Marino was an extremely healthy dark red golden retriever... He was about 85 pounds, very muscular, active... swimmer, runner, chaser, jumper... A family dog, not competitive or hunting dog. We adopted Marino in December of 2002 from an older couple that were not capable of fulfilling his activity needs... He was almost 6 months old! Marino was literally the heathiest dog I know for his entire life until January 2007.
The story starts in January of 2007... It was the first weekend in January and my husband was out of the country on a family function. Marino and I played outside ALL day on Sunday... That evening he got sick after dinner... It was strange, but I didn't panic... just figured he ate something bad while he was outside... (but, he NEVER was a sick dog up until this point - no vomitting or diarhea ever in his life)
It took about 3 days of him being sick off and on and finally on Wednesday morning, Jan. 10th he would not eat... THIS WAS NOT normal... My dog never saw a dish of kibble that he didn't like... I took him right to my vet... He monitored him all day, drew blood, gave fluids, etc...and then sent him home with antibiotics and instructions to rest... At that point there was some thought that it could be pancreatitis. That was eventually ruled out by the blood work. By 7:30 pm Marino was seriously crashing... He could not get up, was trembling, vomiting... I rushed him to the emergency animal hospital. They admitted him immediately, started with X-Rays of his abdomen, blood work had already been done by my vet, got him on fluids, antinausea meds, pain meds, antibiotics and tried to stabilize him. The first night he did not do well at all... But, then slowly, over the next 2 days began to improve... He seemed to be responding to the fluids and the antibiotics. We did more x-rays, more blood work, several abdominal ultrasounds, but nothing was conclusive - or even really wrong anymore.
There was a small amount of fluid and inflammation on his lymph glands near his kidneys, and they did aspirate and sent for cytology, but it all came back normal. There was also some non-septic fluid around his intestines that they said was probably "leaking" due to the infection and inflammation, but we could not figure out what was causing either.
By Friday Marino was pretty much back to himself... eating regularly, eliminating, drinking lots of fluids, very happy to see everyone! So, I took him home! No meds or anything. We chalked it up to him getting into something in the yard, or in the lake water (we live on 2 1/2 acres with a ski lake)... We kept him on antibiotics for the next week, but everything seemed to be going GREAT! WHEW! What a relief...right??
Final diagnosis in January: Suppurative, non-septic abdominal inflammation, differentials include pancreatitis, early GI perforation, cancer and others. No other diagnostics were performed at this time.
March: Marino stayed perfectly healthy, normal and strong for about the next eight weeks... It wasn't until the beginning of March that we started having problems again. About March 7th Marino began to get lethargic... very inactive, not eating well, etc. Not our dog... We took him back to our regular vet who administered IV fluids and antibiotics, took more X-rays and within a day he perked right back up to being himself... or mostly... We took him home with antibiotics and kept and watchful eyes on him. Some behaviors began to change throughout this time, but I cannot pin-point dates... but, they included restless nights - pacing, sleeping only on the hard wood floor or bathroom tile...not in his regular bed-bed near us.
This time our false hope lasted about 10 days and down he went, again... He started feeling low about March 21st, so back to the vet again on Mar 24... By this point, as you can imagine, we were getting a little frustrated and scared. My regular vet was not working that day... so, it was a perfect chance for an in-house "second opinion" by the more senior vet in the practice... After listening to our story and looking at Marino, who was less than interested in being there... He had a suspiscion that it might be Addison's Disease - an adrenal gland problem... Boy... that almost sounded good at this point... So, he shot Marino up with a HUGE dose of steriod, gave him the meds as if it was Addison's positive and sent the test off... This was a Saturday so, we would not get the results until Monday... The huge steriod dose really got us back up and running - or got Marino back up and running...energy was back in a BIG way... eating like crazy and gulping water and panting. Still the nights were restless... Monday rolled around... and the test came back NEGATIVE... We were starting from SCRATCH all over again!
With no end in site and no real clue as to what was going on... we decided to continue the steriod - prednisone therapy - to treat for possible Irritable Bowel Disorder. There was some conversation that Marino's symptoms were very similar to IBD cases and that steriods were the treatment. We also began a special diet for IBD. (Of course, all of this was going on during that huge pet food recall in the US). And, the only way to truly diagnose IBD was a surgical biopsy... we were not crazy about that idea at all if we could treat with meds and diet.
April: Over the next 10 days or so until the beginning of April, we tried a few times to begin tapering the steriod off... Each time we did, he would start to crash... The symptoms were always lethargy and lack of appetite... Restless nights, lots of panting, lots of water consumption, Again, not our dog! I also did begin to notice a small weight loss... including muscle mass.
Additionally, there are few other symptoms/conditions that were present with Marino from when he began to get sicker in March, before his diagnosis, until the end that I thought are worth sharing.
