Raising Your Paws - Your Pet Parent Resource

When A Dog Acts Unusually Ill, Take it Seriously (Blog # 102)

Published: 09/23/2021
Rosy, close up of face

There was something wrong with Rosy.

Sunday morning, upon waking up, instead of trotting by my side in her usual manner to the kitchen, Rosy wouldn’t get out of bed.  She never needs prompting to go to outside and to eat breakfast. When she slowly made her way to me, after some cajoling, her tail was tucked completely under her belly, she looked up at me from out of her head hanging low, and looking like she was not feeling well at all.  “Oh no!” I thought “What’s wrong, Rosy?”

She did eat, and went for a short walk which might have lulled me into a false sense of security had she not kept flopping down and acting lethargic.  Time to call the 24 hour local emergency vet. Being overwhelmed with patients, and not seeing her symptoms as critical, I was advised to wait until Monday to see my regular vet, unless “she won’t eat, drink, or starts to vomit” Quite the opposite, she was unusually thirsty – returning over and over again to her water bowl.

It was tough waiting it out until Monday. Talking to the vet tech, on the phone I was offered the option of seeing an unfamiliar practitioner that day or wait until Tuesday when Rosy’s primary, Dr. Barbara Royal, whom, I might add, is so much more than just a Veterinarian to us, would be in the office. I took the gamble to wait for Dr. Royal who has known Rosy since I adopted her when she was one year old. That night, I started thinking that I may have overreacted in my mind. Maybe it was  just impacted anal glands – which is something Rosy gets on occasion and makes her lethargic.

With relief, Tuesday arrived. Even though Rosy greeted Dr. Royal with her usual affection, it was clear that she was not her normal self. Rosy buried her head into her friend’s lap seeking comfort.  Examining her belly, Dr. Royal asked  “is her abdomen more swollen than normal, or am I imagining it? I noticed that too last night, I said, it is bigger.” Blood work and x-rays ensued.

Rosy and I quietly sat waiting for test results and soon Dr. Royal who I call by her first name, came back in the room. Calmly looking me right in the eye she tells me  “She has a large mass in her spleen. She is anemic, which is why she has been thirsty. She is slowly bleeding into her abdomen, so we have to remove her spleen today to get rid of the tumor and prevent the spleen from bursting.  If she bleeds out she could die.”

Emergency surgery? Tumor? Possible cancer? Now? I was stunned into silence – trying to absorb the information.

It is standard medical practice in cases like these to remove the spleen entirely when there is a tumor. The spleen, I learned, is an organ in the abdomen that filters waste and bacteria from the blood, but dogs and humans can function without it.

The staff sprung into action. Lab reports created, more diagnostics, X-ray confirmations and phone calls were made. Dr. Royal seeking a surgeon that could take Rosy right away.

In short order an emergency clinic and surgeon was found, thanks to the diligence and emotional entreaty of Dr. Royal who shared that Rosy was more like a daughter to her then a patient. This  was no mean feat in times of a global pandemic when people can sit in a parking lot for 12 hours with a sick pet waiting to be seen. I was given paperwork, an address, and out the door Rosy and I hustled to get to the Veterinary Emergency Group  (called VEG for short), in downtown Chicago, where the O.R. was being prepped.  As I drove the 40 minutes I was feeling little – thinking only of what had to be done.  In crisis situations, I tend to be calm and stoic. Don’t feel much emotion at the time. That comes later.

My first exposure to an animal emergency room. We were whisked through the waiting room to the ER as her case was deemed critical. Somewhat unsettling to see dogs and cats everywhere in various states of disease, illness and pain, everyone sharing the same large space. The atmosphere was hectic and noisy, yet the numerous staff kept it controlled and efficient. I witnessed a dog suspected of eating poison being induced to vomit to my left and in front of me, a small dog getting an IV,  whose terror filled screams unnerved both Rosy and me.

Rosy’s turn. She was given an IV for fluids, a tranquilizer, and blood tests for clotting factor. Through all the procedures, she was her calm uncomplaining self, even trying to reassure me by licking my arm.  That little gesture – right to my heart. Ultrasound of her abdomen was next.  She was hoisted onto a large table and her belly shaved and prepped. Then intubated to give her the anesthetic. And then the reality of what is happening to her catches up to me.  I am choking back tears. I haven’t seen Rosy put under before.

Her surgeon, Dr. Shanks, who had explained everything to me step by step suggested I go to the waiting room if it was too upsetting to watch this. I declined.  I wanted to stay with her until she was taken to the OR. All my questions were answered by the efficient doctor and staff, but the ultimate verdict wouldn’t be known until they saw what was happening during this partially “exploratory” procedure.  Gulp!

I was pointed to a blissfully quiet, small waiting area where time felt suspended. Eventually,  the doctor comes out of the O.R. and told me Rosy did fine, spleen successfully removed, biopies taken, she’s out of recovery and in her cage, and I could go see my darling!!

Yikes. Rosy is not her normal self.  After the drugs and anesthetics she looks and acts drunk, weaving back and forth, unable to focus, spaced out.  The doctors call it dysphoria, and it will wear off. I stand in front of her and softly call her name. Her glazed, wandering eyes, stop at the sound, focus and lock onto my eyes.  Oh, she sees me now and knows I’m here. What relief and joy, I cannot begin to explain the power of the moment. In too short of a time, she is again overtaken by dysphoria and sinks into herself. It is normal they say and will stop. Sigh…. I’m glad the operation is over, but I’m still rather numb.

