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Mysterious Illness Strikes NFC FC AFC CFC Crosswinds Warpath "Zip" by Kevin Battistoni


Zip after winning the 2006 National Open Championship

It is with a heavy heart and decided lack of enthusiasm that I announce the retirement of Zip.

It has taken me a substantial amount of time to determine how I might best deal with a disclosure about Zip's continuing medical drama, and to come to terms with my personal emotions stemming from his condition. The time to release this posting has arrived; to inform everyone who may want or need to know of Zip's current condition.

Some of you are aware that 2008 tested both Zip's stamina and his resolve to survive. While living at home in February 2008, he suffered a perforated stomach ulcer and had emergency life saving surgery at the Bedford Animal Hospital in Westchester County, New York. The cause was not determined and subsequent biopsy showed no cancer at the site. The surgeon in Bedford felt the damage was related to Zip's prolonged use of cox-inhibitor anti-inflammatory medications (Derramaxx, Previcox or the like) because that surgeon had long ago established the correlation between the cox-inhibitors and canine ulcers. The only arguable point was that Zip never really required much in the way of anti-inflammatory drugs, certainly not with any regularity. This was not an ordinary malady or surgery for a five year-old dog. Coincidentally, there were no pressing signals for further exploration.

Throughout the late spring and summer of 2008, he slowly regained strength and was trialed very selectively during the fall. In early October of that year, he placed second and won the Guns' Award at the Canadian National Championship at Devil's Creek, Manitoba.

"The doctor echoed my concerns of a relationship to the earlier stomach problems, especially after an endoscopy of Zip's stomach showed massive tissue mal-formation - of the sort Dr. Simpson had never seen in his medical career."

In mid-October, after returning to the eastern US to prepare for the US Open National, he suffered another perforated ulcer incidence while on professional trainer/handler Jim Keller's truck attending a Mid-East trial in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Zip underwent another life-saving surgery at the Metzger Clinic in State College, Pennsylvania. Test results were similar to those taken after the initial surgery; biopsy showed no cancer. The doctors there wondered why he had another occurrence of this normally fatal malady, but did not examine the inside of his stomach. At their suggestion, we performed an acid concentration test and found that the acid levels in his stomach were only slightly above normal - which was confusing information as the theory was his problem stemmed from excess acidity.

We pushed him back into some sort of shape and I took him to the 2008 US Amateur National in Ohio in December, where his enthusiasm, speed and birdfinding were acceptable, but a handling error on my part caused him an early exit.

Zip seemed to be in good spirits through December and into early winter 2009, living in the house with Betsey and me, but we were concerned by the constant digestive rumbling emanating from his stomach. Still, he had an active breeding season, covering four nice bitches, including the 2007 US Open National Champion, Abby, and our AFC - CFC, Ruffian. But, there were clouds on the horizon. Something was amiss. The stomach noise continued.

Zip with Jim Keller at the 2008 Canadian National

I read an article in the Purina newsletter about a study being conducted by a gastroenterologist named Michael Davis at Oklahoma State, where they were trying to establish a connection between high levels of stress and stomach ulcers in sled dogs. I contacted Dr. Davis; we spoke of Zip's malady and whether there could be a relationship to his studies and hypothesis. He suggested I speak with Dr. Kenneth Simpson, a gastroenterologist at Cornell University and a veterinarian reputedly at the pinnacle of his specialty. Dr. Simpson agreed to see Zip, and we scheduled an appointment a month distant.

Time was not to be on our side. Shortly after setting the appointment, Zip developed painful sensitivity along the top of his rear quarters. He was unable to raise or wag his tail and was in distress trying to trot, gallop or jump up. Something told me this was all related to his stomach problems and I was able to accelerate my appointment with Dr. Simpson. In late March of '09, Zip went to Cornell University where his examination and testing was overseen by Dr. Simpson. The doctor echoed my concerns of a relationship to the earlier stomach problems, especially after an endoscopy of Zip's stomach showed massive tissue mal-formation - of the sort Dr. Simpson had never seen in his medical career. Another biopsy was performed, this time consisting of material from inside his stomach, which again showed no cancer. The medical team at Cornell began to fear that all Zip's problems may be the result of an insidious fungal infection, but they were unable to provide a firm diagnosis. Zip came home with medication for his sensitivity and we were encouraged to get an MRI of his central nervous system.

