We had so much going on last weekend that I didn't get a chance to post anything about our newest arrival, a little Schipperke named Patch. Alayne picked him up at the Missoula airport late Friday evening.
Patch came to us from the Yolo County SPCA in California. These wonderful folks have sent several disabled animals to us over the past few years. When Patch was brought to the shelter, they contacted us. He wasn't really disabled but disfigured, and that's good enough to get you admitted here!
His skin was blistered and raw, he was missing a lot of hair, his ears were crusted, he scratched constantly, and he looked miserable. This is what he looked like after he arrived at the shelter in late March ... they had already bathed and cleaned him up before the photo, so he looked much worse initially. A vet told the shelter that the dog -- who they named Patch because of how he looked -- was a burn victim at some point in the past, and most likely his hair would never grow back.
The shelter emailed me this photo, along with another one showing the bald sides of his body. I forwarded the photos to our internal medicine specialist in Missoula, Dr. Dave Bostwick, to get his opinion. Dave said the dog didn't look like a burn case because of the pattern of hair loss. Without seeing the dog, he couldn't offer a diagnosis, of course, but he suspected a skin disorder of some sort. About this time another vet told the shelter the dog might have lupus.
I asked the shelter if they could take Patch to a veterinary dermatologist for an exam, and I said we would pay for it. The Yolo County SPCA is in Davis, where the University of California's College of Veterinary Medicine is located, so they have access to lots of specialists. As our luck would have it, all the veterinary dermatologists in the country were having their annual convention (in Hawaii!), so they were a little hard to find. Fortunately the shelter found another veterinary dermatologist in private practice in Sacramento who could see Patch -- he was the only one left in the U.S. who wasn't in Hawaii that week, I reckon -- so they made an appointment.
It took a couple of weeks for the testing and biopsies to be completed, but last Monday we finally had a definitive diagnosis: Patch has a very rare autoimmune disease called pemphigus foliaceus, a blistering disorder of the skin. In this type of pemphigus (there are several forms of it), the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the proteins that connect the skin cells to each other. There is no cure for the disease, but it is treatable. Patch will need to be on prednisone and a drug called azathioprine (brand name: Imuran) for the rest of his life.
(The bill for the dermatologist came to $548, which is well worth it, if you ask me. We now know what Patch has, and we know what he needs for medical care. This is why we are such big believers in using veterinary specialists.)
The azathioprine has side effects -- it can cause bone marrow suppression -- and Patch will need blood testing every two weeks for the first few months he's on the drug. If all goes well with the azathioprine, we will be able to taper him off ... or at least lower the dose ... of the prednisone eventually. Of course, what we're doing in effect is suppressing his immune system so it won't attack his own body, which carries risks in and of itself.
Because the shelter already had wisely put him on prednisone due to how itchy he was, his skin looks better now, and his hair is starting to grow back. But he still has large bald patterns and his ears remain crusty and oozy. The scarring on his face may be permanent, the dermatologist told us, because of how severe it is. But this little guy -- and I do mean little, he only weighs about 10 pounds -- is a happy fellow who gets so excited at meal time ... and whenever a cookie is present ... that he literally jumps with joy.
(We took these other three photos this evening, after I returned from WSU's teaching hospital at Pullman. Click on any of the photos to get a larger image.)