I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for a lot of reasons. Mainly because it’s hard to admit to myself, let alone write it out, that someone I love is sick and there is no easy fix for it. My mom has been saying for years, “she is a sick little girl” and I would shrug it off because that isn’t what I wanted to hear. But since January 2016, I have realized and had to admit freely: my dog Mylah is a sick little girl.
I used to run an animal shelter and rehab center, and one day in February I was pulling dogs from Chicago Animal Care & Control to take back to the shelter. We had loaded up the van with seven dogs, and as I was about to leave one of the shelter workers told me she had a mother and puppies who had been confiscated that day. She was going to have to euthanize them all unless they were rescued. Being in those situations is one of the worst feelings ever, but there was no way I wasn’t going to at least look at what this mom and her pups needed.
I walked back to the pavilion which houses dogs who are part of court cases for cruelty, confiscation, and other legal reasons. This mom and pups had just become property of the city after being confiscated from their “owner” for running an illegal dogfighting breeding operation. The mom was being bred to produce puppies who would be used for dog fighting. There were eight skinny, worm-filled, four-week-old puppies roaming around an emaciated pint-sized mom who looked like a puppy herself. After evaluating the mom, I told my co-worker to help me load them all in the van.
The pups stayed at the vet with their mom until they were healthy and vaccinated so they could goto adoption events. I picked them all up for their first adoption event on a Saturday. I hadn’t seen them since they were these sick little pups and they looked amazing. During the adoption show, I completely fell in love with the runt of the litter. After the event, I took the puppies to their new home at the shelter and got them settled in, but decided to take the runt home with me as a foster. Needless to say, she never left my home and I named her Mylah. Mylah’s brothers and sisters quickly outgrew her and were all adopted. Her mom stayed a tiny size and weighed about 38 pounds, and was adopted as well.
My little family was complete with Mylah as the third and final piece to our puzzle. We were a happy family of five, with three young, healthy and rambunctious dogs. But as Mylah turned ten months old, something changed. One night she was beyond desperate for water and would not stop urinating. I called both our vet and the emergency vet that evening and both said to have her seen first thing in the morning, but that there is no need for an emergency appointment. I was very scared. She was literally trying to jump in the sink for water.
Mylah and I were basically up all night, and got to the vet around 7 am. I was researching what this could be and diabetes kept popping up in the search results. I asked our vet about it, and he said she is too young and that he would come get me in an hour (the shelter I worked at and vet were connected). The vet came to my office after an hour and said, you were right, she has diabetes and her blood sugar is in the 400s. Normal blood sugar for a dog is in 80-100.
My heart sank. Our vet at that time had never seen diabetes this young in a dog and neither had any of the many vets we’ve encountered.
Caring & Living with a Chronically Ill Dog
Over the next few years, I learned a lot about canine juvenile diabetes and its management: Types of insulin, test strips, glucose curves, what Mylah reacted well to or didn’t… the list goes on. I became Dr. Mom. If she needed a glucose curve done overnight, I was up every two hours taking her blood and documenting it. She receives insulin injections twice a day and if she exercises she needs to be watched or sometimes fed a snack to keep her blood sugar regulated or from dropping too low. Our guest bathroom gets turned into Mylah’s IV room where she receives fluids if needed. Diabetes is a constant balancing act and any little thing like stress, an injury or new treat can mess with it.
By the time Mylah turned three years old, we had gone through three different types of insulin until we found one that worked, endless amount of food changes until we got onto the raw diet, and too many ER visits for seizure episodes or hospitalizations for ketoacidosis to count. We also went through about three different veterinarians until we found the right “team”, as I call them now. Now, Mylah has her holistic wellness veterinarian and her internal medicine specialists.
From age 3-5, Mylah was a fairly well regulated juvenile diabetic. We had bumps along the way, but that is just the nature of her disease. It is incredibly hard to regulate a juvenile diabetic whose body is changing as she grows up. That’s why I was able to shrug off the “sick little girl” comments. She just had diabetes, we took it as it came and she lived a happy life despite some minor setbacks, which we eventually overcame.
January 2016: Mylah is now five years old and came inside from playing in the snow in our backyard. She had a snack, took a nap and woke up in horrible pain. She would sometimes get some soreness (diabetic nerve pain) from play, but we had some all-natural meds we gave her and the pain usually went away with rest. This was different though. She was in so much pain that she would scream if we touched her and she couldn’t walk without being in pain. Her spine was arched up in a way I’d never seen it.
Mylah spent a lot of January in the emergency vet and being seen by specialists. The vets performed every test under the sun – literally everything. There was no evidence as to why she was in so much pain (other than diabetic nerve pain), and her immune system attacking her muscles as a result.
Mylah has never been the same since then. She kept losing weight and has had chronic stomach issues.
We have switched her insulin again to one we do feel is working better and now I cook a homemade diet for her. With all the tests and time spent in the hospital, she was also diagnosed with moderate to severe inflammatory bowel disease, protein-losing nephropathy (PLN), and borderline exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Her immune system is not being good to her and it is aging her.
