My first bred-by keeper off my 2020 litter (Raeah/Falco). I remember paying close attention to the litter in terms of personalities and temperaments and that was the major deciding factor in my choosing of her. She was a beautiful puppy in terms of being very structurally sound but that was not my primary reason for selecting her. She never cared about a thing. She never got involved in the tussles, she was mellow yet still driven enough for a game of tug or fetch, she never showed any signs of resource guarding or aggression within the litter and most importantly she adored my children.
Born right at the very beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) we never had any visitors come to see the litter. Her apprehension around strangers became apparent basically instantly when her littermates had all gone to their new homes. If she knew you, she loved you. She would show you that by giving you her butt for pets or by pawing you to demand more pets. If she didn’t know you, I would never force interactions. I quickly got to know when she was and wasn’t comfortable and how to manage her by her trusting in me. During the few opportunities we had to train off property (when stores would open back up) we took all the possible opportunities. With a toddler and infant in tow we would travel to any dog friendly stores we could to expose her to all the environmentals, other dogs and strangers. She quickly became very neutral and bombproof.
I knew I wanted to pursue conformation and performance sports with Ren. I knew that her aloofness and apprehension around strangers may have posed trouble in the conformation ring with the judges exam. I was so nervous when I brought her to her first show at ABIDS (All Breed International Dog Shows) in September 2020. She was 6 months old. When we arrived to the show she definitely was uneasy but more than manageable. I had friends practice “mock” exams on her and she didn’t do very well. She would tuck her butt down or turn to watch the exam. Showing me that she was not 100% comfortable but she trusted me enough to tolerate it. When we finally entered the ring for the first time (with judge) it was like she had been doing it her whole life.
She behaved appropriately and blew me away taking Best of Breed 2/4 shows over her mother Raeah, earned 2 group placements AND took 3x Best in Show Puppy. I was hooked after that. She was a show girl. She grew to absolutely love the ring. You could always find her in there with her tail and head held high. She was a showy girl with her ring demeanour and flawless free-stack. She understood the assignment and she yearned for her favorite snacks in the ring. We traveled together near and far, we set goals and smashed all of them. In 2021 we finally got back in the UKC ring and she ended the 2021 year as #1 Presa Canario in Canada & USA for UKC. She became a UKC Champion and UKC Grand Champion in quick succession and we made memories together that will last a life time.
Being in the veterinary industry I am very hyper-aware of ALL my dogs. I am constantly watching any changes to their demeanour, any changes to their appetite or stool consistencies etc. I watch them as closely as I watch my children. Sometimes this is a blessing and other times it’s a curse. At the end of January, 2022, we had just returned home from a trial in USA where we had competed in weight pull and conformation. Ren had received two qualifying legs towards her UKC UWP title and some conformation wins over the weekend. When we returned home she was eating her dinner and suddenly yelped. There was no reason for the yelp, nothing I could pin point. I couldn’t repeat it by flexing or extending her limbs. I chalked it up to her being sore from weight pull. Over the next several weeks, I noticed some mild symptoms that likely would have been overlooked by the average pet owner. I noticed some reluctance to jump up (into the car or couch), I noticed reluctance to sit up on her haunches (“sit pretty”) and more obviously I noted a change in her gait while fully extended at the run.
She always ran next to the quad and I found her stride to be shortened, more bouncy and less extended. When you used to be a horse person these changes appear a lot more obviously. Because these were non-specific symptoms, I didn’t rush her into the vet. I did book an appointment for a canine physiotherapist thinking that we likely were dealing with a musculature issue (similar symptoms to iliopsoas injury). At the end of February 2022 I was playing rough with Ren during a game of tug and I walked behind her to lift her rear feet off the ground as you might do when you’re putting on more pressure during a tug game. She screamed out in pain and dropped the tug. At this point I knew something was wrong. We booked a vet appointment right away.
Without going into boring details about diagnostic testing and specialist appointments, it took us several months to get a diagnosis as she did not fit any classic symptoms. Ren was diagnosed in May 2022 with Immune Mediated Poly Arthritis by diagnostic joint taps. This is a disease causing inflammation of the joints by the bodies own immune system. Its considered auto-immune and can be primary (meaning there is no underlying cause) or secondary (meaning there is something else underlying causing it). We did every possible test under the sun to find out if there was something causing it. Every possibility you can think of, we tested for. All came back negative/normal. This was a devastating diagnosis of an idiopathic auto-immune disease meaning there was no defined cause. It was then I knew Ren would no longer be considered for my breeding program. There is no confirmed genetic predisposition or correlation with auto-immune disease but the bigger issue was that a shift in hormones (heats and pregnancy) can trigger immune responses that can cause relapses. The worry was that we would get her into remission and then a heat would relapse her causing a vicious cycle. The only management of this disease is immuno-suppressants. Immuno-suppressants do exactly as they sound, suppress the immune system to stop it from attacking it’s own body. I chose to put Ren on some of the “safer” and more expensive drug options to avoid steroids as steroids can have debilitating effects on the body in the short and long term. Ren’s veterinary care was looked after under Internal Medicine specialists.
