Amber’s Canine Tonsillitis: A Diagnosis that Could Have Been Missed

June 8th, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

After two difficult amputation operations, our sweet little Airedale, Amber, was finally on the mend when I decided I should take her in to see our vet to talk about nutrition and physical therapy. Amber, being her ever-exuberant self, didn’t miss a thing. She wagged her tail furiously and pulled at her leash when she saw the vet staff. On the way to the exam room, she nosed at the toys and treats on display, just in case she might be lucky enough to snatch one from the rack on the way by.

Inside the room, she planted herself in front of the cupboard where she knew the treats were kept and waited patiently to be rewarded as Dr. Wight and I began to discuss how she was doing. During our conversation, I mentioned in passing that I noticed that every once in a while, Amber would smack her lips and would cough slightly. “It’s hardly worth mentioning,” I said. “It doesn’t happen all the time.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Wight decided to examine her throat more closely. Taken to the back where there was a brighter scope, Dr. Wight whispered in Amber’s ear, “This is going to be nothing, right Amber?” But when she looked in her throat, she could see that Amber’s tonsils were enlarged and not just a little.

Back in the exam room, Dr. Wight told me, “I’ve been in practice for 23 years and I’ve never seen a dog’s tonsils so large!” I looked at her blankly. “I didn’t even know dogs HAD tonsils!” After all, I have had dogs all my life, known many friends with dogs, and never heard of a dog with tonsillitis.

“So do we take them out?” I asked.

“Well, not usually because dogs need them for defense against bacteria. Typically we treat them with a shot of steroids, but they’re immune-suppressing. We don’t want to do that with Amber since she has had cancer.” And so it was agreed that we would try some antibiotics.

But after two courses of different antibiotics over about a month’s time, Amber’s tonsils were still enflamed. By now, I had been on the internet and I knew that canine tonsillitis that did not respond to treatment could be a sign of another cancer–lymphoma or squamous cell carcinoma. My heart was heavy and my husband and I thoughtfully considered our options before we agreed to schedule Amber for yet another surgery to have her tonsils removed. Again, it wasn’t an easy decision. Amber had already been through so much, but we could see it was getting harder for her to swallow and we didn’t want to wait until her airway was completely blocked or she couldn’t eat. So the surgery was scheduled with the same surgeon who had handled Amber’s amputations. Now we were the ones with the lump in our throats as we anxiously waited for the outcome.

The surgery went well and even though her recovery was not without its challenges (one small bleeding incident that freaked us out and an upset tummy from the medications), we finally breathed a sigh of relief when the histopath report showed only a benign polyp and no cancer.

Amber with Mom–back to her happy self.

Amber is now back to devouring her beloved Greenies, taking nightly walks and even playing a bit with Krissy. The decisions we make with our older pets are always balanced between quality of life and ability to recover, but I also realize that we must trust our gut. This diagnosis could have easily been missed if I had failed to mention my seemingly inconsequential observation to our vet. Consequently, we were able to get her treatment before her condition became much worse.

In the end, Amber doesn’t worry about her missing leg, her missing tonsils or even the missing fur on her leg where they shaved it for the IV during her operation. The only thing she misses right now is our son who is studying abroad for the summer. And she’s not alone in that.

Andrew gives Amber a last head scratch before leaving for Prague

Lessons of Love from Our Airedale’s Journey to Recovery

February 23rd, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

I know that many of you have been anxious to hear more news about Amber. In the four weeks since her first surgery, I felt that all I had time to do was to cook for her and hand-feed her to try to get her to eat, help her nurse her pain, and take her to various vet appointments to try to find a solution. (Oh yeah, and I had to work and take care of the usual chores, too.) Amber’s pain got so acute that she got into what they call “wind-up” and she would stand or pace for hours, even though we tried everything to get her to lie down. We also tried all sorts of medications, homeopathic remedies, and alternative treatments, but any results were either short-lived, didn’t faze her, or made things worse. All during this time, she stumped the surgeon and vets by not registering any pain when the surgery site was palpitated.

