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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

Dog's mystery malady traced back to sneaky snacks from owners

By Ka'ohua Lucas

"Come here, Makoa," my 13-year-old urged, clapping his hands.

Our shepherd/golden retriever mix stared back at him with little expression.

"Come on, girl," he said with a more forceful clap.

Makoa struggled to get up on all four paws but slumped back to the ground.

"What's wrong with her, Mommy?" the 9-year-old asked, terrified.

I wasn't sure. Our normally rambunctious 3-year-old pet lay on the grassy slope, immobile. Had she suffered a doggie stroke? I calmly approached her.

She apparently had lost sensation in certain parts of her body. She was conscious but couldn't move her legs.

If it were a stroke, I thought, some victims have trouble swallowing. I handed her a doggie treat. She devoured it.

I checked her legs for a possible fracture. None of the joints looked swollen, bruised or deformed.

I applied pressure to parts of her legs, observing her reaction. She licked my face.

OK, she wasn't in any severe pain. Maybe it was heat stroke. But she didn't appear overly weak or disoriented.

I checked my medical guide, Practical First Aid For Canines. It recommended I soak Makoa in cool water until I was able to "obtain a rectal temperature reading of 103 degrees Fahrenheit." Forget that!

I called our veterinarian.

"You need to get her to emergency," the vet said. "She may have a disorder called bloat, which will need immediate surgery."

The vet explained that bloat usually occurs in larger dogs. The common cause is allowing a dog to run immediately after eating. The solid, heavy, undigested food causes the stomach to flip over, twisting the intestines closed. Gas cannot escape, and begins to build in the stomach.

Surgery is almost always needed.

I thought it a little odd that Makoa could be diagnosed with a case of bloat since the last time she ate was the night before, but we rushed her to the emergency animal clinic.

The boys and I paced the waiting room as we waited for the prognosis. In two hours, an emergency physician emerged and gave us the news.

"We took some X-rays and determined that Makoa does not have bloat," the doc said. "What we did determine is that it appears she has quite a bit of food in her digestive system. When did you feed her last?"

I looked at her and shrugged.

"Last night?"

About $150 later, we had our dog and were on our way.

As we headed home, I asked the boys if they had given Makoa a few extra table scraps that morning.

They unloaded.

"Mommy, I have to confess," the 9-year-old said. "I sneaked her my leftover hamburger."

"Me, too, Mom," the eldest said. "I couldn't finish the mac salad and rice, so I gave it to Makoa this morning."

I guiltily recalled also slipping Makoa refrigerator scraps that morning.

Hawaiians have a word for a person who lacks refinement.

" 'Aihamu" means to eat leftover food in a disgustingly greedy manner.

It seems our dog was guilty of that general lack of discrimination, through no fault of her own.

Reach Ka'ohua Lucas at Family Matters, 'Ohana section, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; fax 525-8055; or at ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com.