I began working as an intern at the Lupus Foundation of America, Connecticut Chapter this past May, and came into the office knowing little to nothing about lupus. Sure, I wasn’t walking into my new summer job blind, I had the basic facts, medications used, and the standard definition of what lupus is inside of my head. What I didn’t know about lupus or have the experience with was watching a loved one deal with the cruel disease.
Now what I’m about to write in the following paragraphs might make me seem like a crazy, animal-loving lunatic, and you may not believe that an animal’s pain is as bad as a human’s pain. What I do believe though is that anyone who grew up with a family pet, is an animal lover, or even recently adopted a dog, will understand where I am coming from. I truly believe that a dog can be a man (or woman’s!) best friend.
Four years ago my family rescued a 6-month-old black lab from The Animal Haven in North Haven, CT. We had no background on his medical history since he was a rescue. All we knew is that he was brought up to Connecticut from Georgia with his brothers and sisters. After we finally got to take him home, we named him Bruin for my family’s love for Boston sports.
Earlier this year, I came home from college for Spring Break and learned that my parents thought Bruin had fallen down the stairs when they weren’t home and strained his paw. He was taking dog ibuprofen and was expected to be better in a few weeks.
Later that year as my spring semester was wrapping up, my mother informed me that Bruin was not getting better, and that she was making an appointment with the vet to get to the bottom of this ongoing problem. I was enlisted to bring him (going to the vet is a struggle for Bruin—he suffers from anxiety). The vet ran some tests and came to the conclusion that it was lyme disease. Although Bruin tested negative for lyme, the vet still thought it was the root of his recent problems.
Throughout the next couple of weeks we began to see Bruin going continually downhill. He was not the playful, happy, and rambunctious dog that we were used too. He no longer would sleep in my parent’s room as he does every night, he would not walk up the stairs or jump into the car excitedly for a ride. It also had felt like an eternity since I had heard him howl and run around the house when a member of my family walked through the front door.
Finally, enough was enough and my family wanted answers. As I was about to take him to the vet for yet another appointment, I called for him and he wouldn’t come to the front door. When I went to find him, I found him struggling to even walk. The vet told me to bring him straight to the Animal hospital, where he had to be wheeled in on a stretcher.
A series of tests were done including: a tick panel of blood work that had to be sent out to a lab in North Carolina, X-rays, and a Joint tap that he had to be put under anesthesia for. After about six months of watching our beloved Bruin suffer, we finally found out that he had something worse than lyme disease. He had an autoimmune disease and it just happened to be lupus.
I found this extremely ironic since I was doing an internship at the Lupus Foundation and immediately began searching “lupus in dogs” on Google. What I found was interesting.
The cause of lupus in dogs was unknown, but genetics is thought to be a cause of the issue. Other reasons why dogs might get lupus are because of an adverse reaction to a medication, a viral infection, and or exposure to UV rays. There is no known way to prevent lupus in dogs, and if it is known that a dog has lupus, they are usually not bred due to how genetics plays a role with the disease. There are also different types of lupus in dogs, and as I know from my experience with Bruin, it is hard to diagnose in canines due to the tests they have to perform. I also discovered the side effects of lupus in humans almost mirror side effects of lupus in dogs. For example, dogs experience flares of lupus just like humans do. They also have achy joints, skin and mouth lesions, and sometimes an unexplained fever.
Bruin is now taking Prednisone daily, which has given him a bevy of side effects such as increased thirst and hunger. Sometimes he drinks almost three gallons of water a day, and even has had such an increase in appetite that we found him eating a tissue box last week. Although he is having these side effects, we are finally seeing our Bruin’s normal behavior. He is doing well for the situation he is in and we look forward to him living a lupus-controlled life.
I’m not ashamed to say I love my dog. Watching him suffer made me nervous, sad and scared as to what the future would bring. Overall, my experience with Bruin opened my eyes to the disease. I now see how the disease can affect someone and have learned that it truly is a cruel mystery that I would never wish upon anyone. If lupus affects an animal in this way, I can’t even imagine the pain that it causes a human being. Dealing with my unusual situation has shown me how much this disease can hurt the person suffering from it, but also how it kills caregivers everywhere to watch someone they love suffer.
Famous Animal Fact!
Bruin isn’t the only dog that has ever had lupus! A former first dog of the United States was diagnosed with the disease. This dog was Millie and she was George and Barbara Bush’s Springer Cocker Spaniel!
**Some breeds of animals are more susceptible to lupus. These breeds are: German Shepards, Shetland Sheepdogs, Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Afghan Hounds, Beagles, Irish Setters and Poodles.