Note from FBR: We launched the FBR Real Pet Stories™ blog series to share powerful stories about pet health journeys. From cancer to canine epilepsy and conditions like Astrid’s intrahepatic portosystemic shunt and numerous diseases that affect pets and people, medical advancements not possible without animal research have helped improve treatments and outcomes for all members of the family. Astrid’s story is too good not to share.
Astrid came into my life at the perfect time, providing me with purpose and companionship after moving back to Colorado a year into the pandemic and working remotely.
When I saw Astrid, a Havanese puppy, it was love at first sight. I brought Astrid home when she was about 13 weeks. She was outgoing, curious, social yet shy, and above all else, confident. Astrid quickly made a name for herself in my apartment community. She was always eager to greet other dogs and play no matter the time of day.
The photo on the left shows Astrid and Ashley one month before the dog became sick. The photo on the right is from Astrid’s adoption day.
Something’s Not Right
A few weeks after her spay surgery in July 2021 when she was 6 months old, we took our first plane ride together to visit my mom, sister and grandma. She did so well on her first plane ride and was excited when we got to my mom’s house to find their dog, Tucker. Due to health issues when he was a puppy, Tucker was not well socialized and as a result was terrified of Astrid. We thought he’d warm to her after a couple days, but that didn’t happen. Astrid seemed a little down and possibly depressed as the week drew on, which I attributed to the major disruption in her routine. We were in a different time zone, she no longer encountered numerous dogs on her daily walks, and she was far from home and everyone she knew up to that point. However, by Friday it was obvious something was wrong. She was very clingy, panting, restless, circling and trying to burrow into dark spaces. By the evening she was vomiting and very lethargic; it was apparent I needed to take her to the emergency animal hospital.
The examination process began. Astrid needed to stay overnight at the hospital so staff could monitor her and collect additional samples. It all seemed so sudden. We’d never been apart up to this point. They brought her out to me so I could give her a hug and tell her good night.
The photo on the right is Astrid one month after operation.
The Next Day
Her blood work came back with some concerns, which reminded me of her pre-spay blood work in which some values indicated a potentially immature liver. I offered to send that blood work as a point of comparison. They’d completed some imaging, which did not show any obstructions, so they ordered a bile acid test and scheduled her for an ultrasound later that afternoon. The bile acid results would take about a day to come back; however, the ultrasound confirmed their suspicions: it appeared Astrid had an intrahepatic portosystemic shunt. There was a vessel present within her liver that allowed her blood to bypass being filtered through the liver and instead was sent back into her bloodstream while still containing toxins. I was told this is a serious condition requiring specialist care and that I’d need to bring Astrid to a veterinary teaching hospital for further treatment.
Upon calling both the Texas A&M and Colorado State University teaching hospitals, I was told the wait to get in with an internal medicine veterinarian would take 6-10 weeks. This was time I did not feel I had. Astrid was extremely sick and with every meal she was fed, her blood grew more toxic. While I was able to get on a waitlist at both hospitals, a technician at CSU went the extra mile and walked over to the surgical units to discuss Astrid’s case and helped me to find a board-certified internist closer to home, while also getting me on the books with the cardiology service. Although the suggested animal hospital in Denver had a lengthy wait to get in with an internist, their dedicated team identified a cancellation and was able to get us in two days later, so we immediately flew back to Colorado. (ALSO READ: Ruppert’s Story: Life After the Lab)
Astrid, on the left, just got picked up after surgery. The center photo shows a view of the shunt. The thinner black line is a catheter running parallel to the shunt. The right photo is a view of the stent and coils.
Astrid had a wonderful internist, Dr. Ruchita Ahuja, who completed additional blood work, scheduled a CT scan with contrast, and got Astrid started on a medication regimen and prescription diet to medically manage her condition while we awaited the results of the CT scan (which confirmed the intrahepatic shunt) and her appointment with the cardiology service at CSU. Eight weeks later, we arrived at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for Astrid’s pre-op appointment and surgical procedure. We were extremely fortunate to have a cardiologist renowned for this procedure, Dr. Brian Scansen, and the most wonderful resident, Dr. Bruna Del Nero, performing this catheter-based surgery. As an intrahepatic shunt is generally found in larger dogs, this surgery took a little longer than anticipated, but I finally received the call that the surgery went well, and Astrid was in recovery. They placed 12 coils and a stent, which, according to Astrid’s four-month post-op CT scan in late February 2022, are successfully occluding the vessel and have led to a successful clinical outcome.
Without biomedical research, and according to statistics for this condition, without this medical intervention it is very likely Astrid would no longer be with me. Scientists and veterinarians can diagnose this anomaly and perform successful surgery thanks to ever-advancing imaging technology for pets and veterinary surgery. And for that, we have animal research to thank. Astrid has been the best addition to my life, and I am so thankful to those involved in her case for giving us many more years together!