If you follow me on instagram you’ll know I have a little shih tzu called Ralphie. I thought I might introduce Ralphie to ThatEmily and tell you a bit of his story so far.
We got Ralphie as a puppy (we looked into rescue centres but as we have lots of rabbits it would be too risky for them) and he was a little chubby ball of fluff. His parents were both decent size shih tzus with lovely temperaments so we were excited to see the personality of this new member of our family. It didn’t take long for him to take over our lives with walking, feeding and playing and of course we loved it.
Once he reached full size Ralphie weighed 6.9 kilos and was having his coat groomed every three to four months. He was very playful, liked other dogs and generally, given his little size, had the energy of a much bigger dog! So then one day in September, when he was about to turn two, when he just slumped and refused to move, we were confused. At first we put his lack of energy and disinterest in food down to him having eating something he shouldn’t have (he’s been known to grab a sandwich crust when walking past Greggs) but there was something more extreme about his lethargy. We could barely encourage him to lift his head up and he just didn’t want to move. We noticed his tongue and gums were very pale, and his eyes were barely staying open. We managed to get some water inside of him, but couldn’t tempt him to eat, even his favourite snack, cucumber. When about 9 hours later there was definitely no improvement we decided it was not just an upset stomach but something more serious, and so our late night trip to the vets began.
As you can imagine, getting to a vet late on a Sunday night is not easy, but thankfully our local vets had the number of an emergency practice on their voicemail and we rushed Ralphie over there to be assessed. This vet suspected a problem with his blood and offered to refer him to the Royal Veterinary College, just over an hour away from us. Well, if you’ve got a pet you know that as illogical as it may seem, you’ll go to any lengths to make them better and so at 11pm on a Sunday night we trekked to the RVC to have Ralphie admitted to one of the highest quality veterinary clinics in the country.
The first week he was at the RVC was a tense one, with his red blood count dropping to 12 (we were told 40 -50 is normal range for a dog) and his continued complete lack of appetite. The vets asked us to come and visit him as they suspected our poor puppy was now depressed which was contributing to his illness. He went through two blood transfusions that first week and I don’t know how many blood tests. When we first visited him he was carried into a consulting room with tubes, needles, bandages and all sorts on him. An RVC student, Jodie, had taken on the task of looking after Ralphie and sat with us whilst we all tried to coax this ailing dog back to health. In that first week Ralphie’s weight dropped almost a kilo and he still refused to eat anything. His body seemed to reject every blood transfusion, and his red blood cell count kept dropping back into the teens.
Over that weekend, a different vet temporarily took over his care, her outlook was not nearly so positive as the original vet, and we began to accept that maybe Ralphie wouldn’t survive this bizarre and horrible illness. However, on Monday morning, our usual vet was back on the phone discussing experimental treatments involving human antibodies and one final blood transfusion to try and kickstart our little man’s immune system. By the miracle of science and determination of the vets at the RVC, at the end of that second week our skinny, balding puppy came home. He was on a hefty dose of steroids, antacids, another strong drug, and asprin, as well as some antibiotics. He still would barely eat, although the RVC had managed to persuade him to try some chicken, so our priority was getting him back to a healthy weight, and keeping his blood levels healthy.
When we first took Ralphie home his blood count was in the twenties, and his weight was just below 6kgs. Several months later his blood count is now in the forties, his weight back up to 7kgs (although he still feels pretty skinny) and his energy levels are way up. It took about two months before he had the energy for a ‘proper walk’ as we call them, where he’s off the lead bounding around with other dogs for an hour or so. Up until then we gently increased his walking, introduced him to other dogs as he had become nervous and started from scratch again with our lovely shih tzu. He’s still on four medicines a day, but a far reduced dose than originally, and hopefully that dose will continue to get smaller.
Ralphie has never been the same really, his lovely thick coat has thinned out dramatically, he tires much more easily and is still quite nervous around other dogs but slowly we’re building him back up, increasing his confidence and one day soon our bright, energetic and friendly dog will be back to full health. In the mean time, the biggest piece of advice I want to pass on is GET PET INSURANCE! You never know what might happen to your lovely buddy, and the last thing you want is to not be able to afford it. And finally, a HUGE thank you to the vets, students and staff at the RVC who spent two weeks figuring out how to get Ralphie home, and who have, along with our local vets continued to provide expert care for him from afar.