Fox Tails & First Aid

We learned an important lesson about Fox Tails and the importance of Canine First Aid this week. Our hope is that by sharing our experience, we may help just one other dog owner out there!

On Tuesday Bella started coughing. It sounded like she had something stuck in her throat and couldn't get it out. We checked her mouth and could not see anything. We worried that she had been exposed to Kennel Cough during her recent stay at a kennel, so scheduled a vet appointment for the next day. We learned during that call that we were terrible dog parents, and had missed their annual vaccine updates. Apparently the reminder never made it, and with the way time flies around here, we didn't realize they were overdue. Off to the vet we went!

When we described the hacking cough Bella had, our vet said "Fox tails until proven otherwise!" We have fox tails in our back yard and never realized the danger they pose to dogs. Bella and Iris love to graze on tall grass and we can only assume that Bella either ate one or inhaled one while playing ball. For anyone unsure what these are, here's a picture:

Our vet explained that this is a common problem for dogs during this time of year; Bella was the second case that day alone! The fox tails get lodged inside the throat and palate, causing them to be inflamed. The recommendation was for Bella to be sedated so they could take a look. We signed the forms and left her there for half an hour. Since it was Iris' birthday, we hit the dog park for some play time! (Sorry Iris. Mommy bought you vaccines for your birthday....)

When we came back, Bella was up and walking around. She was slightly dozy, but acting like she typically does after an anesthetic. The vet explained that he found multiple pieces in her throat and that her tonsils were red and inflamed. They removed all the pieces but expected Bella to have some mild coughing due to irritation over the next 24 hours. Thankfully she was given an anti-inflammatory as well.

As soon as we got home, I pulled all of the Fox Tails in the back yard. No way did I want Bella to have to go through that again! Chris also went to town on all the weeds at the edge of the yard with the weed-eater.

We sat down to dinner and noticed that Bella was becoming more lethargic. She seemed very tired and her breathing was shallow. We realized that she was becoming more sedate than she had been an hour ago. She lay down, closed her eyes and no longer responded to us calling her name.

We called the emergency vet line and were connected with the same vet who had completed the procedure just hours ago. He advised he would meet us at the clinic. We loaded into the truck and drove to Strathmore.

I was in the back seat of the truck with Bella while Chris drove. I wasn't watching, but I know he was going as fast as he safely could, as I could feel us passing vehicles on the road.

Bella's breathing became more shallow.

Her body went limp; she couldn't hold her head up.

She wouldn't open her eyes.

There was no response when I called her name.

There were two times during that drive that I thought we'd lost her. It was the most terrifying car ride of my entire life. Bella's body was limp, she wouldn't respond to her name and I could not feel her breathing. I did mouth to mouth on her twice.

We arrived at the clinic and met the vet. Bella was unable to walk, so we carried her to the back. We lay her on the exam table and he checked her vitals. Her heart rate was 32. Normal is around 80. Her breathing was slow and shallow.

The anesthetic they used is one that is reversed with a reversal agent. He gave her another injection of the reversal. He hooked her up to IV fluids. He called the Tech to reconfirm the dose she had used to ensure it was correct. It was. He called another vet to get their thoughts. He had never come across an incident like this. Bella kept falling asleep and could not keep her head up. He put her in the recovery position and I rubbed her body, trying to stimulate circulation. He gave her another injection of the reversal agent.

Then we walked around the building. Bella, the vet, Chris and I did laps. After three laps he rechecked her heart rate and was pleased to see it had gone back up. However, it went back down as she rested.

More laps. We walked around the building three more times. This time Bella perked up. Her heart rate increased again and remained steady. She showed interest in her ball.

I have no idea how much time went by. I just remember that moment when Bella's eyes lit up, she took the ball in her mouth and started to trot. I knew then that she was back. We loaded her back into the truck to return home and watched her carefully the entire time.

We kept our eyes on her throughout the night. It was easy to do since she slept between us with her head on my pillow. She made a full recovery and was back chasing her ball, suntanning and giving kisses the next morning.

The truth is though, had we not gone to the vet, we would have lost her. That thought is unbearable. Bella has been a central part of our lives the past three years and I can not imagine life without her. I am so grateful she recovered and that we have our gorgeous, hilarious, loving Bella back.

The reason for sharing this story is for the lessons we learned:

1. If you haven't taken a canine first aid course, do it. As traumatic as this entire experience was, I knew what to do. I knew what to watch for. I knew how to respond. I knew what to do when Bella stopped breathing. I am so grateful for that knowledge as it got us through this experience. I will certainly be reviewing the manual again to refresh my memory, and my stethoscope is on order for delivery Monday!

2. Be aware of fox tails. They weren't the cause of Bella's near death experience, but they were the reason she needed to be put under anesthetic. Pull them from your yard. Don't let your dog eat them.

3. If your dog has been under anesthetic, watch them closely. We still don't know why Bella "re-narced" or went back under. What we suspect is that the original drug used to anesthetize her was somehow stored and recirculated through her body. Our vet is investigating why and has reached out to the drug manufacturer. Perhaps some of it was stored in her body fat and slowly released. Maybe she has an allergy to the drug. Regardless, we've noted on her file not to use that drug combination again, as we may not identify why she responded in this way. In our research, and our vet's experience this has never happened before. However, Bella's experience proves it can happen. So please watch your dog carefully post-op or post-sedation and if you feel something isn't right, don't wait to respond.

Bella is off playing ball and relaxing in the sun. She's fully recovered from the ordeal. We may not be fully recovered just yet; it will take some time to get over what happened Wednesday night. In the meantime, I am thankful to see lots of cuddles, kisses and fetch in our future!

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