We brought our 8 year old yellow Labrador here early last month after he developed a persistent limp in his right shoulder, stiffness in other joints (which led to a broken toenail when coming into the house one day) and was experiencing a gradual decrease in appetite. He was examined by Dr. Kirby and was found to have a fever, but tested negative for common parasitic infections via a 4 Dx test, so was determined to have a bacterial infection that was affecting his joints and given a shot of Penicillin and prescribed Amoxicillin for a 10 day course. He also had a quarter-sized scab on his leg which we assumed was from a bug bite, and though we knew it seemed a bit slow to heal, we thought it was because the dog would bite bandages off it and lick at it from time to time, instead of leaving it alone. The vet had seen it/felt it while examining each of his limbs, but didn’t ask us anything about it. We would later learn that a slow-healing wound can be a sign of cancer, amongst other things. Halfway into the course of Amoxicillin, he began putting less weight on his left hind leg and continued to become pickier with his food. We attributed the continued decreased appetite to the new medicine and bought several different brands of dry and wet dog food to try to find something he might like, and when that didn't help we started him on a homemade diet, which seemed to help him to eat more, but his appetite was still nowhere near what it had always been. We also installed a ramp on our back stairs as he had become afraid of using stairs due to his lack of balance and pain in his joints. He no longer would attempt to jump up on furniture, which was something he had always done multiple times a day.
By the end of his course of antibiotics he was putting more weight on his left front shoulder but the limp on the left back leg had become much more pronounced, he was starting to hunch his back when standing and walking and he was beginning to struggle to keep his balance on the floors inside the house, so we laid down a trail of rugs to keep him from sliding and falling on the hard floors, which he had never had a problem navigating before. He went back to Catskill Animal Hospital and was AGAIN prescribed antibiotics (this time Cephalexin for a 10 day course) as Dr. Kirby believed he still had a bacterial infection affecting his joints, and was also given a shot of cortisone in the hind leg that he had recently begun limping on. He did full blood work this time around and saw that the dog had an elevated white blood cell count but again confirmed this was likely because of a bacterial infection and assured us that this round of antibiotics should do the trick. The Cephalexin did nothing more than make the dog excessively thirsty, and made him have to pee more frequently and gave him diarrhea, causing him to be restless as he would have to go outside much more frequently than he ever had needed to before. He also would also pant and drool while on the Cephalexin (even when he was just resting in temperature-controlled rooms). We were told we could give him Aspirin as needed, but even the smallest doses exacerbated his panting episodes and made the drooling worse. He continued to eat less, and by this point we were feeding him by hand or off a spoon while he sat down, as he seemed to not want to eat while standing (though we had raised his water and food bowls for him when he first began limping so he wouldn't have to strain his already bad front shoulder and his increasingly stiff neck). His left front shoulder now was so much more swollen than it had been before. He also would whimper at night if he fell asleep on the side of his body with the stiff shoulder and weak hind leg, as he couldn't roll himself back over without help. He was losing his balance more frequently and we would try to walk no more than a few inches away from him when he attempted to walk into the kitchen for water or to go to the back door for a walk, just in case he slipped in the process.
Toward the end of his round of Cephalexin, we realized no improvement was to come and another call was placed to Catskill Animal Hospital. The following day Dr. Kirby called us back and WITHOUT EVEN WANTING TO SEE OUR DOG, he offered to prescribe a THIRD round of antibiotics (this time Doxycycline) and a painkiller (Rimadyl), or said that we could try to take him to see someone else. He offered no other testing and we knew that antibiotics were doing nothing for our poor dog and he was going downhill fast, so we immediately made an appointment with New Baltimore Animal Hospital, which was scheduled for two days after he took his last Cephalexin dosage. Within those two days the stiffness in his limbs was so bad that he could not get up at all without help and he would have to be held upright in place for a minute or two to be stable enough to walk on his own. The left hind leg continued to lose tone and now felt like jell-o (seemed to have muscle wasting). He was finally able to rest for longer periods of time (now that he didn't have to drink and urinate constantly on the Cephalexin), but that was ALL he seemed to want to do. He was often lethargic, and would immediately want to lie down and sleep when he came back into the house after going to the bathroom or getting some water. He also now would whimper every couple of hours as he would get uncomfortable no matter what position he was in and was unable to move himself much at all. We would move him into a different position, gently stretch his stiff limbs, and he would go back to sleep. He was no longer panting as frequently as he was while on the Cephalexin (and also had stopped excessively drooling), but he seemed like he had to put more energy into his breathing than any healthy dog would need to.
Yesterday, December 4, our dog went to New Baltimore Animal Hospital for his appointment (which he had to be carried into), and upon seeing his previous paperwork from Catskill Animal Hospital and listening to us tell him what had been going on over the last few weeks, they immediately brought him in for x-rays. They found he had tumors in his chest (which would likely explain the gradual breathing struggles, and neck and shoulder stiffness/swelling), by his intestines, and in the muscle fibers in his left hind leg (the one he had been limping on for several weeks and that had begun to lose tone and muscle mass). They said that he could try to see an oncologist but it would have to be done immediately as the cancer was quite advanced, and that if we wanted to put him to sleep, we shouldn't wait much longer to do it. Once we realized how bad the cancer was, we decided that surgery/treatment would not be pursued.
He was brought home, and we spent a few hours with him, before calling Dr. Blankfein of Delmar, NY, to come to our home to put him to sleep later that night. As it was, he couldn't get up without help and he was mostly lethargic. We were afraid to go another night, not sure how much worse it would get. We knew he had already gone so long in pain, trying his best to fight it, and we had the false hope of thinking he would get better at some point, with the right treatment. Catskill Animal Hospital truly failed us - while we realize the cancer was likely there for some time now, it could have been possibly detected nearly a month ago, had they bothered to do x-rays. We wouldn't have needed to make him that much more uncomfortable by putting him on antibiotics that were inappropriate for the illness he had. We would have been able to understand why things were getting worse instead of better, and not been so frustrated and confused when two rounds of antibiotics made no difference. We could have understood why his quality of life was becoming so poor, and could have shed the unrealistic expectation that everything was going to return back to normal at some point. We would have been able to provide him with better end-of-life care, instead of putting so much effort in to try to rehabilitate him. It is bad enough knowing your pet is struggling or in pain, but it is worse when you have to go so long without answers. I have two other pets, and after this horrific experience, I would never dream of entrusting Dr. Kirby with their care.
by Ericka Davis/Andrew Miles
December 05, 2014