It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?
One thing we’ve heard throughout this year is how lucky the dogs have it. All of a sudden their people are home with them: All. The. Time. This is a great thing for dogs. People are also spending more time outside, which means more dog walks. And pet adoptions are way up.
But for A.J., 2020 had been … 2020.
On January 1 I noticed A.J. had a bump on one side of his head, just above his left eye. On January 2 it was bigger, so I called the vet. His regular vet couldn’t see him for a while, so I found another in the area who could see him on Monday, January 6. By Sunday the lump was huge, and on Monday it was still huge but had broken open and was a little oozy.
It turned out to be an abscess. The vet drained it and cleaned it out, and sent A.J. home in a cone of shame.
Two weeks later the cone was off but the bump was back. We went back to the vet where they cleaned out the abscess again. This time they sent him home with a drain tube in his head.
After a few days we went back to get the tube out. But most of January was spent in a cone and was pretty unpleasant.
February goes by, and is mostly uneventful. Then comes March.
We’re halfway through March, and everyone has just started working from home full time. No more going into the office for the foreseeable future. One day, shortly into the stay-at-home order, we’d taken A.J. for his morning walk and then settled in to work. I had a few video conference meetings during the day. When my last meeting was over I looked down at A.J., and saw one side of his face twitch. I watched him for a minute, and his face kept twitching.
“Why are you twitching?”
Time to call the vet again.
“My dog has some sort of tic on his face.”
“He has a tick on his face?”
“Oh, no, not that kind of tick, a facial tic. His face it twitching. Should I bring him in?”
“Hang on, let me ask someone.”
“You should take him to the emergency vet downtown.”
Uh oh, this is not good.
So we all got in the car and headed downtown. At this point we discovered the one plus side to the recent lockdown: there was absolutely no traffic on a Friday afternoon. We made it downtown in no time at all. We also then quickly discovered the big downside: When we got emergency, we had to call in, explain over the phone why we were there, then wait for someone to come get A.J. and lead him away while we waited in the car. And waited. And waited. (This would become an all-too-familiar process over the coming months.)
Eventually the vet called us. They weren’t able to find anything wrong with A.J., but they could clearly see the twitching. Apparently there’s not really any such thing as a standard tox screen for dogs, but they ran some bloodwork and everything looked fine. That was the good news. The bad news was that they were afraid he was having small seizures. With his bloodwork looking fine, the next possible cause would be something wrong in his brain. (They carefully avoided the words “tumor” and “cancer.”) This vet hospital didn’t have a neurologist on staff, but had called and consulted with one at another hospital. They recommended we make an appointment with the neurologist.
So we took A.J. home and I made the appointment.
A couple of days later, A.J. was still twitching and we took him in to see the neurologist. While we sat in our car she evaluated him, then called us and explained the various issues that could be causing the twitching. She recommended an MRI, and we were fortunate they had an opening that day. So we agreed to the MRI and went home to wait.
When the vet called later she said his MRI came out clear, and outlined our options. She recommended we put him on anti-seizure medication. She also said with a clear MRI, there was no way to know if he really was having seizures or if it was some sort of nerve problem. The only way to know for sure would be to take him to the nearest veterinary hospital with the facilities to monitor dogs for seizures. That would be UC Davis, which is almost 600 miles away, and at the time wasn’t even open for non-emergencies due to the recent lockdowns.
So we took A.J. home with his new medication and hoped for the best.
A week later we talked to the vet again. There’d been no change, but we were advised to continue on the medication for a while longer.
In the meantime, A.J. was still being A.J. He was eating as much as we’d allow (and sometimes more) and still as energetic as ever. So energetic, in fact, that he managed to tear a toenail again while he was at the park chasing squirrels. Back to the vet.
Fortunately he’d only partially torn the nail, so he didn’t need a cone this time, but he had to stay on leash for a few days.
After several more days, it was decided that A.J. was not having seizures. His twitching still hadn’t changed at all, and the vet said if it had been seizures he’d have been dead by then. (That was the first I’d heard that prognosis.) So we slowly weened him off the anti-seizure medication.
His first day back to the park after is nail healed and we were going to let him off leash, we had just walked into the park when another dog suddenly came charging straight at him. I tried to head off the other dog, but that just resulted in me being taken out at the knees. Suddenly there I was with hurt knees, temporarily unable to move, and I look over to see A.J.’s head in that dog’s jaws.
The other dog’s owners ran over and one of them tackled his dog. The other put the leash on and led the dog away while the tackling owner stayed to see if A.J. was okay. As soon as I thought I could move I took a close look at A.J. I could see right away he had a bite right between the eyes and another above his left eye (right about the place his abscess had been). We later discovered another by his ear. I was sure at the very least the one above his eye would need stitches.
The other dog’s owner gave us his number and offered to pay any medical expenses. As soon as I thought I could walk we headed home. I was pretty hobbled, but A.J. was just kind of annoyed he didn’t get to run in the park. We went home, got in the car, and headed to the emergency vet.
He did need stitches above his eye. The other bites were cleaned out and left to heal on their own. We took him home, once again in a cone, and brought him back a week later to get the stitches removed.
The emergency hospital we took him to for the bites was the same hospital where his neurologist was, and she happened to be there when he came in. When she heard he was there she went in to take a look at him and evaluate his twitching while he was there. She confirmed that there was nothing more that could be done for the twitching. The final verdict was that he has some sort of nerve problem. It could have happened when they drained his abscess, but it’s hard to know for sure since the twitching didn’t start for a few weeks after that. We were told it would either get better on it’s own, stay the same, or get worse to the point where that whole side of his face would freeze up and give him a permanent lopsided grin. If it got bad enough to interfere with his eating or swallowing, they’d give him Botox, which would make that whole side of his face sag.
The dog attack happened at the end of April. We then had a quiet couple of months. In July A.J. had to go in for scheduled vaccinations. Two weeks later we were back at the vet again because he managed to get some nasty dry grass stuck in his paw. The vet had to dig it out, and yes, that’s right, he came home wearing a cone.
It’s been eight months since the twitching started, and it hasn’t changed. One side of his mouth is a little higher than the other, but I think I’m the only one who’s noticed that, it’s very subtle. He sometimes rests that side of his head against my leg, so I think it gets tired sometimes, but otherwise he doesn’t seem to notice. He has a few little white hairs stick out among the black fur on his face where the bite left a scar.
We’ve finally reached the end of this year. Thankfully our only trip to the vet in the past few months has been to get A.J.’s nails clipped. He’s actually had a pretty good second half of the year.
In August we spent a day at the beach. A.J. chased seagulls, ran through the waves, and rolled around in the sand.
He continues to make people smile wherever he goes. And late in December, he even managed to treat himself to half a cake.
Happy New Year to all of A.J.’s friends and family, may 2021 be much better for all of us!