Once home, we focused on getting him some pain relief for the sensitivity in his rear quarters. Because of his stomach condition, we were loath to use anti-inflammatories to treat that sensitivity, so we turned to a holistic approach as methodology combined with a mild pain reliever called tramadol. He seemed to be responding to the acupuncture and laser heat treatments when, around 2AM one Sunday morning in early April, he had violent seizures while sleeping in our bedroom, which continued two more times within the next 24 hours. The next day, Monday, we took Zip to a board certified neurologist, Dr. Jason Berg, at the Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers, New York. A full MRI of his brain and central nervous system revealed extensive, severe lesions randomly scattered over the entire surface of his brain. Dr. Berg ruled out cancer and almost immediately said it look like some pathogen was attacking his brain; an infection of some sort. But blood drawn on the previous day came back negative for any bacterial infection.

"Extensive testing of his blood and urine was performed in the hope of identifying the actual fungus, but the protocol for identifying fungal types relies on searching for previously identified pathogens, and our tests failed to place the cause of Zip's problems into any previously identified category."

We had Dr. Berg communicate with Dr. Simpson, and after consultation they both agreed on a diagnosis. Zip was suffering from a fungal infection that had spread from his stomach to his central nervous system and to his brain. The destruction of the inner lining of his stomach had been the first point of attack of the fungus (as the stomach lining deteriorated, perforated ulcers developed). With time, the fungus entered his central nervous system causing the sensitivity in the rear quarters, and finally found its way into his brain - ultimately resulting in the seizures. Extensive testing of his blood and urine was performed in the hope of identifying the actual fungus, but the protocol for identifying fungal types relies on searching for previously identified pathogens and our tests failed to place the cause of Zip's problems into any previously identified category. Both doctors agreed that the only plausible way to positively identify this particular infectious agent was to open up Zip's skull, excise some of the lesions in his brain, culture them, seeing if they could get the pathogen to grow and hopefully identify it. They cautioned that the surgery could further debilitate Zip and, worst case scenario, it could kill him if it triggered uncontrollable seizures.

We thought long and hard about the surgery and declined to have it preformed for the following reasons: both doctors concurred that the fungus has already done its damage and Zip's condition was, by then, irreversible. Identifying the fungal type would not restore him to pre-infection condition. He already had had two surgeries in the previous year, either of which would have killed a dog with less strength and fortitude, and we just could not endure subjecting him to yet another debilitating surgery, unless it was truly a life or death decision.

Going forward, Drs. Berg and Simpson recommended the following prophylaxis, which Zip is currently on: an aggressive treatment with a broad spectrum anti-fungal medication, in combination with medication to keep the electrical activity in his brain at a manageable level. This in further combination with a similarly aggressive dosage of acid blockers, acid reducers and a specific drug to coat the disheveled inner lining of his stomach. The fungus had destroyed all the protective cilia and sensitive stomach lining cells and any build up of acid, let alone an excess would likely cause a third perforation, which would probably kill him. They felt this cocktail of medications would be the best chance we could give him for any kind of life quality.

Zip with his awards

Zip is currently home, and I am guardedly happy to report he is in good spirits. He has a good energy level and day to day seems to be without unusual fluctuations in his medical demeanor. Unfortunately, the prognosis is that the disease is terminal. Neither Dr. Berg nor Dr. Simpson can predict how long he will live, and we have been told it could be six months or, with luck and the grace of God, it could be six years. Both doctors concur that the damage already inflicted on his brain, probably in concert with further stomach deterioration, will contribute to his death. He sleeps much more than he did before his illness and the only analogy I can create that one might understand is that living with Zip, now, is kind of akin to having a geriatric senior citizen in your home. That old spark is gone. I know Zip wants an explanation on why he feels like he does, and I am frustrated that I cannot help him understand his condition. The neurological damage he has suffered has affected all his senses: eyesight, hearing and balance. His motor capability is damaged. He has lost some coordination. He cannot raise his tail above half level... or wag it. And he cannot gallop at the speed he once had. But, he still goes for runs with our other dogs, plays with his latest crop of pups and participates in our training sessions - all at his current reduced speed.