Finally, on Thursday last week, when I took her back to her regular vet, Dr. Wight was finally able to palpitate a knot on the end of the femur stump that made her register pain. Since Amber’s cancer had been confined to the cartilage, it had been decided not to amputate the whole leg, leaving the femur stump to give her more balance. Unfortunately, Amber was the rare dog who constantly moved her stump—in fact, our surgeon, Dr. Monarski, said that he had never seen a dog who moved her femur as much as Amber. In doing so, she built up fibrous tissue on the end of the stump that was believed to be causing her pain. Amber had probably been feeling it long before we could detect anything.

Now we were faced with a painful reality, we either had to put Amber through another surgery to remove the rest of the stump or we would have to let her go. As I sat in the vet’s office and watched her—in spite of her pain— “make her bed” with the big, soft comforter the techs had laid out for her on the floor, I knew she was still not ready to give up, so neither could we. On Friday, we took her back to the hospital and the rest of the femur was removed. The good news is that the procedure went smoothly and she does seem to be in less pain.

Amber’s second release from the hospital came a little slower.

But there is a lot of recovery to go and after another restless night, we are now confining her to a large kennel instead of just a room in the house because we think she tries to be too active just to be with us.

A difficult act of love–confining Amber to ensure her recovery.

That’s the things about dogs; they will do anything to please us—even if it means putting themselves in pain or harm’s way. And always trying to be good dog parents, we do our best to be worthy of their unconditional love.

Perhaps, Amber’s story will light the way for some other pet parent or canine amputee. Or maybe she will be that one atypical case that will help vets better understand how to anticipate and treat post-amputation complications. Or perhaps, Amber is merely enduring this to remind us what true acts of courage and love are all about. Last week, during Valentine’s Day—a time when we also typically mark Max’s birthday—I began to reflect on how recent events exemplify true acts of love. I never had time to finish that post until today. Here is what I have been thinking about:

There is so much hype and expectation around holidays like Valentine’s Day that it can obfuscate genuine gestures of love. Acts of love are actually much simpler than we humans make it as our dogs remind us.

  1. While treats are nice, it is not the flowers, chocolates, or jewelry that will be most remembered. It is the belly scratch, the run in the park, or just the sitting side-by-side in supportive silence that epitomize pure acts of love. In the four weeks since Amber’s first surgery, we have watched our younger Airedale, Krissy, do this for Amber. She has lain quietly outside of Amber’s kennel, just offering her presence, knowing without knowing. As humans, this is a lesson we should note: Love is shown more in a series of small gestures than in big, flashy gifts. Just being present for someone else is the greatest gift.
  2. Love is there when we show compassion. When we respond to another’s experience with patience and understanding, we can help heal the situation. If we simply impose our will, we will be met with resistance. Dogs are very sensitive beings and they know if you are coming from a place of true loving kindness. They may not like the Elizabethan collar, taking pills, or being kenneled, but they will cooperate more if they can feel your compassion. Could we be better humans if we showed more compassion for others’ experiences rather than judging or forcing our own perception on the situation?
  3. Even when we don’t fully understand or when we sometimes disagree, we show our love when we listen. During the last few weeks, we didn’t always understand why Amber couldn’t just lie down and rest and we often felt frustrated that the solutions didn’t seem more obvious. But because we were willing to acknowledge Amber’s experience and respect the veterinarian professionals involved, we could keep partnering for a solution. As humans, do we talk more than we listen in attempt to control the outcome? Sometimes letting go of our position is the most loving thing you can do.
  4. When things go wrong or in unexpected ways, it is an authentic act of love and respect not to blame. Approaching challenges with love rather than fear can keep us moving forward, knowing that each of us is doing the best that we can. As Amber’s recovery went sideways over the past few weeks, it would have been easy to blame the vets, blame each other, or even blame her. But having a scapegoat is a distraction from the ultimate goal of speeding her recovery. Conveying gratitude is a genuine gesture of love that keeps everyone looking for solutions rather than looking over their shoulders.
  5. One of the most heartfelt gestures of love is when we simply help each other. Over the past few weeks, I have talked with my vet as much as I’ve talked with my husband. Dr. Wight calls daily for updates and offers information, advice and support. We’ve laughed together. Cried together. And made and revised plans together. Consequently, I never felt alone or unsupported. And the same is true of my husband. He has partnered through this crisis every step of the way, just as he always has in our marriage. It is true what they say: When you help others, you actually help yourself.

