Jet's Story

Jet, 7 months old, April 2011, 1st day home, 48lbs

Two weeks prior to the above picture, Jet was found wandering around train tracks in a suburb of Montreal. He was quickly picked up by a kind hearted person, and brought to a vet clinic affiliated with a rescue organisation. He was physically checked, neutered, de-wormed and vaccinated. Perhaps someone was looking for him, perhaps not. After two weeks and no one claiming him, it was time to find him a home. At around the same time, I was looking for a companion to my dog Sabre, a female Shiloh Shepherd. As fate would have it, Jet made his way to my home and my heart. From the get-go, he would regurgitate food fairly regularly, but as he was a ravenous eater, I figured he was eating too fast. So I bought a special bowl to slow him down, it helped a bit. Meanwhile, he continued to grow and gain weight regularly. He seemed otherwise completely normal. The regurgitation of food and water continued, and became a regular occurrence. I took him to my vet several times throughout, trying to figure out what could be causing his problem. ¬†At the time, I would describe his symptoms as “vomiting” since I didn’t know the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. X-ray’s were taken to see if he had a blockage. He didn’t, and nothing abnormal was found. One of the vets thought he may have a rare disorder, but she didn’t think it was likely, so no other investigative tests were performed. And so it continued. I could always tell when a bad episode was coming, as my other dog would start to really act up, pace and whine. Sure enough, it would happen. Always late at night, during the night, or very early morning. I was becoming extremely tired from spending nights up with Jet, putting in 12hrs daily at work, and staying up at night with Jet. I was also very frustrated at a lack of diagnosis. But he looked really good, played normally and everything else about him was completely fine. He had a beautiful personality, always engaging in play with other dogs, always wanting to please. Just an all-around fantastic dog.

Jet, 1 year 9 months old, June 2012, 72lbs

In late June 2012, his regurgitations escalated to an alarming rate, and pain often accompanied the episodes. It was heartbreaking to watch. On Canada Day, July 1st 2012, I took him to the Emergency DMV hospital, where he was finally diagnosed with Megaesophagus via regular X-rays. The image clearly showed how large his esophagus was. He also had the beginning of aspiration pneumonia.

I was told to feed him elevated, and given Carafate, Pepcid and antibiotics. I was also told the condition could not be fixed, and majority of time no underlying causes is found. I went home feeling sad for my dog, and mad that he had this condition I couldn’t fix. I started researching, and what I read on the internet was very discouraging. I subsequently took him back to my regular vet for a follow-up, and in conversation, she suggested perhaps I should think about euthanizing him since there are so many healthy dogs out there that need good homes. I tortured myself with these thoughts for an entire week, wondering what the right thing to do was. I made an appointment to have him euthanized the following weekend. And then I changed my mind and cancelled it. I simply couldn’t do it. I had to try and see what could be done, if anything. So with very little knowledge and a lot of hope, there began a long journey into managing a dog with Megaesophagus.

I had a friend build a higher table so he would be elevated. This was his first time eating this way.

At the time, I thought this fit the “elevated” feeding method, and it did improve things quite a bit. I went on the Internet looking for more information, and in an effort to have Jet more vertical, my friend built me another feeding table, but higher and less awkward than the one above, so that Jet’s body was practically vertical. I do not have a picture of him feeding at it unfortunately, but it was much better. I also started to grind his kibble, mixing it with water to oatmeal consistency. As well, I bought a large wedge cushion that I put in his crate, so his head could be elevated. I started experimenting with neck massage after he would finish eating, based on a video I saw on the internet. He would eat, I would massage his neck until he burped, then go straight into his crate for a half hour afterwards. This certainly made a huge difference, and regurgitations practically disappeared. Finally, I could have a decent night’s sleep! I continued to read everything I could, to learn as much as possible. At this point, Jet was thriving and we were in a well established routine that worked, albeit not perfect. He ate three times a day, and the routine was easy for Jet’s pet sitter.