OK, by now you are asking yourself "What is going on? Why are we getting all this very personal and private information?"

There are two reasons.

The first is that I find it inconceivable Zip is the only dog in the United States that has encountered this fungal onslaught. Perhaps there have been incidences of stomach problems that led to dogs deaths but were never pursued. Perhaps no one has spent the time and resources we have in trying to go beyond the surgery to establish the cause of their dog's ailment. I hope to get the attention of the spaniel community - or anyone who owns a younger dog that has suffered or suffers from perforated stomach ulcers. Unless the affected animal is a heavy dosage user of cox-inhibitor anti-inflammatorys, there may be other symtomology for the cause of the dogs illness. It could be a fungal infection like Zip has. If it is a younger dog - after recovery from the surgery, an endoscopy should be performed, to see what the inside of the stomach looks like. As a routine matter, the surgeons patching the perforation do not examine the inner stomach lining and may completely miss evidence of a fungus. There may be dogs out there echoing Zip's condition, if so, it would be beneficial for us all to cooperate and try to find why and how it happens. And if the perforated ulcer in a dog proves fatal, the dog should be autopsied and the stomach lining examined. The prevalence of fungal infections may be more common than anyone realizes and, only if proper post-mortem examination is properly performed, might we begin to track this type of infection... and hopefully identify the causative pathogen.

The second reason is more complex.

I have written this because I want to provide of an accurate record of Zip's travails from the outset. It is all too common for unsubstantiated rumors to circulate as people relay information to one another that is not accurate in its origin. I hope to prevent the potential spread of misinformation. Quite simply, I believe the medical trauma Zip has suffered can have a direct effect on the public's opinions of our dogs, and of Crosswinds bred dogs. If there are decisions to be made concerning a Crosswinds dog, I would like that decision to be based on factual information. I hope anyone who reads this and cares will circulate this message so the spaniel community, especially the trialing community is informed. And I welcome emails or a phone call from anyone who wants further details, or information, or may be involved in a similar situation.

Drs. Berg and Simpson are convinced Zip's affliction is not genetic. He does not have epilepsy. There is no history or indication of epilepsy in any of his ancestors. His condition is not symtomatic of epilepsy. At this time, there is no indication that this affliction can be passed on to either his progeny or to any bitch Zip is mated to. There is no indication that anyone owning a Zip pup should fear having their dog afflicted by this fungal disease. And there is no indication that any owner of a bitch that was bred to Zip should likewise, have fear their bitch is infected. If anyone with a qualified bitch wants to breed to Zip, we are happy to discuss it - and will make available our medical information. Thankfully, we have approximately fifteen breedings on ice right now, all taken before he first manifested any sign of the fungal disease, and we encourage owners of quality bitches who might want to incorporate our blood lines to consider doing an AI breeding using frozen semen. One of the most discouraging aspects of this illness is that Zip is beginning to have numerous offspring demonstrating incredible potential in trials and we would hate to see his contribution to the gene pool be unnecessarily fore shortened.

In closing, I want to share a sobering epilogue.

Betsey and I want everyone to know that we have made an offer to the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, and they have accepted, that, when this whole episode ultimately comes to a conclusion with Zip and we have to euthanize him, Cornell will perform an autopsy. They will search for clues as to the type of fungus he has, how it permeated his body as well as how this malady may be identified and treated in the future. I hope a part of his legacy is that his suffering helps veterinary medicine gain a better understanding of fungal infections.

I welcome any questions at or call me anytime on my mobile at 914-489-2536.

Thanks for your attention,
Kevin Battistoni

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