These are the acts of love that have filled my life over the past few weeks and I am grateful that these experiences have reminded me what love really feels like. While it’s true that I enjoy an occasional present, these are the gifts I truly treasure. And I’ll take that over a dozen roses any day. I think Amber would agree.


Why Keeping Amber in Stitches Was No Laughing Matter

February 9th, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

The way in which Amber greeted us upon her release from the hospital did not prepare us for the rocky road we have traveled over the last three weeks. Just the day after bringing her home, her stomach turned bright red.

Yikes! Is she bleeding internally??!!

Not wanting her to have to endure the long trip back to the hospital unless absolutely necessary, I emailed a picture of her stomach to the surgeon. He told us that some bruising was to be expected from the surgery, but the picture showed more than he anticipated. He suggested that we mark the area with a marker and if the redness spread, we would have to bring her back in. We did as we were told and the next day the redness subsided. We breathed a short sigh of relief.

But as soon as it came time to remove the Fentanyl pain patch, Amber just couldn’t seem to get comfortable –despite the fact that she was receiving other pain medications. We tried everything to try to make her more comfortable—upping the pain-reliever, Tramadol, which only seemed to make her more anxious; lowering the amount of Tramadol, but giving it more often; treating her with acupuncture, which had no real effect…

I feel like a pin cushion!

…and adding in Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication that is supposed to help with phantom pain, which made her sleepy, but did not stop the constant twitching. Every day, she just seemed to get a little worse—she didn’t want to eat; she didn’t wag her tail when she saw us; and she pretty much stayed in one spot, except to shift restlessly. Direct palpitation of the surgical site, however, did not seem to register pain with her. We are sure that we drove our vet crazy with our daily calls, trying to figure out what to do for her.

Finally, one night as my husband remarked how enlarged her one hip looked in comparison to the other. I had noticed it, but just thought it was typical swelling from the surgery. Nonetheless, the next day we took her back to our vet, who figured out that Amber was allergic to her sutures and had developed a couple of seromas. Unfortunately, the stitches were not ready to come out yet, but Dr. Wight was able to drain some of the fluid and gave Amber a laser treatment.

Ohhh! That feels good!!

The laser treatment was like a miracle. By the next day, the swelling had reduced substantially and she seemed much more comfortable. Dr. Wight also discovered that Amber’s liver enzymes were elevated, so we started her on a liver cleanse and started to cut back off on the pain medications. Since that time, Amber has had a series of laser treatments and we weaned her off all pain medications long enough for her liver enzymes to be back in the normal range. Amber continues to have issues with twitching and muscle spasms and we have put her back on a low dose of the Tramadol and are going to give Amantadine a try to help the spasms. She has turned a corner for the better, but she has taken the road less traveled.

What alternative pain relief methods have you tried and what’s worked for you?


Amber Teaches Us about our own Resiliency and Adaptability

January 20th, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

As reported Amber’s surgery went very well, but we didn’t realize the full extent of its success until we went to pick her up last night from the animal hospital. Charging through the doors, Amber came sprinting towards us on all 3’s, grinning broadly with her tail wagging furiously.

YAY!!! I’m outta here!

The hospital technician ran along beside her, trying to support her with a towel, but she quickly showed us that she didn’t need it.

What are we hanging around here for, Dad? I’m ready to boogie!!

She hadn’t eaten much at the hospital, but the moment she got home, she headed straight for the cupboard that houses her treats and demanded her Greenie. Then she ate, not one, but TWO portions of chicken and brown rice and went outside and pooped. I know this may be more information that you wanted to know, but if you knew the amount of anxiety that existed in my household about how she would be able to handle this, you would know why this was something to celebrate!