Unfortunately, I can now say that Mylah is a sick little girl.
It sucks, it really does, and the battle to manage all these diseases and illnesses is extremely difficult. We take it day by day. Some days she is feeling herself, running around the yard like a hooligan and doing fabulous, and other days she is mopey and not feeling so great.
Despite all these issues she has internally, her personality, ability to get around, and zest for life are all still there. Do I think her time with us could come to an end any day? Yes, I do, and she is not going to suffer because of me or anyone. She takes her daily meds, insulin and devours her home cooked meals.
Currently, as I type this, she just jumped up from her slumber to stare out the window and bark at the neighbor’s dog. Like I have learned to do all her life, we have to balance her good and her bad days and to know when it is too much for her. We aren’t there yet, but I will know when we are. The decision will be awfully hard, but it will be the right one.
Tips & Motivation
As a result of my life with Mylah, I have learned a lot about living with and caring for a chronically ill dog. That’s why I wanted to share Mylah’s story and some tips for others who might be going through a similar experience.
1. Trust your instincts- You know your dog better than anyone, and you know when they don’t feel well or are “off”. I know the sigh Mylah makes when she is feeling good and relaxed vs. the sigh she makes when she is thirsty or frustrated because her blood glucose is probably high. Because of this, we are our dog’s advocate. If something is “off”, weird or just wrong, we have to speak up no matter how small or insignificant it might seem to others.
2. Choose your veterinarian wisely- This is a big one and goes along with trusting your instincts. I will never forget, before we found Mylah’s current holistic veterinarian, that her previous one (who I thought I could trust) gave her a vaccine without even asking me, saying “she needed it”. Mylah was sick for weeks following that vaccine and I never forgave myself for not ripping it from the vet’s hands. I should have trusted my gut, but it is hard to trust yourself over an “expert”. But I am telling you now: you HAVE to go with your gut. Ever since then I have never, ever, let anyone touch Mylah without asking multiple questions, done research and been thorough with them before decision making. The amazing vets I work with now understand how special and sensitive Mylah is and work with me to make any and all decisions regarding her health. That is the type of support from vets we all need, especially when our dogs are sick.
3. Ask for help- No one knows the internal battle you struggle with when caring for a chronically sick pet. Probably not even your significant other, friends or family. And it is super easy to push people away and just take on all this pressure and caregiving. Don’t do that; ask for help. Teach others you can trust how to help you or your dog. I have a very close circle of people I can trust with Mylah. They all have keys to our house and I’ve taught them what to do if I can’t get to her or if she needs help. It’s a huge stress reliever.
4. Find support- Talk to a therapist, join a support group (some shelters or organizations have pet support groups), or confide in a friend who can understand and give you further support. Not many people would do the things I do for Mylah, but she is worth it. I love her, and she is my baby so I will do everything for her and any of my kids. Doing it all without support can be awful, and that isn’t ok.
5. Take care of YOU- You are the one up all night with your dog, at vet visits, managing medications, injections, doing IV fluids and more. That means that YOU need to be cared for, too. Give yourself a break. It’s ok to take a midday nap or take a mental health day from work. Splurge on that jewelry you were eyeing, or take an extra long bath. You need to do things for you so you can keep yourself feeling good.
6. Make the good moments count- We all have those days when we wake up stressed with ten thousand things to do for work and not enough time or coffee can help us to finish that to-do list. It’s always during these times when Mylah starts playing or being snuggly and cute and wants my attention. Well, I let her have it. I enjoy those moments with her no matter what. I let it happen, and I always feel better. I would rather look back and know that I postponed sending that email for a 20-minute snuggle on the couch with Mylah. Those moments matter to both of you, and I won’t let anything get in the way of them these days.
7. Take lots and lots of pictures and videos- I am always taking photos or videos of my dogs because I know that I would regret not having them. When Mylah was recently diagnosed with these other ailments over the last few months, I decided I wanted a proper family photo shoot done by a professional photographer. We just got those photos back and my goodness they are amazing and were worth every penny. Here is a sneak peek!
8. Don’t explain yourself to anyone- This is your dog, and as long as he/she is happy, well-managed and not suffering, you do not have to explain your reasoning for anything. Period.
9. Know that day will come- Prepare yourself for this day, because it will come. Every night I say a quick little nighttime prayer with Mylah before we go to bed. I want her to know and to reassure myself that if for whatever reason she doesn’t wake up the next day, we will find each other again.
10. Love them beyond words- It is most important to love them beyond words. They love us unconditionally, and so we must do the same no matter how hard it might be or how much our heart might be breaking at the same time. Just give them all the love you can, while you can.
Are you living with a chronically ill or sick dog? I want you to know you are an excellent dog parent because of everything you do. Give yourself credit, don’t beat yourself up or think you are making a mistake. Just keep being awesome and know there are others going through the same struggle that are here to listen. I am here! Leave me a comment, send me an email
– you aren’t alone!
Do you have multiple dogs and one is injured? Check out my post on managing an injured dog in a multi-dog household. Click here.