US-made Optima dog food in China may have killed my dog

In what’s poised to be the absolute worst Christmas ever, there is an excellent chance my dog – my awesome, beautiful, wonderful, fantastic dog – is going to die.

After posting the other day about the possibility of her having come into contact with aflatoxin contaminated Optima dog food, a visit to the vet yesterday confirmed it. Her liver is shutting down.

We had hoped that her fussy eating lately was just her usual finicky self. However, when the whites of her eyes yellowed yesterday and she peed in the house (something she never does) we called up the vet and had them send over a car – the downside of having no car in China is that most taxis wont take you with a large dog.

Upon the recommendation of our pet shop, we took Addie to Cao Lang Feng Pet Hospital. The service was great, if somewhat typically health care in style (lots of smiles, but little direct information). Addie had blood taken and we then waited 30 minutes or so for the results to come out.

While waiting we asked some of the vet nurses (assistant vets? what’s the terminology here?) if they had seen a lot of dogs coming in because of the Optima dog food problem and they confirmed they had.

The blood results showed she was definitely symptomatic of liver failure due to aflatoxin exposure.

The vet explained that dogs afflicted are showing about a 20% chance of recovery (a euphemism for saying that 4/5ths of the dogs are dying). He prescribed some liver protecting medication and told us all we can do is take care of her best we can and hope she pulls through.

The medication is all done via IV, but the vet gave us the option of leaving her there for them to care for her or letting us take her home to care for her. We decided on bringing her home, figuring that the cold, strange and noisy kennel was no place for her to try and fight this.

Essentially, the vet said that once diagnosed most dogs were either improved or dead after 10 days – so that’s our time frame.

While waiting for the medication to be prepared, some representatives from the dog food distributor arrived. I’m not sure if they were from Optima (as they were Chinese, that’s unlikely), Natrual Pet (the Taiwanese importer to the Mainland) or the local Chinese representatives for Natural Pet (most likely).

Corporate Damage Control

I watched Addie while Maggie went into a room with them and talked about the situation. They essentially laid out that they would cover all medical costs related to this, and in the event of her death they would come up with compensation of some sort. How exactly do they calculate that? Pro-rated from time of birth with a bonus for a good temperament and numbers of hours trained? I realize they’re managing the damage and just doing their jobs, but fuck – assholes. They very likely killed my dog and actually had the audacity to tell Maggie they’ll reimburse us based on book value for the breed plus a bit for pain and suffering.

The one good thing that came out of the conversation is that we learned a bit more about what happened. Apparently the Olympics are to blame. Fucking Olympics. Allegedly, the reason for the contamination is because during the Olympics the Chinese gov’t set tight restrictions on ports of entry for importing. All the dog food was therefore brought in through the hot and humid Guangzhou, where it sat in a non-temperature controlled warehouse long enough for the aflatoxin to develop in the food.

Back at home

Getting Addie back home we set her up with a custom rigged IV suspender (a step-ladder and a coat hanger – I felt like frigin’ MacGyver). It’s a bit weird giving your dog an IV, but they made it as easy as possible by installing an “butterfly” in her leg by which we can just plug in the new IV to.

She was prescribed four medications, and about 10 minutes into the second bag of medi-juice she started fidgeting and her lips swelled up. Almost immediately after pulling out the IV she let loose from both ends. Our night was going swell. While I sat with Addie, as she slowly slipped into unconsciousness, Maggie called the vet in a panic.

With no way to get Addie to the vet, we were referred to a pet shop in SIP (our district) that had the shot she needed to reverse the allergic reaction. Unfortunately, no cab was going to take Addie, even if we could get her out to the road. Miracuously the vet called up a staff member and sent him out to our house with the needles. By the time he arrived Addie was nearly normal (thank god), but we stuck her just to be sure.

By the time we were finally able to get the next IV into her it was midnight, and we were completely beat. Rather than have both of us fight to stay awake with her, we decided to take shifts. Maggie went first, and I promptly slept through the first shift change, finally taking over at about 4:30 until the last drop dripped at about 7am.

And that’s the story of how I discovered there was no Santa Clause. Fat man never showed.

Christmas Morning … later

After a bit of sleep, we got up and did our best to have a Christmas morning. I did a bit of a fry-up, we exchanged gifts and then went back to worrying about Addie.

We took her back down to the vet at about 1:30 today and got more blood work done. No major changes, but her platelet count (I’m guessing by the rough translation I got) was lower – not great.

The vet suggested that while we were there we again give her the IV she had a reaction to last night, but add in some anti-allergy stuff. Though the reaction wasn’t as bad, she still began getting irritated and her face began to swell a bit – so that stuff’s out. We stuck around a bit longer to let Addie’s veins suck back one of the other bags of meds – one less thing we’d have to do later at home and nice to have the vet show us how the damn IV works (a day late).

We’re home now, just hooking Addie up to one of two more IVs she’ll need to have tonight and trying to figure out when best to give her some food and a pill she needs to have (but always ends up throwing up a couple hours after taking it).

To her credit, Addie is being a complete doll about everything. She’s let an endless line of people jab her with sharp objects, stick chemicals in her, push pills down her throat and force her into cars (she’s NOT a car dog). Through it all she sort of lumbers along, only showing enough distaste for it to let us know she’s not pleased about it but trusts that we know what we’re doing.

I wish we did. This is easily one of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with. Not having any control or real understanding of what is happening is not a feeling I will be looking to repeat.