Today marks the first anniversary of my mother’s passing and it was just the beginning of many losses that we endured during the past year. When Amber’s cancer was first diagnosed, I wondered: What lesson are we supposed to learn from this? Now I am thinking that perhaps, Amber’s strength of spirit is meant to remind us of our own resilience and adaptability. In the face of change that is compounded by grief, hurt, and disappointment, we humans may wonder how we will get through it all. But Amber shows us that with love and faith, all things are possible. Thanks, Amber, for reminding us who we are with your amazing attitude and incredible courage. As Max and I wrote in Life to the Max, “…be grateful for every teacher who leads you—even if it’s the one at the end of the leash!”

Speaking of gratitude, I want to shout out to our vet, Dr. Tracy Wight and the amazing staff of McClintock Animal Care Center for their continued caring concern, faithful follow up and patient hand- holding. Also we want to thank Dr. Christopher Monarski, Dr. Miller, Donna, Jordan and all the other technicians and staff of VCA Animal Referral and Emergency Center of Arizona who calmly answered all our questions and soothed our fears during this anxious time. If you are in the East Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, you will not find better veterinary professionals.

Stay tuned for more news next week after we meet the oncologist!

Surviving the Lumps of Life

May 24th, 2009 by Robin Reynolds

The lump was about the size of a marble.  She had rolled on her back for her usual belly rub; a sign of her utter trust, security and happiness. There among the curly tufts, the hard, round lump reared its ugly head on her sternum.  My husband and I looked at each other and without a word, we knew that we were both thinking of Max.

He had been the same age as Amber is now when our groomer discovered the lump on his paw and once the lump was removed, it was not over.  When it was determined to be cancer, there was chemotherapy, more surgery and after effects.  Even though Max never acted like he had a bad day in his life, this was the beginning of a gradual decline over which we had no control.

Amber resting after surgery

Amber resting after surgery

I took Amber to the vet the next day and the day after she underwent surgery. We won’t know the results of the pathology report for 5 days and since there’s a holiday weekend in there, we probably won’t know for more than week.   The wait is hard, but the lump is gone from her chest.  Now it’s in my throat.

Dog Poisonings in Mesa Remind Owners to Take the Lead

March 13th, 2009 by Robin Reynolds

It makes me sick to think that there is some creep out there who is placing strychnine-laced hamburger along the canal where owners frequently walk their dogs.   These attacks started last November and several dogs have been seriously sickened and at least, one has died.  As much as I really hope they catch this sicko, it is also a cautionary tale of why owners need to keep their dogs on a leash and to work with them to only eat something on the ground when told it’s okay.  I know getting dogs to only eat on command takes a lot of wok, but with what’s going on here, we pet parents/owners really need to take the lead.  According to a recent article in the Arizona Republic, if you have any information regarding the poisonings, you can contact Mesa Animal Control at 480-644-2268 and to find information on these poisonings, go online to

Don’t Let Us Get Our Paws on This: Xylitol Can Be Fatal To Dogs

July 29th, 2008 by Max

We just got an email warning, reminding us about the xylitol danger to dogs. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is commonly used is sugar-free products like chewing gum, candy, chewable vitamins and throat lozenges.

In humans, high doses of the sweetener can cause mild diarrhea, but in dogs, it can be fatal. When a dog ingests xylitol, it can cause a sudden surge of insulin, causing a sudden decrease in blood glucose.  Within 30 minutes, the dog may exhibit signs of weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination and seizures and without veterinary intervention could suffer severe liver damage and irreversible brain trauma within 24 hours. Just three grams of xylitol can kill a 65-pound dog, which is about 8 to 10 pieces of sugarless gum, but for a small dog, it could take as few as two sticks to prove fatal.

As you may have noticed, dogs are pretty good Hoover vacuums when anything even remotely food-like hits the floor. In addition, an open purse lying on the floor is just an invitation for a little nosing around. So be diligent about keeping chewing gum, candy or any other foods containing xylitol out of our paws.

But if accidental exposure does occur, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 and get your pet to your vet for immediate treatment. It really could be the difference between life and death.