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    Journey with a SARDS Dog: Our life with a gallant Newfoundland

This is Mrs. Tucker’s story of the four-month period surrounding her dog’s SARD diagnosis. The dog rapidly developed adrenal fatigue and experienced unusually severe side effects. Her story provides insight as to what SARD-dog owners experience as they try to find help for their dogs. SARDS is not merely a vision problem. It’s an adrenal gland problem that causes vision loss. Most sources say there is no treatment for the vision loss of SARDS. There is treatment for the underlying adrenal problem, but it does require specialized testing and hormone replacement in many cases.

– Caroline Levin

by Emmie Lou Tucker
January 2007

KodiakThis is the last story of a Newfoundland mix that we rescued in 2001 when he was just a very young puppy. He was so calm and so gentle that he immediately won our hearts. I took him through basic obedience, the Canine Good Citizen program, Delta Society Pet Partner training, and the READ program. Kody became part of my heart. I though I would have him for 10 years or so and enjoy every moment of it. He was as close to being a perfect dog for us. And then at age six, the unthinkable happened.

Late September 2006

Kody is acting very strange, almost depressed. Eating and drinking OK so don’t know what’s wrong. He doesn’t follow me from room to room the way he used to.

October 2006

Kody is missing the balls when I throw them. Guess he is out of practice. Still walking in the woods but he doesn’t want to jump up into the Jeep, or get in Nan’s motor home. Take him to the vet in Floyd because he seems so depressed. They run blood work and do general check up. Think maybe he has arthritis. Say he needs to lose weight. Give us medicine for his ears which are kind of a mess. Blood work shows nothing amiss.

Mid-November 2006

Kody still acting funny. Does not want to take his walks in the woods. Especially leery about walking down the street to get to the woods entrance. Take him to local vet. They rerun blood work. Everything fine. Also do urine analysis. That’s OK too. Give us Rimadyl for arthritis. He still acts funny about the woods.

December 6, 2006

Have a little time to play ball with Kody. He obviously doesn’t see them. One lands on his head and he doesn’t even react. He must be blind. I’m crying when Ron comes in the door. He too, checks Kody’s sight and agrees something is very wrong.

December 8, 2006

Canine Ophthalmologist- Diagnosis SARDS- Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome. Our baby is blind. We cry for him. He’s so depressed and confused. I begin to hunt the Internet for information.

December 15, 2006

Dr. Brayton tells me the last SARDS dog they had only lived 8 months after diagnosis and they don’t know why he died. That scared me A LOT!

December 23, 2006

Order book on “Living with Blind Dogs”. Kody is very depressed and scared. He seems to have trouble hearing what direction our voices are coming from. Acutely sensitive to anyone touching his ears. They seem to be infected and am trying to clear that up.

December 29, 2006

Early in the day Kody got himself wedged behind the Christmas tree. We decide to take it down early and reset the living room so that he cannot get himself in places where he can’t get out. Am trying to teach him the command “back” so that he can back out of places but that seems difficult. He used to know that. Also, while he will walk to the mail box with me he will no longer “Carry the mail”. That used to be his daily job. Our gallant Newfy always looked so proud when he brought the mail to the house.

Kody slept by my bed early in the night. About 2:15 he started roaming the bedroom. Got up and took him out. After about 30 minutes brought him back in. He would get up and down, roaming the room again. Took him out several more times. Each time he drank water but would not settle back down and go to sleep. I woke up at 8:45 on December 30. Kody had managed to get in the small bathroom and close the door behind him. Made a huge mess in there. Shampooed carpet first thing after I got up.

December 30, 2006

Kody was very restless again. Also drank a lot of water. Came back in, laid down but was exhibiting the trembling that I have seen from time to time. Don’t know if it’s a nerve problem or just fear, given this terrible new situation he finds himself in. We will keep Kody more active during the late afternoon and early evening and see if he sleeps better.

December 31, 2006

Keeping him up seemed to work better. The book I ordered arrived yesterday. The author seems to feel that commercial pet food is a major factor in SARDS. I am reducing the amount of kibble in his diet and increasing the “natural” food. It won’t bring his sight back but if she’s right it should help him feel better and live longer. We’re willing to try anything that seems reasonable in order to help him. I am going to make a vet appointment for Tuesday and talk about running some hormone tests.

January 2, 2007

Kody had a very restless night last night (Jan 1) and this morning had what appeared to be a small seizure. When he first laid down last night he trembled very badly. I think the trembling is related to the onset of seizures in some way. He has been sleeping since about 8 AM and it’s now 11. I am so worried about my boy. I emailed the vet at the university who is doing SARDS research this morning hoping he can at least tell me what to expect. I called the clinic that did the diagnosis and they say the seizure is unrelated to SARDS.

Kody sleeps most of this day- 9-3. He has trouble walking, we have trouble getting him into the car to take to the vets. Ordinary blood work repeated. Kody does a lot of crying while there, won’t stand up. I have to feed him by hand to get him to eat dinner but after that he seems better. For the first time I let him out and when I go to check on him he is back at the front door by himself. That may just be a fluke.

Today he worries me very much, seemed to be losing ground earlier, now better. Don’t know which is really the way it is. He is such a special baby and we love him so much. It’s so hard when you can’t even explain to them what’s gone wrong.

