Main : Stories: Lela
By Paige Miller

I felt ill with guilt and remorse when I saw the X-Ray in mid-December. How long had this been going on? When did I first see the blood? August? Maybe. I'm not sure. Maybe longer.

How much pain must she have been in? I will never know. I don't even want to think about it, mainly because I let this happen. Me. My ignorance. My procrastination. Her suffering.

And I had scolded her the night before for urinating on my couch after the noise of the carpet cleaner frightened her.

Looking at the X-Ray at Arapahoe Animal Hospital in Boulder, CO, with Dr. Gregory Hayes I realized she had not been misbehaving or acting out: She physically could not control herself.

There were 5-6 stones in Lela's bladder.

At the time of diagnosis Lela, possibly a Heeler-and-Boxer mixed-breed female whom I fell in love with 3.5 years ago and adopted from the Longmont Humane Society, was a little over 4 years old.

(We estimate her birthday to be around Sept. 2000 and we treated the stones in mid Dec. 2004).

It was about 6pm when we reviewed the X-Rays, and we scheduled surgery for the next morning. The vet said I could leave her at his office overnight and he'd start surgery the next morning, but I wanted to take her home with me -- as much for my own sense of well-being as for hers. I wanted her to sleep comfortably in her own bed (i.e., my bed!) and -- deep breath -- if something should go wrong in surgery, like if she ended up like my friend's dog who had a stroke while under anesthesia or if she didn't survive, I wanted to have that last night with her.

The next day I drove her to the vet and went to work and tried to keep my mind off of her surgery for the next several hours.

Once inside her bladder, Dr. Hayes discovered and removed about 13 small stones and 1 large stone. The X-ray which showed 5-6 stones, obviously, did not tell the whole story.

Hayes called to tell me that the surgery went well, Lela was fine and still heavily sedated but there was a complication. There was another stone that had adhered itself to her urethra lining that was going to require more anesthesia and more surgery. I held my breath for the next few hours.

The second stone had been successfully removed. Lela was fine, sleeping off the drugs.

When I picked her up a few days later, it was clear she was healthy. She was bouncing around like a high-speed super ball that had been slingshot into the exam room. She was jumping on me, jumping on my boyfriend, trying to lick our faces. (I was glad she was healthy. The vet's bill was about $2,000 and worth every penny.)

Dr. Hayes sent the stones to a lab, except for the biggest one which he set aside in a little plastic container for me to see. Several days later the lab results came back, and Hayes said the stones were 100% cystine, which surprised him. He told me he wanted to call the lab to make sure the results were correct. They were, but he did not call Lela's condition cystinuria. He called it Urolithiasis.

For treatment Hayes suggested that I feed Lela Hill's Prescription Diet U/D ($55 for a 30-lb. bag of food) and said, "Feed her this and in 3 months bring her back and we'll X-Ray her and see if the stones have returned." He also mentioned that there is something that can be taken orally to break down the stones, but it is very expensive and suggested that if the stones return, we might consider that option.

When I heard he wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, my guilt returned but this time it was accompanied by a sense of urgency. I had already caused my dog untold pain and suffering, and I was not (and still am not) willing to repeat that.

Yet the few web sites that have information about cystinuria do not explain how to prevent the stones from returning. Some say you can't prevent them. Period.

That's when feelings of helplessness set in and I think that the wait-and-see approach is the only approach and that more surgery is inevitable.

One person said the best way to deal with the situation is to give the dog plenty of water and let her pee frequently to flush out any small traces of cystine before it gets a chance to form into stones.

When I read that, I took a few days to mull it over and then I decided it was as good an approach as any, so I eased up on my tyrannical "You will eat nothing but this prescription dog food. No treats! Now chews! Nothing!" mandate.

I now add 1 cup of warm water to Lela's dry dog food every morning and do the same thing in the evening.

I have been waiting, wondering, and questioning every decision about her diet and every observation about her daily habits and health.

When I took her back to the vet a month later, he found cystine in her urine. We are about to start her on Thiola, and hoping for the best.

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