Why can’t my dogs ever get sick during business hours?

Our dog Cooper came down with pneumonia. Cooper is a dear elderly and somewhat dumb alleged border collie mix we adopted from a rescue a few years back. We don’t know her actual age but best guess is around 12-13ish. She came to us grossly overweight (94 pounds) and couldn’t stand without assistance, let alone run or even walk very far. It took a lot of exercise, love and hiding of anything resembling food but she’s now a much healthier 60 pounds. And I’m serious about the hiding of food – she was so used to eating anything and everything all the time that when we restricted her to a reasonable amount of kibble, she started foraging around the house for anything that smelled food-like. She pulled anything she could reach off the counter, cleared out the trashcans and went as far as eating lemon-scented wipes and two packets of Aveeno oatmeal bath. Thankfully, this phase has passed. And on a side note, I’m also serious about the dumb part. She’s a sweet old thing but this is a dog that’s surprised each and every morning when a magic portal to the land outdoors opens up in the wall and she’s told: “Cooper, out!” I suppose things are never boring when every day is new so she has that going for her, anyways.

our two border collie mixes Sadie and Cooper.

Our dogs, Sadie and Cooper. That’s Coop on the right.

But back to the pneumonia. Naturally, as with most pets, she used her instinctive cunning and wits to ensure she didn’t start looking truly ill until Saturday evening, at which time she went down hard. My husband and I watched her trembling and labored breathing and knew we had no choice – off to the emergency vet she went. Exam, X-rays, bloodwork and about $1,000 bucks later, the diagnosis was in and pneumonia it was. Luckily it was pretty early on – just traces of it on the lung x-rays – so things weren’t too horribly dire but she is an older dog so an infection like this can always be pretty dicey. Naturally, the vet recommended she stay in-patient for 48 hours so they could keep her hydrated and closely observed – at a cost of another 2 grand, btw, leaving us with a dilemma. Do we do what the doc is recommending, even though we really don’t have the money on hand or do we bring her and the heavy-duty antibiotics home and nurse her ourselves? We love our dog and wouldn’t want to risk her but decided to bring her home. I used to be a vet tech so felt pretty confident she’d get the care she needed. I also knew how sensitive she is to separation or strange surroundings and felt the stress might do her more harm than the benefits of hospitalization. And let’s be honest here – $2k is $2k. The vet wasn’t tickled but went along with our decision – giving her a mega-shot of Baytril and some IV fluids before sending her on her way.

This was not a happy creature. She didn’t want to eat or drink, was quite weak and had a fairly nasty cough (which is actually a good sign). We set her up a bed in the guest bedroom – which is on the main floor of the house. The stairs up to our daughter’s room where she normally sleeps were just a bit too much for her to handle. Truth be told, the stairs are getting to be too much for her in the best of health – she’s getting older dog hips and older dog vision so the trip down, especially, is a bit rough and tumble these days, but I digress. My daughter moved her headquarters down to the guest room for the duration so Cooper wouldn’t be lonely and we set ourselves to nursing the old girl.

She wouldn’t drink a drop of water I used a drinking straw to dribble water in her mouth, a bit at a time, every few hours – we’d graduate to a turkey baster after a few days if she still wasn’t drinking but I didn’t want to overwhelm her at first. She wasn’t much interested in eating either but that’s okay for a day or so. We set up a space heater to keep her toasty and let her sleep, other than occasional bits of water, antibiotics or trips outside. By the next afternoon, we were already seeing signs of improvement – she ate a couple of mouthfuls of food after a business trip outside. She still wouldn’t drink so we still had our straw sessions – which both of us were heartily sick of by now. By Monday, she was beginning to get up and walk around just a bit and by Monday night, she began drinking on her own again. We knew she was truly on the mend when my daughter and I came in the door from running errands and there she was, tail wagging.

It’s been a week now and she’s really back to her old self again. We took great satisfaction in letting the doubting vet know all was well when his office called to check on her a few days after her trip.

I should say here that I am in no way recommending that folks run about, willy nilly, ignoring the advice of their doctors whether DVM or MD. In this case, with this dog and this illness, we knew she’d do better at home in her familiar surroundings. All’s well that ends well, I’m happy to say.