Things were going quite well for a while, but then it was noticed that he started losing weight and was getting skinny, despite infrequent regurgitations, in early 2013. He went from a very healthy 72lbs to 59lbs in less than a month. Something was very wrong. Right around the same time, one night my other dog got very sick; she was violently vomiting and had severe liquid bloody diarrhea. The next morning, Jet started vomiting also. These events coincided with opening a new bag of the kibble they were both on, so I thought perhaps something was wrong with that food. Nothing else had changed, and they were not around sick dogs. I took both dogs to the emergency vet, and had them treated for dehydration with sub-cutaneous fluids. They were given anti-nausea medication, antibiotics and blood was drawn. Kidney values came back abnormal. I was worried. The vet was unable to figure out why they were both so sick, so I took them off the kibble they were on, and switched them to a vet issued brand. They both started improving immediately. Meanwhile, I sent a sample of the previous food to a lab for analysis, and had it tested for metals and salmonella. All came back negative. The one test I did not do and regret not doing so, is for aflatoxin. If you ever suspect that your dog food is making your dog sick, have the food tested for this.
Now I had to put weight back on Jet. It was difficult because he was now regurgitating more than he had previously. He also got his 2nd bout of aspiration pneumonia at this time. It was as if his system had been weakened by whatever ailed both my dogs. I switched from dry grounded kibble mixed with water, to canned food, and that helped him a lot. It took 3 months to put 5lbs on him, and he eventually reached 64lbs. Not quite the 72lbs I was aiming for, but the vet was pleased with his body condition nonetheless. We discussed a weight marker where the vet would be very concerned, and the vet determined that at 50lbs, Jet would be in serious trouble.

It was also around this time I noticed that when Jet was on antibiotics, he would rarely regurgitate. Every time he was put on Clavaseptin, the regurgitations would just stop, or be so infrequent and minimal, that it struck me as odd. This was also discussed with the vet, who suggested we put him on daily low dose antibiotics. I had some concerns with this approach long-term, but she gave me some perspective and a reality check: Jet’s MegaE was severe, his life would most likely be much shorter without the antibiotics, and would be best to give him quality of life, rather than trying for a long life with continued serious health issues. She was right.

Things stabilized for Jet, although I could not get him to gain past the 64lbs. At this time, I had him tested for Myasthenia Gravis, Hypothyroidism and Addison’s. He was negative for all of these conditions.

In August 2013, my other dog Sabre crossed the bridge. It was an incredibly sad event, and Jet was grieving too. He would not eat very much, and spent his days curled up in a ball sleeping. Clearly, he was depressed. He had lost his big sister. And I was a complete mess.

So he ended up losing a bit more weight, and went down to 60lbs. Ten days later, he went back to being his regular normal self. It was good to see. Again, I had to try and put weight back on him. It was a struggle. And not a successful one either. He never did go up from there afterwards. So I tried to maintain him at 60lbs, and it worked fine for the rest of the year, well into 2014. He was a happy boy, playing at the dog park with his buddies, walking with me every morning and night, sleeping in my bed, curling up on the was good, and he lapped it all up. He even helped save a small dog that was running loose on an adjacent street by cutting him off and pinning him down; those owners were extremely happy. J Life was going well for Jet. I had no major concerns at this point. He was on daily antacids, low dose antibiotics, and although his weight was down from his normal, it was stable. He looked good, and regurgitations were minimal.
In late 2013, I was offered a position that required us to move from one province to another. I accepted it. This required selling my house in one province, and finding another one in the other. All this while still working full time. The house eventually sold, and a new one was found. The move was slated for August 2014. Throughout the whole process, Jet was doing fairly well, in terms of his Megae, and was still on the low dose antibiotics. On our last day at the house, he started acting anxious. There were tearful goodbyes with friends, neighbors and co-workers. The toughest was to say goodbye to Jet’s faithful sitter, and my good friend Kathy. No doubt, he knew something was up. I debated whether to lightly sedate him for the trip, or not. I elected not to.

The next day, the car was packed and Jet and I took a 7hrs drive to our new home. We stopped a few times along the way, to stretch his legs, have him do his “business” and just to take short breaks. He has never been good in the car, always anxious. This was no exception. He whined all the way. It was a very long trip. We arrived around 8pm, and I noticed something was not right with him. The next morning, I took him to the first vet office that was opened for an X-ray. I suspected AP. Sure enough, he had a very severe case of it. He was promptly put on Clavaseptin. (The 2 X-rays below show the difference in his lung from day of diagnosis, to 3 weeks later.)