I am allowed to sit by her cage where I can stay all night if I wish.  I am humbled by the staff’s patience and tolerance with all the pet parents hovering by their recovering pets.  Melissa, the tech, assigned to Rosy, tells me what is happening as they hook up machines to monitor her heart and patiently assures me I am not in the way.

Being reassured that Rosy is in good hands, I’m not sure if I should stay the night or not, would it help Rosy? Melissa tells me that soon, my dog will stop her clumsy, restlessness and need to sleep, being under sedation, she won’t be aware if I’m not there. I can check in any time I need to – they’ll even send texts and pictures.  It’s been a long, challenging day, I’m cold and hungry so finally I decide to go home to recoup. I’ll be bringing her home tomorrow. The staff will be watching over her all night long.  I silently wish her a good sleep and promise I will be back for her.

Here’s the photo and text I got that night.

At 11:00 p.m. they sent me this and texted that she was finally sleeping. Had been given additional pain meds which helped her to relax.

We’re home – she’s still heavily drugged, wobbley and shaky but I can tell she is glad to be here. I go into full blown nurse mode, administering medicines  and making our environment “Rosy safe” for her new fashionable look.  The cone.

Mom, I don't feel so good

“Mom, I don’t feel so good”

“I’ve got an icky taste in my mouth”

“Now, I gotta sneeze”

Rules for major abdominal surgery –bed rest and no walks (just out to pee and poop) for two weeks. She must not scratch or nibble at the incision which is long and could break open, so I must be strict – the cone stays on if I’m not watching her every move.  I will be the best cone police to serve and protect her from infection, leakage or breakage.

Not an easy task initially. I finally found the way to keep her from pushing the cone off her head with her paws. I attached it to her collar.  At VEG the cone was tied on with roll gauze that looped through the cone and tied around her neck. Didn’t feel very secure to me at all.

Here is Rosy safe and cone secure. This is the mat that is her bed for the next two weeks. Gives her space to hang her cone head over off the mat, without clunking herself into anything but the floor. Whatever works.

Until I figured the cone thing out, I was not leaving her alone at all for the first few days.   Was getting panicky – how am I to take a shower if I can’t take my eyes off of her.   Maybe lack of sleep from administering her meds around the clock was taking its toll on my thinking process.  You probably knew you’re supposed to attach the cone to the dog’s collar.

The pain medicine she is on makes her very sedated. Basically what she is doing is sleeping.  Which makes it very easy to keep her in bed.

Rosy, pretty much sedated by the drug, Gabapentin being used for controlling pain after surgery.

She sleeps a lot.

I wake her up for her pills, to go out briefly, and for her meals – she is very hungry and highly enthusiastic about the treats I give her every time I put her head back in the cone.

And sleeps some more.

It’s surprising to me that she sleeps so well with her face resting on plastic. I tried the softer cones but she just could not navigate her way with wider darker colored cones – just froze in place with her nose pointing up high, waving her head around acting like she was blind.  The hard plastic one works for her. The determined little trooper, has learned to yank her head away when she knocks into things and mostly can untrap herself if the cone catches. Until she can’t and then I come rescue her.

I forget some times and move furniture in her way.

When she is awake she really needs a lot of my attention and reassurance. She wants me to rub her ears and I kiss her muzzle putting my head in the cone with her. The major adventure of each day is her cone comes off, we go outside and she sniffs her favorite spot in our backyard where critters hide under a neighbor’s shed that is on the other side of our fence.  She could stay there all day long inhaling scent. I give her 10 minutes. Then back to bed.

Awake and somewhat alert – You can see in her eyes that she’s a bit out of it.

So good to see her out of her cone. In the sunny spot she loves to sit when awake.

I’ve finally been able to catch my mind and emotions up to what happened and I’m taking it day by day for what she and I are experiencing. I’ve felt the sadness about when she was so sick. Dr. Royal described it as feeling like there was a bowling ball in her stomach. Just last night, I finally acknowledged my fear and cried about the scary emergency surgery she had to have and what if I had NOT taken her to see Dr. Royal that day.  I am so grateful about how Barbara responded so fast and so efficiently to the situation while adding love and compassion for me and Rosy – both of us got hugs as we headed out the door to get to her operation and Dr. Royal acknowledged what a scary thing this was. Even though I didn’t feel it until it was all over, Rosy was out of danger, spleen free, and was home with me again.

Ah, she just woke up. Here she is. The medicine makes her mouth dry.


  1. I’m so glad to read Rosy came through her surgery okay. Speedy recovery to you both!

    • Thank you for your well wishes, Greg. I’ve been able to reduce the dosage of her pain medicine so when she is awake she is getting more peppy and eager to go fast outside – dragging me across the lawn. She seems to have forgotten how NOT to pull on her leash. Maybe they removed her training memories as well.

  2. I am glad that you got to bring your pup home, and that she pulled through. My dog is not acting like himself today and I think I need to take him to a vet. I hope I can find a good one in my area that can help him feel better soon.

    • Hi Greta, thanks for writing and your well wishes. I hope you found a vet that could check out your pup. If you’d like to, let me know and write me at susan@raisingyourpaws.com.

      • Oh, I forgot to mention, for leaving a comment, I’ll put your name in our “hat” for when we randomly select two people to receive the free pet food as part of the promotion we were running the last few months