I am grateful to Loretta Baughan and Spaniel Journal for initially providing me with a platform to discuss Zip's illness back in the summer of 2009 (Mysterious Illness Strikes Zip) and for further encouraging me to provide a summary of Zip's last days, concluding with a post mortem discussion of the pathology/necropsy findings and divulging any potential ramifications for our Spaniel breed. Thank you Loretta, for all your support.
In April of 2009, both Zip's neurologist and gastroenterologist jointly agreed on a prognosis that his remaining time with us could be anywhere between six months and six years. Little did anyone realize how prophetic their low estimate would be!
Throughout the early spring of 2009, Zip appeared to be resisting further impact from his ailments. His every eight hour revolving medication cocktail and spacing the intake of his very stringent diet to three or four times per day appeared to be providing a tolerable balance. However there was continued evidence of gradual degradation in balance, sight, hearing and mobility. Amazingly, he even accomplished a successful live cover breeding in June, despite his severe balance problems and his muscular deterioration. Those 120 days from mid April though mid August proved to be the nadir of his final days. In August, he developed prostatitis, which we successfully treated with antibiotics. As September unfolded, his overall condition worsened, his mental acuity was diminishing, as were his sensory functions, and it was decided to try a light regimen of steroids to gain him some relief.
"Any dog owner who loves their animals and has ever experienced this sobering episode knows, this is a day that ranks among the darkest of dark, the blackest of black."
The steroids had immediate impact, producing a surge of positive responsiveness. As the initial steroid influence diminished, we experimented with minimal dosage alterations, finally arriving at a dosage that seemed to produce the most optimum balance for him.
But slowly, side effects began to emerge; hyper activity, especially when he sensed food, a never previously manifested urge to chew and tear apart inanimate items, trancelike wandering when outside which caused many frantic searches for him and continuing, increasing loss of his sensory functions. As we struggled into October, the deterioration continued, and at the neurologistŐs suggestion, we juggled the steroid dosage, increasing it slightly, which produced similar results to the initial introduction of steroids a month earlier; an immediate surge where his condition seemed to improve. But, as also previously experienced, this euphoric state was short lived.
Zip with Jim Keller at the 2008 Canadian National
By then, I had begun to question whether I was keeping Zip alive in belief that he had some degree of quality in his life, or was I prolonging his life because of some personal agenda? With the Cocker Spaniel National Championship coming up in our backyard in early November, I decided to wait for Jim Keller to arrive and have the opportunity to spend some final time with Zip before concluding Zip's life. I made a personal commitment to relieve Zip of his suffering after Jim and Zip had their final moments together.
Jim came and stayed with us. Zip was thoroughly excited to see his old friend, his lifelong trainer and handler, and he seemed to improve a bit, which carried forward for a few weeks. With his condition somewhat stable again, I could not push myself to perform the euthanasia, despite knowing it was best.
December arrived. One morning I saw blood in his urine. Dr. Barbara Clayton, our personal veterinarian, examined him, looked me in the eye and said, "It's time for Zip to go to Cornell." The watershed moment had arrived. I called Cornell and made arrangements to bring Zip there for euthanasia and subsequent pathology.
Dec 11, 2009. The dreaded day! Any dog owner who loves their animals and has ever experienced this sobering episode knows, this is a day that ranks among the darkest of dark, the blackest of black. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Laura Siebert at Cornell for so gracefully exercising her role of merciful angel while using her gentle, caring finesse, and with his head trustingly in my lap, Zip peacefully passed to the hereafter.
In early February, I received the pathology/necropsy/histology findings. We knew all along that Zip had suffered from devastating gastrointestinal problems for over two years, we just were not certain of the actual disease and its cause. The pathology report identified that Zip had suffered from severe lymphoplasmacytic enteritis and gastric mucosal hyperplasia for a long period of time. This gastric inflammation had caused demonstrable deterioration in Zip's stomach, his intestinal tract and his colon. In Zip's case, this disease had been severely debilitating, causing the previous two perforated stomach ulcers each which required surgery, and despite the medication regimen since his last stomach surgery, the pathology found he had experienced further gastric ulceration. The pathologists were unable to identify a cause for the degree of Zip's gastric disorders, but did rule out a potential fungus infection which had been previously suspect. There was no indication that any long term treatment would ever reverse the GI malformations he had suffered.
While the gastric disorder was immensely debilitating, it was not the primary culprit in Zip's demise. Examining Zip's brain and spinal cord pathology discovered a well differentiated metastatic choroid plexus carcinoma. This is referenced as an "atypical carcinoma" and is extremely rare in canines. In Zip's case, it had spread throughout his brains cerebellum, his brains lateral ventricles and his spinal cord.
The April 2009 MRI had indicated multiple lesions on his brain, which at that time were thought to indicate a possible fungus infection. It is now evident that those brain lesions were actually the metastatic spread of the cancer; a very rare affliction that manifests itself in the form of surface lesions instead of separate and well defined tumors as is the manifestation of most other cancers. The effect of this widespread cancerous deterioration on his brain and spinal cord explains all Zip's motor function degradation, and would ultimately have killed Zip had we not intervened with euthanasia.
Two illuminating elements emerged from the post mortem findings. One, by identifying the disease as a cancer, and eliminating the fear that it could be a strange, not previously identified fungal affliction, we have successfully eliminated the dreaded potential of a new and virulent unknown canine disease. The second equally encouraging findings are that Cornell has assured me that there is no evidence that this rare carcinoma has any genetic foundation or predisposition. The entire team at Cornell made a point that they see no possibility of any of Zip's current offspring having any predisposition to develop a cancer of this nature, and that his frozen semen is absolutely safe to be used for artificial inseminations. Medically, there is no concern of transmission to brood bitches carrying his pups, or to any of those pups. This is particularly heartening, especially given that since my previous post, one of Zip's two and a half year old offspring won the Canadian National Championship in Oct. 2009.
This previous spring and summer, after the original posting about Zip, I received many, many emails and phone calls about our experience with Zip, and I was profoundly touched by the outpouring of feelings from the spaniel community. I now reiterate what I stated in that original article; I welcome any email or phone questions relative to this article. My email is
, and my mobile phone is 914-489-2536.
Remember, it's always about the dogs!