Goopy, runny eyes, lots of drooling and smacking of the chops - literally - smacking, a runny nose, and yucky breathe - especially at the end. The goopy eyes would get worse when Marino would have bad days... It started in March when we had him back and forth to our vet trying to figure out what was going on. When he was feeling good we did not notice this as much... Toward the end it was pretty prevalent as well. His nose was only runny in the beginning when he was very first diagnosed and he was SOOO sick... After that, there was not to much problem with the runny nose.
Another odd symptom that was very prevalent was the smacking... It was the strangest thing... it was only at night and ALL NIGHT LONG... It was almost as if he was nauseated... We began using an over the counter famatodine (Pepcid AC) in his meals at night to calm his stomach and that seemed to work. But, in the beginning it was constant.
Of course, as the infection worsened in his body, his breathe got worse as well. Probably a month or so before the end, it was really pretty bad and I had a feeling that was not a good sign.
On April 14th, we came home from dinner and found Marino in the closet crashing again like that first night in January... He was bloated, painful, trembling and could barely walk. We rushed him to the emergency animal hospital AGAIN!
They started on the same routine as the first time... fluids, antibiotics, pain meds, blood work etc. They did the X-rays and could see some inflammation, but could not be more conclusive without an ultrasound and cytology. The next day, Sunday, the ultrasound doc. came in to do the procedure and this time it was the news that we did not want to hear.
The doc. called us at home around 5pm and told us that things did not look good. That his liver was all spotted and "moth eaten" and it was probably cancer. Devastating...this is our dog-child. I can barely say the words even now. Histocytic Sarcoma - April 15, 2007.
Marino stayed in the animal hospital that night and we took him home the next day, April 16th, after further discussion with the internist - more ultrasounds and cytology, it was confirmed. Histiocytic Sarcoma...We made an appointment with their oncologist for the following Monday.
They gave Marino more prednisone, the strong antibiotics and told us to hang in there until we decided what course that we wanted to take... Honestly, Marino was so sick... I didn't even think he would make it until the following Monday for the appt. with the oncologist. It was a rough 5 or 6 days...We just kept constant watch... He was up most nights all night, breathing was heavy and labored... though this was partly due to steriods, eating was erratic... We tried lots of different canned foods - prescription mostly, Science Diet... He didn't really stick with one kind for long, then he would not eat at all. For some reason, this is what bothered me the most... the lack of eating... I just knew it was bad if he wasn't interested in food.
But, in true Golden Retriever fashion, he was there for us... loving, wagging his tail when he was up for it... and just hanging in there like a true champ!
After speaking with our vet and with the oncologist, we decided to give the chemotherapy a go... They were honest with us... They told us the most we would get would be 3 to 6 months... and it may not work at all, but they also said... "You may get your dog back"... We decided to try and if it was not giving him back true quality of life then we would discontinue and let nature take it's course...
His first Chemo treatment - oral CCNU 75mg - was administered on April 23rd. We would start a schedule that would include chemo every third Monday with blood work done the Saturday prior to check his white/red cells and make sure they were in normal range. A liver check was recommended montly also, but we never bothered... what's the point? We knew the cancer was there and would eventually spread... We just wanted to try to keep him comfortable.
We opted to have our regular vet administer the chemo. We also left him on a very low dose steriod - methylprednisolone 12mg a day...It seemed to keep him perked up before the chemo and the vets agreed it would not interfere with the CCNU.
May: It was a long month... but, slowly Marino started to get some giddy-up back in his step... He began his regular eating routine... Of course, by now I was cooking boiled chicken, brown rice, Dr. Harvey's organic meal and that sort of thing, and mixing in about a cup of dry high protein dog food - Evo Innova or Purina One Lamb and Rice...The vet told us FEED FEED FEED... high protein and as much as he can possibly eat... even 4 times a day if he would and/or could... We ended up with 3 times a day... It seemed to make him uncomfortable if we "overfed" him... He lost about 10 pounds between the bouts of illness in March and now. We eventually were able to get about 5 or so back on him throughout the process and he was up to over 70-75 pounds throughout the rest of the time.
At this point, we just wanted to keep him comfortable while he was here with us and give him quality of life to do the things he truly enjoyed! We went outside a lot...It's beautiful in the spring here...the wind blows and we had cool weather really all the way through May (cool for us 70s and 80s!)...He rolled and played in the grass, squeeked his toys, played ball and more...He was a Golden Retriever.
By Memorial Day - May 28...The dream became reality... We had our dog back! That weekend we had a weekend long event - swimming, doggie play dates, parties, guests and more and Marino just kept up like he normally would! It was truly a blessing... He was back!
His nights were still restless and spent in our bathroom that adjoined our bedroom, but that was fine... He drank lots of water - but his eating was basically back to normal, with the exception of me spoiling him with the good stuff... and lots of apples and carrots. (We had NEVER feed anything except for dog food and dog treats - so he was loving life). The weekend days that he swam or really played hard were the best nights sleep! I loved it when I could listen and he was breathing peacefully!