Despite her IMPA diagnosis, we continued to compete. Ren never slowed down, she never went lame. Her disease and pain management was under control. She had regular recheck appointments with her specialists who adjusted her meds accordingly. She took many supplements to support her joints and overall health. She continued to swim and run with the quad. She received PEMF therapy with the Assisi Loop (https://assisianimalhealth.com/ )
She had excellent muscle mass and body condition score. She continued to succeed in performance sport and show, earning the first emerald grand champion title in UKC breed history for the presa canario and was the first presa canario to break 100 breed points on the UKC breed top 10 (2022). Along with this, she completed several nosework titles, completed her UKC UWP title, got her novice trick dog title and finished her UKC socialized pet obedience test with outstanding results. She was nearing remission according to her most recent joint taps. She had made great strides in improvement and we were steps away from starting the weaning process to get her off her medications and hoping for no relapse. Her recheck appointment was booked for November 17th. This all changed at the beginning of November.
Having a multi-dog household and an immunocompromised dog can be risky. They share water bowls, they are in close quarters where aerosolized viruses can easily travel, they wrestle and rough house exchanging saliva. Sure, I could separate Ren but that would be a life of isolation for her and with her personality she would not have thrived. One of my other dogs had a mild eye infection mid-October. Watery eyes and some sneezing but nothing major and not requiring any veterinary medical attention. I didn’t think much of it until Ren caught it.
Immediately when Ren displayed some red, watery eyes and sneezing I booked a vet appointment. I knew that likely she’d need some eye drops to help push her through it since her immunity was too low to do it itself. I never thought it would be more than that. Fast forward a few days after starting her eye medications she developed a fever (I was checking her temperatures regularly at home). I contacted my IM specialist and regular vet and was dispensed antibiotics in case it had moved more into a bacterial infection. Several more days went by and her eyes continued to worsen despite the drops, her sneezing was violent and was now causing some bloody discharge from her nostrils and her fever continued to persist. She had become increasingly lethargic and her appetite decreased. At this point I took her to emergency. They were able to take some swabs of her eyes to check for viral infections, they took some bloodwork to check organ function, ran several other eye tests and advised me to continue on the prescribed eye medications until the results of the swabs came in.
About 24 hours later, things had worsened drastically. She was vomiting, had no appetite, had abdominal discomfort, was extremely lethargic and started to bleed from her mouth. At this point I hadn’t heard yet from the vet regarding the previous bloodwork but I brought her back into emergency. By the time I arrived in emergency she was bleeding profusely from her gums and had an elevated blood pressure. They were able to look at her previous bloodwork from the day prior which showed an increase in her liver enzymes. They ran immediate bloodwork in the hospital which showed those liver enzymes had doubled from the day prior. This drastic elevation in liver enzymes was concerning and also confusing as to what the underlying cause could be. Acute hepatitis with epistaxis (bleeding from the nose), bleeding from the gums, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva in the eye) that had not responded to treatment, persistent fever not responding to antibiotics along with anorexia, nausea and lethargy. Ren was hospitalized for further monitoring and testing including abdominal ultrasound and supportive care treatment for her fever and liver. After a few days she showed some signs of improvement including her fever coming back down and some improvement to her liver values but she continued to be anorexic, lethargic and continued to have serosanguinous blood tinged nasal discharge. She was a bit of a medical mystery in the sense that her symptoms did not all fit together and there was no real clear diagnosis despite several criticalists and specialists reviewing her case.
On her 4th day in hospital things started to decline. Her fever came back despite several broad spectrum IV antibiotics, she was vomiting up anything she was eating, she was painful again in her abdomen requiring an increase to her pain medication, she had a new symptom (uveitis) which causes pain and damage to the eye and she was lethargic. They repeated her liver values and they had skyrocketed so high that they were not able to get a reading even with dilution of the sample. On the evening of this day, her viral swabs came back from her initial ER visit and they showed her positive for Canine Herpes Virus (CHV). CHV is relatively common upper respiratory virus in dogs. It can present as conjunctivitis with sneezing and/or coughing. Typically it does not require veterinary intervention and is usually only fatal when it affects a litter of young puppies. Adults are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. In extremely rare cases (none of the doctors at this specialty hospital had ever seen this), usually in immune-compromised patients, CHV can cause disseminated systemic disease. What this means is that it will cause organ necrosis and hemorrhage, leading to death. We finally had an answer. Ren had suspected necrosis to her liver (dying organ tissue) causing most of her clinical signs as well as some form of hemorrhage / necrosis to her sinus cavity causing the bloody nasal discharge and she had the beginning of damage to her eyes. The kindest option was to put her to sleep due to the severe damage that was already done internally and the fact that herpes virus can't be treated. She would not be able to take medications to suppress her immune system for her IMPA, otherwise the herpes would rear its head again. The doctors also couldn’t guarantee that we could even reverse any of the damage that had already been done as it was already so severe. Ren lost the sparkle in her eye and I knew we had to let her go.
There are very few written case studies of this happening in adult dogs but I did find a few that I will attach here. At the very least I’m thankful that Ren’s case was overlooked by so many specialists and criticalists and although it’s extremely rare I’m hopeful that if another patient ever presents with similar symptoms all of these doctors will be familiar with the possible diagnosis, Disseminated Canine Herpesvirus-1.
Rest in Peace Ren
March 2, 2020 - November 15, 2022