflamed and painful. We had been careful about the brand of puppy food prior to Rocket's diagnosis but afterwards we were even more particular about what we fed and about portion control. We were prescribed a round of steroids and Rocket bounced back to her happy, energetic self and began eating again. Over the next two months we noticed that Rocket would eat but while she was gaining weight and growing she still looked somewhat emaciated.
At around 6 months of age we thought we were going through another episode of HOD and went in to see our primary veterinarian on a Thursday. Tests were done and Rocket was sent home with another round of steroids. Because Rocket's appetite had diminished and we were concerned about her weight; during that week I had been feeding her chicken and rice. That Friday Rocket's condition deteriorated quite rapidly. I was back and forth from the farm and home and it was a hot day. When I got home around lunchtime Rocket was hot and lethargic. I brought her inside in the hopes of cooling her off. However, when I temped her her body temperature was way too low. She didn't seem dehydrated (gums were pink, capillary reflex test was good, skin test was good) but I couldn't get her to drink and the only food she was interested in was the chicken. By the time my boyfriend arrived home from work I was beside myself. Instead of getting better with my care Rocket was deteriorating rapidly. I took her to a local pet ER.
Upon arrival, Rocket was taken back for preliminary work: initial check over, weight, TPR (temperature, pulse, respiration), etc. She was never brought back. Even though the waiting room was overflowing and our wait time was over an hour the tech came out and put me into a room almost immediately. The doctor came in not too long afterwards and went over Rocket's vitals with me and her condition. I gave her the run down of Rocket's history and diagnosis and what we had been going through. She urged me to euthanize.
Not only was Rocket exhibiting a deplorable physical condition but she was also exhibiting neurological symptoms as well. None of these signs were good for Rocket or for her future.
I told the doctor that I would give her through the night and we'd see how she did and reevaluate in the morning. I went into the back where they had Rocket hospitalized, I kissed her on her forehead, told her that she needed to be strong, and I left. As I was filling out my contact information the receptionist asked me in the event that Rocket ceased breathing, did I wanted her to be brought back? I signed Rocket as DNR (do not resuscitate).
I love animals. I grew up on a farm, I have my BS in Animal Science, and I am pursuing my MS in Food and Agricultural Science. I love animals. I have a loving and nurturing soul. But I am also very practical and I believe that quality of life is one of the most important considerations. I drove home in a daze, went through the rest of the evening like a zombie, laid in bed waiting for the phone to ring and praying that it didn't. I appealed to friends on social media to please, please, pray for Rocket.
And when the next morning came without a phone call, I started to hope.
We went and picked Rocket up Saturday morning. Her condition had improved enough that they released her into our care but not enough that she was out of the woods. The doctor told us that she suspected Rocket of having a liver shunt due to her bloodwork. For the rest of that weekend we all hoped and prayed.
On Monday, we went in to see our primary doctor. At first, he didn't believe that Rocket had a liver shunt. But after looking at her latest bloodwork we took x-rays and after looking at her x-rays he discovered that her liver was so small as to be almost non-existent.
We have not run any further tests on Rocket and have no plans to run further tests or to engage in any kind of temporary surgery. There is no cure for her. She barely has a liver and because she barely has a liver her liver is not working properly. I have done a lot of research online and have found hit or miss results and information. Liver shunts are not something that is well understood nor are prognosis' good. Most dogs that are diagnosed with a liver shunt are diagnosed later in life; Rocket was diagnosed at 7 months of age. Over 85% of dogs diagnosed with liver shunts are euthanized within a year.
I started to consider our options (which were not many). My doctor said I could 1) do more tests and perform a surgery that was high cost, low success rate, and only a temporary fix, 2) euthanize, or 3) try the diet thing.
I tried the diet thing.
It's been hard (so very hard) to come up with a diet for Rocket that meets her needs, gives her the nutrition she needs to sustain herself and grow without allowing her body to become toxic. But we have played around with it and so far it seems to be working. Our research suggested that we do a low protein diet. Which is also highly controversial... So I decided to do a high protein diet in small amounts. Basically Rocket's liver is not working as it should so the protein that she is ingesting is not being broken down, filtered, and utilized properly. When that happens the Nitrogen in the protein builds up as ammonia and once ammonia builds up in the blood to such an extent is becomes toxic. There is also cause to fear fat in the diet because of how that is broken down and utilized.
Rocket's Diet: fed twice daily (BW=65lbs)
1 cup high quality protein
1 cup mixed vegetables
1 cup carbohydrates
3/4 tsp supplement (Solid Gold SeaMeal Kelp-Based Overall Wellness and Nutritional Supplement Powder)
Like I said, we've been playing around with her diet a lot. I had a bunch of organ meat in the freezer from birds we had processed here on the farm. I have a group of laying hens that I get farm fresh free-range eggs from but when cooked Rocket would vomit. We switched to raw eggs and she has been able to keep it down (2 eggs, not 3 - and I hope to expand into ducks as I would like to try her on duck eggs). I also hope to try her on beef and rabbit organs in the near future. We have successfully fed her raw deer meat in the past and hope to stock the freezer this fall for her. We also hope to reach out to other hunters so that they may save the organs when field dressing their kills and be able to utilize those. I have reached out to other farmers in the area in the hopes that if anyone is processing at home and does not utilize their organs that they be donated to Rocket. I am prepared to pay for organ meat but am trying to keep costs down as I am running a start-up farm an am a full-time grad student.
We try to prepare Rocket's meals every 3 days. We make big batches of rice and I grind up her vegetables and mix it into everything else. She will eat carrots and fruit pretty easily but getting her to eat zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower can be a pain so I found that if everything is ground up and mixed together she will usually eat everything. We monitor her more closely and bring her inside to the stairwell of the house when it is really hot or humid as the stairwell has run off AC. Because of her condition she urinates about every hour to two hours and is provided with lots of fresh water. Sometimes I spike her water with gatorade (not G2) to prompt her to drink or to give her a little boost of electrolytes.
In conclusion, thank you for reading Rocket's story. I will update as we go through this journey called life. Presently, Rocket is still skinny but seems to be reacting well to her homemade diet. Some days are better than others but Rocket is back to being her happy, bouncing, loving self. And until that changes we will do all we can for my very first puppy.
And the most helpful reference of all: Tess and Her Homemade Liver Shunt Diet