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Lara Kretler’s blog Columbus Ohio

Social media saved my dog’s life

December 8th, 2008 · 16 Comments

Astute readers may have noticed that it’s been far too long since my last post. You see, I spent most of the last two weeks in November away on vacation in California. I’d planned to blog about the trip – and our use of technology to make it a truly cool “vacation 2.0″ experience – as soon as we got back. Life, it seems, had other plans.

Instead, I’ll share the story of how we returned home to find one of our dogs gravely ill. When we arrived at the boarding kennel at noon on Sunday 11/30, we were horrified to find Jack, our 8-year old mixed breed, acting weak, stiff and unresponsive. The kennel staff said he had been fine up until the day before, when he started exhibiting “quirky drinking habits” and foaming at the mouth. We wasted no time in rushing him to the emergency vet clinic and spent the day with him there.

Alas, after many tests, x-rays and too many zeroes after the dollar sign, we had no real answers. Their best guess was that he may have a neuromuscular condition, possibly myasthenia gravis. They offered to keep him overnight and transfer him to their internal medicine specialists in the morning, but we decided to take him home. The vets didn’t seem to offer much hope that he would make it, so we wanted him to spend the night at home with us. We seriously thought about euthanasia to put him out of his suffering, but we wanted to wait until morning and give him a little more time.

When we got home that evening, we tried to offer him food and treats, but he just wanted to sleep and cuddle with us. When we offered him water, he showed interest but he couldn’t lap it like normal – he could only bite at the water. The more I watched him, the more perplexed I was – he didn’t seem able to get any water into him, but why? Suddenly a lightbulb went off over my head and I realized he couldn’t swallow. At that point, my husband engineered a watering device which allowed us to drip water into Jack’s throat. At first he resisted, but then he felt the first few drops of water in his mouth and he was eager for more.

That Sunday evening and all through the night, we took turns staying up with Jack and dripping water slowly down his throat to rehydrate him. It was like feeding a baby bird. By morning he could lift his head up and was showing some signs of life, although still very weak and refusing all food. We drove him to our family vet as soon as they opened, begging them to take a look at his throat and sharing our experiences with the water tube and his inability to swallow on his own.

After more x-rays and further tests, on Monday 12/1 our vet diagnosed Jack with definitive megaesophagus (ME) and possible myasthenia gravis (MG). The news was devastating, to say the least, as there is no cure and not much treatment for this illness. Our vet did not have any experience with ME but she did tell us that we would need to manage his condition by elevating Jack’s food and water bowls, and giving him an acid control pill daily. She didn’t seem to hold out much hope. Despite the water we had given him, Jack was ill, dehydrated and weak – by this time he had not eaten anything in three days. Again, we thought about euthanasia as an option. We even discussed it with the vet and she said it’s an individual decision.

That night, fighting back tears, I began to research megaesophagus and found some incredible resources written by families of ME dogs – most notably a wonderful brochure called There is Hope. I joined the ME dogs Yahoogroup (a primitive, yet still wonderful form of social media!) and began to read countless stories via the email list, blogs and even Twitter about vertical feeding and what a difference it makes. We learned that veterinarians are not taught proper ME management in vet school; rather, the best therapeutic practices are those shared by word of mouth from one ME dog parent to another. These caretakers spend days and nights looking after their dogs, trying different methods, and documenting and sharing everything online via the email list. They are the true ME experts.

Following the advice we read online that night, and encouraged by emails of support from the ME community, we rolled up some raw ground beef into meatballs, held Jack up in a vertical position (spine 90 degrees to the floor), and dropped the food down his throat, relying on gravity to take it the rest of the way to his stomach. He fought us weakly at first, but again soon realized what we were doing and asked for more. That’s the night our miracle started. It’s amazing what a little food and water will do for a poor, sick, dehydrated and malnourished dog!

It’s been just over a week now and, within the confines of his ME diagnosis, Jack has completely recovered from his near-death experience. He is a happy, healthy ME dog who runs and plays and gets into mischief. He shows no MG signs whatsoever, and he’s handling his ME like a champ. He eats like a king – meatballs made of ground beef and fresh or canned dog food, fed by hand in the vertical hold position. We are managing his condition as well as we possibly can, and keeping the “worst case scenario” thinking at bay, thanks to a ton of advice and support from the ME dogs community. As a way of giving back to the community, I created a Ning group this week to help facilitate relationships and information sharing, particularly photo and video sharing, among caretakers of ME dogs.

I’ve been a fan of social media for years, but I never dreamed that one day it would actually save my dog’s life. I’m happy to say the new ME dogs online community site is thriving, just like this wonderful special needs dog of ours.

What would we do without social media?!