His left lung was completely filled with gunk. He was regurgitating daily during this time, but the antibiotics helped him a lot. It took two months for this round of AP to resolve, and permanent scarring of his lung was noticed on last recheck. At this point, he had lost more weight, and was down to 57lbs. Again, I tried to bring his weight back up, using Nutri-Cal; it certainly helped, but the minute I would stop it, he would lose again. So I kept him on it. He stabilized at 58lbs, but was never able to gain more.
We got into a routine, and it worked very well for a while. He went to daycare every day, and loved it. The folks there knew how to feed him, and regurgitations were rare. Yet he still was not gaining weight. I became concerned with this, and started researching what could be causing this. He was eating, keeping the food down and his poops were great. Something was not making sense. I put him on liquid supplements of B vitamins and amino acids, which seemed to help maintaining him.
Just before Christmas 2014, he started losing weight slowly again. He also suffered his 4th AP episode, although this one was nowhere near as severe as the previous one. Again, on strong antibiotics, he beat it once more and was given the all clear by early January. At this time, the vet mentioned that his lung was so badly damaged, it may have to be removed at some point, should I choose to go this route. It was also noted that his esophagus was still very large, taking up a lot of space inside his cavity. He weighed 56lbs.
He was put back on low dose antibiotics. However, something was changing. He started to regurgitate more often, once every two or three days. He also stopped coming to bed with me at night, from January 24th onwards. Then on January 27th, he had a particularly horrendous night, where he was regurgitating a lot. From 11pm to 6am, he regurgitated a total of 12 times. He was in obvious pain, and there was little I could do to help him. I couldn’t wait for morning, so he could be seen by our vet. Wasn’t even sure he’d make the night, but he did. I fed him breakfast at 8am, hoping it would stay down, and called my vet. I took Jet in for X-rays.
I asked for X-rays of his lungs, but also his abdomen, in case there might be something going on that could explain his deterioration. Both his abdomen and lungs were fine (the damaged lung showed no changes). No AP. In fact, his intestines were full, which meant food had reached it. We weighed him: 55lbs. He weighed just 7lbs more than when he was 7 months old. Just 7lbs more...
I then had a long conversation with the vet on shift, who also called my regular vet at home. She was on a day off, but called me back, and spent a half hour with me discussing options.
There were 3.
Option 1: continue “as is” until his body completely fails him
Option 2: have a feeding tube installed through his intestine
Option 3: euthanasia
I sat at the vet’s office for two hours, debating in my head what would be best for Jet. All options were reviewed with both vets.
Option 1 would have just continued on the decline we were on, and would solve nothing. If anything, he would continue to suffer.
Option 2 was tempting, but with his bad lung and risk of pneumonia, surgery was risky. If successful, it may buy him a year at best, and he’d never be able to eat by mouth again. A very unsettling thought for a dog like Jet, whose biggest pleasure in life was to eat.
Option 3 was breaking my heart in a million pieces. An unbearable thought.

In the end, I asked both vets if they would support euthanasia, and they both did. Turns out, Jet was ready, he had had enough. I, on the other hand, was not ready. I had always envisioned Jet being one of those success stories, and in a sense, it was. He went very peacefully.

Jet’s short life will not have been in vain. He pushed me to look for answers, and reach out to others who deal with the same dilemmas daily. He will remain forever in my heart.

Remember that this is just one story, and every story is different. Hindsight is always 20/20, but we don’t have that luxury while we’re dealing with the problem. Listen to your gut, and your vet (if you trust him/her), and do the best you can. That is all anyone can do. Lean on people who have experience with the condition, but don’t rely solely on their advice. You know your dog best, so trust in that. Jet was a very special creature, who taught me a hell of a lot.
Special thanks to my good friend Kathy, for introducing me to this very special boy, you did a great thing. You saw hope when no one else did, and that encouraged me to press onward. You are a phenomenal human being. In the end, Jet’s story is one of success after all...

Thank you for reading Jet’s story. All the very best with your pups.

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