Pupdate: The Staph Infection that Keeps On Giving

Last time…. well, here’s the summary of our dog Drake’s situation up to this point.

Folks on Twitter have been hearing that we’re back to being in and out of the vet ER again, so here’s the update on what’s happened since that post. Drake had been in the clear for weeks, and was steadily improving the amount he walked. We got rid of the baby gates in the living room and let him have free reign of the downstairs, even if he still needed a lot of prompting to get up on his own. We were taking him on 3-4 walks a day of about four blocks each. He still wasn’t up to climbing the steps up into the house, so hauling him in was still a pain, but hey, progress! After marked improvement for several weeks, he suddenly started stumbling more on the walks. He got more stubborn, and wouldn’t want to walk more than about a block without a lot of cajoling on our part (he’s 150 lbs; you either convince him or you don’t). Then he would stumble and fall down. Not just on his butt, but completely sink to the ground from all fours. This was worrisome.

So when my spouse took him in for what was supposed to be his final check after the double-ACL surgery, my spouse mentioned this, and the doctor went ahead and did an xray not just of Drake’s legs, but also of his spine, and ran some more bloodwork to see if the infection was, in fact, still active but not showing outward signs.

Sure enough, when the doctor brought back the xrays, there was a terrible mess in part of his spine; the bone there was clearly disintegrating in the area right below where he had gotten both of his epidurals for the surgeries. The bloodwork confirmed it a few days later. Turns out, then, that the staph infection had traveled from his skin via the huge needle and implanted itself into his spine. So though his legs were better, the infection was still hiding out there doing damage, which is why he was falling over – his damaged spin was pinching his nerves. This was also why he did better when we gave him anti-inflammatories, because it reduced the swelling in his spine and made it easier to walk.

The doctor noted that the LAST thing we wanted to do was cut this dog open again (I kept being reminded of that episode of Babylon 5 where the aliens are like “You can’t cut open our son or he’ll lose his soul”). Typically, getting rid of an infection in the spine could mean anywhere from three to six months of continued antibiotics, after which we could strengthen Drake’s spine using steroids, which was a relatively low cost solution to the spine damage (the surgery option to fix his spine is actually a very easy one, apparently. We just can’t cut this dog open again). This was a problem, of course, because as stated previous, we’d already been through seven kinds of antibiotics, and the one the doctor said would be most effective was the one that made Drake so sick that he stopped eating or drinking for a week and we had to discontinue it. The doctor was insistent we go back on it, though. You can imagine how that turned out.

To the doctor’s credit, Drake lasted about three week on that antibiotic before he stopped eating again, conveniently while my spouse was out enjoying his time at Origins in Columbus and I was tasked with dog duty. Not wanting to let my spouse down (he has been primary dog caregiver, because he is a saint), I must have tried everything in the damn fridge over those three days trying to get Drake to take his meds. Tuna was the go-to on Friday night, but that was the last time we were able to get anything but a few scraps of chicken into him for several days. On Sunday, my spouse was back home, and got Drake a new medication, and pilled Drake a few times with an EIGHTH… or maybe NINTH antibiotic (the only one we have never tried. We are officially out). This one made Drake’s stomach sick too, though, so we just discontinued everything. Yesterday we were able to get him to eat some bread.

We went back to the vet today and agreed to go back to the expensive injectable antibiotic that we’d had to discontinue because his system could no longer handle it. Apparently you can start over with these after a break and do them again until one’s system can’t handle it anymore. If you ever get an antibiotic resistant staph infection, well, here’s the hell that you are in for. So the idea is that we cycle him on this antibiotic for a week, then switch back to the one that made him sick for two weeks, then cut off that one BEFORE he gets sick, then cycle him onto something else for a couple of weeks, and do blood tests every month to see how close we are to getting rid of the rest of the infection. With the injections, we have to take Drake into the vet clinic every day to get them, so that’s, yanno, a PITA.

So Drake had his first injection today, and tonight he took his first half block walk in nearly a week without stumbling. He ate a piece of bread and a sausage this morning, and ate about a cup of regular dog food and some wet food tonight, so that’s great. Him eating also means we’re able to put him back on pain meds and anti-inflammatories, so he’s suddenly loving life again. It’s weird to watch an animal go from death’s door awful (he was a wreck last night, limping and stumbling) to being themselves again.

At this point we just want him to get better. When you have invested the better part of seven months into surgery and caregiving for an animal that lives with you – especially one as large as Drake – the escalation of commitment is pretty huge. I sit in bed sometimes and remind myself that even after all this, he could still die. We’re cycling antibiotics and we’re out of new ones, after all. Now we just cycle and hope he can tolerate another two or three months of this.

Now that Drake is a little happier today, I’d like to end on a happy note, but I am feeling mixed about his chances. So instead I’m going to end on a different up note. At every step in this process, our vet staff said, “Wow, we’ve never seen ANYTHING like this before!” (pretty much what you NEVER want to hear from any doctor ever). They’d never had to deal with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, as these are new and horrifying things just now coming up in our vet and human hospitals. But Drake’s situation has been a learning experience for them, too, and when they recently had a big Newfoundland dog come in that needed a double ACL surgery, they checked his skin for staph, found it, and immediately initiated a pre-surgery regimen where they shaved the dog’s legs and treated the skin with antibiotic salve every day for a week before surgery, as well as starting oral antibiotics the week before surgery.  They were going to go in and hit the infection hard and fast before it could even get started or embedded in the dog’s system the way it had Drake over all those weeks and months where we were struggling to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.

So there’s the good story part, there, because to be dead honest, few people have the financial resources we do to get a dog through a year of this, and we were only able to do it with Patreon money, generous fan donations (THANK YOU! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!), and pet insurance. Many other pet owners facing this kind of thing would not be able to do what we have. Now, at least, vets at this hospital will be more prepared for these types of infections in the future, and prevent or at least make it easier to combat these infections quickly instead of letting them get established.

Knowing this helps me sleep better at night. No matter what happens, someone else is going to be helped by what we went through. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.


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