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Tags: social media · Travel

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Merrycricket // Dec 9, 2008 at 12:48 am


    Back in 2002, I had a great dane named Zoe who was the love of my life. Zoe had a similar vet emergency (not the same symptoms though) and was diagnosed with K9 Addison’s disease. I found a wonderful group of supporters on line that shared their experience with me and helped me manage her disease. They even supported me when I decided I needed to find a new vet who had a better understanding of the disease and was willing to work with me on deciding her medication dosages. It was that group that saved me from loosing a fortune in vet bills and long nights of worrying about her. I’m so glad you found a group that can share with you what they know.

  • 2 larak // Dec 9, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Mary, thanks for sharing your story. Veterinarians, just like medical doctors, can’t know everything about every rare condition – I’m so thankful there are empowered dog parents online to share their wealth of knowledge.

  • 3 Cathy // Dec 9, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Lara, I’m so glad you were able to save your dog Jack, and it is a true testament to the power of the Internet! It also illustrates something I learned in a Writing for the Web class — to write for people who want to spend 30 seconds, 30 minutes, 3 hours, and 3 days on the web. Yours was the 3 day case because you were looking for complicated information truly critical to your life. A lot of medical information is like this, and no, doctors don’t know everything. One thing the web has done is allow people in similar circumstances who would never meet each other otherwise to get into contact and share stories. Your group might know of a vet who specializes in this disease as well — sounds like it’s rare so there are not many, but there might be someone out there. Good luck with Jack’s condition, and this is truly a great story!

  • 4 Rebecca // Dec 9, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Such an awesome story about Jack and how you are able to help him live a (mostly) normal life! My cat child, Dylan, was diagnosed with a sever heart condition in February and I was told by various vets that it was a shock he was still alive and that he would not make it another 6 months. I was devastated! After lots of research online and visits to various vets and a cardiologist, Dylan now gets acupuncture every 2 months, has the best of modern medicine and is living a very happy life. I am so glad you found the support and information you needed online to save Jack’s life!

  • 5 Yvonne Rayburn // Dec 9, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Truly wonderful, heart warming story! I am SO happy that you still have your wonderful, happy doggie!

  • 6 Maureen McCabe // Dec 9, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Wonderful story.

    I went through a dog going through chemo about 9 years ago. What a difference social media would have made. Maybe an earlier diagnosis? We kept going to the vet for symptoms but he was too young to have cancer so it was not diagnosed for months.

    Best wishes for Jack!

  • 7 Beth Ervin // Dec 9, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Having lost my beloved Labrador Retriever last summer, I know how grateful you must be that Jack is now alive and well. I didn’t even think of social media as a resource as we were going through my dog’s diagnosis and treatment. Thanks for making me aware of this — it will be one of the first places I turn in the future.

  • 8 Sameer Vasta // Dec 9, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story Lara, and I’m really happy to hear that Jack is much better!

  • 9 Lara Kretler // Dec 10, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Cathy, Yvonne and Sameer, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments!

    Rebecca, Maureen and Beth, thanks too for sharing your stories about your wonderful pets. Beth, I’m glad I got the chance to meet Sunshine – she was an amazing dog!

  • 10 Clinton Middleton // Dec 11, 2008 at 5:20 am

    This is wonderful news and I am very happy to have this update. We were both concerned and wondering how Jack was doing. Amanda especially has a sweet spot for dogs and really hated hearing about Jack. PS Didn’t you just have an anniversary?

  • 11 Jacey Jenkins // Dec 16, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Wow Lara, what a great story! I am so happy to hear your dog is better and will be okay. That is great too the online resources helped you to know how to help your dog. What wonderful news!

  • 12 April // Dec 23, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Lara -

    Just spent all night up with my lab mix dog who was gagging and unable to stand. Vet diagnosed probable Myasthenia and the specialist’s fee starts @ $1500. for treatment. What type of watering system did you use? We are just devastated and unable to make a decision. Did your dog’s muscular condition improve with the food and water? Thanks for posting this info.

  • 13 Roshan // Dec 23, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    What an awesome story. You dog Jack is one brave pooch. I am so glad that your dog is much better now. I still mourn for my golden, Shawny, who passed away in 2005. She was my best buddy for 11 years and rarely left my side.

  • 14 Cindy // Dec 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    Wow! I have three boxers who hold a special place(s) in my heart/life. I have MG. I cannot imagain being a pup and unable to communicate what was going on with me. I was wondering what has happened with the MG diagnosis. There are so many ways to treat it as humans, was just wondering if there is something “I” could do to help if MG is still an issue? Love to email you. cindy & rickey (&patch, rufus, and ben)

  • 15 mireille // Jan 31, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I use to have dogs. Your story resonated with me the lengths we who love our animals will go. The many zeros on a cheque definitely struck home. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    With all the horrible news in the world this story reminds me to what lengths most people will go for those they love

    thank you for sharing your story. I hope your dog lives to be happy healthy puppy for a long time to come.

  • 16 Friday Favorites: Beyonce’s best videos // Jan 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    [...] you. This song is really special to me because it was my song for our old dog Jack when he was very, very sick. I made this video of Jack several years ago and it still brings tears to my eyes. Okay, [...]

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