Memorial Day, May 31-Labor Day, September 3: When I tell you that we got our dog back... I really mean it... He did GREAT on the chemo. The dose was eventually lowered a bit to 65mg of the CCNU... but really it was flawless... No one could believe it... If you didn't know he was sick, you could never have guessed... Every once in awhile he would have a low day after his chemo or during that week following the dose, but nothing serious and it always went away... We SWAM like fish this summer! Every single weekend... We played, we rolled in the grass, we went on car rides... we ate lots of good food, we visited our friends, everything! It was great!
September: Finally, at the very end of August...literally Labor Day weekend...and his 7th chemo treatment, He began to slow down... just a bit... his eating got finicky, but he was still fairly interested in food, still chasing his lizards outside, swimming that weekend and acting fairly normal...
But, to be on the safe side, the Tuesday after Labor Day, Sept 4th we took him into see our vet. We did blood work and it did not come back too good... Basically, he had no white or red blood cells left - his blood was like water...They re-tested to be sure that it was accurate... and it was. They told us it could be the disease or it could be the chemo, but either way... We would most likely have to discontinue the chemo treatments until (if and/or when) the counts came back up. We were told to monitor him for signs of internal bleeding. Little red dots on his belly like blood blisters (that he already had a few of) bruising inside his ears, and to watch his stool and urine for blood.
That week he was brave... I was sure he would have the stamina to get his blood counts back up before his next chemo visit was supposed to happen... I really thought he was ok... But, as the week progressed his eating got worse... but honestly, that was really the only thing that was seriously out of order... Until Saturday, Sept 8th.
I spent the morning with Marino as my husband was working... Because of the risk of internal bleeding the vet told us to keep him VERY INACTIVE. But, that's not his lifestyle... He just kept looking at me and I could tell he wanted to play... We went up and down the driveway a few times, he got the paper, I got the mail... He chased lizards and his toys for a few minutes, but I was afraid to let him run around too much. When my husband returned home, I went out for a few hours to do some errands... When I got home he was on the floor with Marino and told me..."Mom...we aren't doing too good"... He was done eating for good that day and his last meal was a Frosty Paw, doggie frozen treat (like ice cream) later that evening. That night Marino was so brave... he was bleeding internally... I stayed out in the family room with him and he would just get up every 2 hours to let me know he needed to go outside. He went all by himself and then came right back in and laid down on the floor next to me.
September 9: In the morning, my husband took over duties. He came into our bedroom around 8:30 AM and said, "Today is the day. We need to call Dr. Mark this morning." Marino was so brave... He hung in there like nothing I have ever seen, and yet he gave us no doubt when his strong body had had enough. It was time.
I called my girlfriend who was like Marino's Godmother and told her she should come over to visit... She brought her daughter who had literally grown up with Marino... We sat outside on the porch in the sun and petted my brave baby... We took him over to visit his friends next door, Goldie and Cassie (10 year old and 1 year old Goldens) and Chloe (5 year old Choc. Lab) to say good bye. He greeted them like normal and then went looking for their doggie bowls for treats and water.
My vet, fortunately, does house calls and was coming around 4:30. When I saw him coming down the road, I took Marino for one last trip to the lake. He put his paws in and got them wet. We walked back up to my porch, laid him on his car-ride blanket and said good-bye. It was the worst thing I have ever had to do, but immediately after it was over, I felt relieved and better. Marino was finally resting peacefully and I knew he was in doggie heaven with my friend's Bear-Bear, a Golden, that was 8 and was put to rest only 2 weeks before Marino and our kitty, Duffy, who passed after 17 years in 2005.
It was the most horrible thing I have ever been through... This was a special dog...our first dog, for both my husband and I. Neither of us had pets growing up...He was kind, sweet, gentle...goofy, fun, our best pal!
But, I can say...that I would not change a thing. Marino came to us and we gave him an incredible life! He gave us so many blessings in return... We had a wonderful 4 1/2 years with him! And our last 5 months were just an extra blessing that we got to spend the time with him. But good-bye, or even see you later, is never easy!
Marino was cremated and now sits with us every evening on our mantle as we watch TV. I feel comfort that he is no longer in pain and is playing at the Rainbow Bridge!
And, basically, that's the end of the story...
I tried to contact the breeder who Marino originally came from. They are not longer in the area or the state. I wanted to let them know about the Histocytic Sarcoma, but I was not successful in contacting them. I hope that they are no longer carrying on that bloodline...As absolutely perfect as he was...I would not put another pet or pet family through this horrible disease.
Thank you for allowing me to tell Marino's story. I hope it can help!
All the best
April and John Bailey
In Loving Memory of Marino