January 3, 2007

Kody has gotten himself caught in several spots today and still does not have the concept of “back” working. Trying to get the house set so he can’t get in places and block himself is a task. If love can help then he should be all right. It’s a real emotional roller coaster, one minute he seems better, the next worse.

January 6, 2007

Kody slept almost all night. Woke up once and moved around just a little, then went back to sleep. He doesn’t seem to want to piddle very much. This concerns us greatly. He has been very wobbly today. Also he doesn’t seem to have much appetite which doesn’t gibe with the literature on SARDS dogs. Does drink a lot of water though.

January 8, 2007

It’s just after 5 AM and I have been watching my gallant Newfy struggle for several hours now. He’s agitated and has been wondering the living room and outside. Every little possible place that he can get stuck, he has. Earlier when I was asleep in the living room, he apparently went into the kitchen, slipped on the tile and fell. That time he didn’t cry and when I woke up I found him asleep on the hard tile floor. I felt like I had failed to keep him safe. My gently tractable Newfy has become stubborn and bull-headed.

I fixed him freshly cooked lamb with oatmeal and gravy last night. He didn’t want any of it. He had eaten some chicken dog food earlier in the day when I hand fed him. If I put his nose down in the water bowl he will drink but he seems disinclined to do so on his own. In two hours I can call the vet during normal business hours and see what they say. I talked to Dr. and his thyroid test was low normal and his cortisol high normal. She doesn’t know quite what to make of that. I’m concerned that just because it falls in the so-called normal range they will ignore the implications of it being on the edge.

9 PM He has slept most of the afternoon. Did eat some lamb this PM but not much. Received an email from Caroline Levin. Will set up a phone consultation with her when I have all Kody’s blood work in hand. Don’t know if it will be helpful but have to try every avenue I can. Have not heard from the vet at the university yet. Hope I do eventually.

January 9, 2007

4:45 AM The latest episode of agitated behavior began about 4. Then I heard him crying, he was trying to drag himself around the bedroom, couldn’t seem to get up. He struggled into the hall where he seemed to get his legs under him again. Since then he has been walking the living room, crying, bumping into things and generally acting like he is having a waking nightmare. It is now 5:45 and I think he is finally going to go back to sleep. That makes this episode almost 2 hours. He is so frightened and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to reassure him. How we hurt for him. My precious, precious baby and I can’t help him, I just don’t know how.

1:15 Kody slept until almost 12:30, got up and we went out. He was very wobbly. He came back in the house and collapsed. I gave him some water, which he drank but then just dropped his nose in the bowl and would have drowned it I didn’t pull it out. I keep trying to feed him but he has no interest in food. We took Kody back to the vet this PM. They rechecked the BUN and Creatinine. Both OK. Work came back from lab and the readings Caroline Levin mentioned are high.

10:00 PM I talk with Caroline this evening. She suggests that I have the blood work redone at the lab in CA if the vet feels the high-normals from Antech are not worth treating. She says labs have different standards and use different reagents, etc. for the testing. We talked for quite a while. Appears all of his symptoms could be caused by the SARDS. He’s still sleeping most of the time. He did get up and walk a very little bit tonight. I just hope we can get him back. I have found more references to loss of hearing, smell, the confusion, and all the symptoms we’re seeing.

January 11, 2007

Kody had a very bad night. Was confused and agitated for almost 6 hours. I am exhausted. Has peed in the house a couple of times. Walked around a lot outside when I got home. Ate some ham for dinner and seemed to like it. Had had a little egg this morning.

January 13, 2007

He did not sleep all that much last night. Was up from about 12:30- 6:00 with a few naps in there. Most frustrating. Kody seemed a very little better today. I hope it lasts. He still acted like he was comatose when he slept but he didn’t seem to be quite so agitated when he was awake. He had cottage cheese and egg for breakfast and chicken, carrots and cauliflower for dinner. Didn’t eat all that much but did drink water.

January 14, 2007

Kody had a very miserable night and all day today. He is extremely restless. Around 4 AM he threw up some yellow vomit, not much in it. No one on-line mentions this problem, but Caroline’s literature does mention confusion and seizures which fit. His most recent blood work is back: cortisol is high. Estrogen appears high but lab didn’t measure total estrogen, just Estradiol which tells whether a female is in heat or not. Not sure what it might signify in a male but his seems to be high: 33.33 pg/mL. Normal for a male canine is

9:30 PM. My baby boy is gone. Our Kody love has died. Oh how we will miss him. There’s a terrible sense of unreality to this. We brought him in the house late this afternoon and could see that he was getting much worse. His breathing was very labored and he did not want to move. We kept hoping it was because he was so tired from all the walking he did today but that was not to be. We will never know what went wrong but there is more to SARDS then is currently discussed.

And so my journey with a SARDS dog is over. It was too short. If this record of just one SARDS dog can make a difference to another dog then he will have helped. The one thing we could not find was information about how things progressed and what was normal for SARDS. (Readers: please see Health Problems in an Untreated SARD Dog.) I do not know if this was the usual pattern but this is the record of our journey. May it provide help for someone and their canine love.