(2/11/17) January

Dear Readers, there is so much to tell you. I apologize for taking so long to write, but honestly, I've never experienced a month like January before, and it took all of my energy just to continue putting one foot in front of the other, day after day. I hope you'll bear with me as I write about everything - the good and the bad.

On January 9th, Panda Bear went off her feed - she lost interest in evening bread and morning sweet feed, but still occasionally would have a bite of hay. My kids and I treated her for bloat - that didn't work. We also gave her a shot of antibiotics and some probiotic paste for sheep - all that did was coat her chin blue because I think I managed to get more of the paste on her than in her. By January 12th, we knew things were going downhill with her - she would stand in the cold, shivering, and the three other girls were taking turns smacking her around, pushing her away. While all of this was happening, we were getting bombarded with so much snow that we couldn't figure out how to even get her down the hill to the van - or if the van would be able to make it out of the driveway. Fortunately for us, we have a wonderful neighbor who came out and towed my van out of a drift earlier that day, then came back to make sure the driveway was clear for us - AND my amazing teenagers managed to get little Panda Bear down the hill, through the snow, and to the car. I called the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Washington State University to let them know we were on our way - they are just about 15 miles from us, across the state line in Pullman, WA.

Once we got her there, they did really thorough exams, after which they stated the obvious - rumen not working, dehydration - but then they said that she appeared to be a bit jaundiced. That was when I knew what had happened - copper poisoning. Some of you may remember a blog post where I talked about the fact that the sheep had stopped eating their minerals, and Black Velvet's coat was showing weird patchy patterns that I (and people I consulted with online) attributed to copper deficiency. 99% of the information I've read says that Icelandics need more copper in their diet than other breeds of sheep. While copper is incredibly toxic and dangerous for sheep, Icelandics need more of it. So after scads of experimenting with various mineral mixes, I found a sheep mineral that they liked - but because it's for sheep, there is no copper in it. I read further information about Icelandic shepherds who use regular sheep minerals, then supplement with copper boluses (capsules). I read further into that - Copasure is labeled for adult sheep and goats. I bought it. It said you could give an adult sheep or goat 1 capsule every 6 months - but these are really huge capsules. I didn't feel comfortable doing that, so I opened one up and divided it into three (sprinkling the copper onto slices of bread with molasses). I figured that small of an amount wouldn't hurt - it didn't, but over the months, we never saw any change in anybody's pigmentation. So a few months later they each got a half a capsule - same thing, but I decided to wait until the new year to dose again.

New Year's Day, I decided to give them each a full capsule, thinking that I would dose them once a year, on the first of January. As I was pouring the little rods onto a slice of bread, a small voice nagged me - "That's too much." I didn't listen - how I wish I had. All three Icelandics got a full dose.  And nine days later Panda Bear got sick.

The WSU vets ran bloodwork and discovered that her copper levels were astronomical - they were actually amazed she was still alive. Apparently the copper I had previously given them was still in their systems - it takes a VERY long time for copper to dissipate from a sheep's liver, which is why a buildup like this is so dangerous. And although copper can sometimes remain in a sheep's liver without causing problems, it's during times of stress that the liver will suddenly start dumping copper - and harsh winters are a source of stress. That was why she was jaundiced - the copper was causing liver damage, as well as causing problems for her kidneys.

I'm sure you can all imagine just how horrific this was - knowing that I had done this to her (and potentially to Mikey and Black Velvet) was enough to make me want to give everyone back to Lee for their own good. But we made it through that night - Panda Bear received an experimental treatment (Ammonium Tetrathiomolybdate) that binds the copper and prevents it from dumping further into her system, as well as LOTS of fluids and a transfaunation to get her rumen started. Transfaunation is a process by which the rumen juices from a donor are transplanted into the animal whose rumen has shut down - in this case, Panda Bear got rumen juice from a very cooperative cow at WSU. After a few tries, she started eating again. And her bloodwork improved daily - the medicine helped stop the copper from hurting her liver any further, and all of the flushing of fluids helped her kidneys get back to working properly. Overall, Panda Bear proved herself to be one heck of a strong little sheep - she didn't lay down for days, even when she was at her sickest - I believe with all my heart (and the vets agree) that she stayed on her feet to stay alive. I think she knew that if she laid down, she would be done. She received many visitors while at WSU, and became quite the famous sheep for her strength and will to live.

I wish this was all there was to tell of this tale, but there is more...on  January 18th, Mikey went off his feed and started exhibiting similar symptoms. I immediately called WSU and said we would try to get him over there (Panda Bear was still there because although she was improving, she still wasn't chewing her cud, which is an important part of the digestive process. Everyone thought it best to keep her there, safe and warm, under observation, until everything was back to normal.). The problem was that night we got hit with freezing rain that turned everything into a skating rink - the pasture, the yard, the driveway, the roads. It was a nightmare. The kids and I tried to get Mikey into the van, but there was no way for any of us to get any kind of footing, no matter what we tried, and it was to the point that I was afraid we'd either break one of Mikey's legs or our own. So we got him back to the barn, and I called WSU to tell them that we would try the next day. Here is where things get amazing - those fantastic vets called me back a few minutes later and said that they would bring the medicine out to us. I couldn't believe what I was hearing - the WSU vet hospital doesn't do farm calls anymore, but they were willing to do this to save my sheep. I cried - lots of tears in January, believe me. But they made it - they took a blood sample from Mikey, and gave both him and Black Velvet doses of the copper binding medicine, to play it safe. A few hours later they called and said that yes, Mikey's copper levels were elevated, and they would feel better about having both him and Black Velvet there to treat (although BV wasn't showing symptoms, we didn't want to mess around, particularly with the weather as unpredictable as it was). I said that would be wonderful, but I didn't think we would be able to do it with the skating rink situation. They said, "Well, we were talking about that, and we have a little truck that would work to come pick them up." So...let me recap for you...not only did these people save Panda Bear's life, but they made a trip out here to get medicine to Mikey and Black Velvet, AND they were willing to come back the next day to pick up those two to take them back to the hospital. If you ever have any doubts about angels among us, please re-read this blog post - I firmly believe there are angels at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

When Elise and I arrived at WSU, we saw the Trio together in a big stall - Panda Bear was moved from ICU to be in with them, and it was clear that they felt better being together (although Mikey was so sick at the time, and scared, he probably didn't care about much of anything). So I spent a very long time, just cuddling my big baby boy - at one point, he hid behind me, hoping that Mommy would keep those scary vets from doing anymore poking and prodding. Unfortunately, his rumen had shut down like Panda Bear's, so he needed the transfaunation. It was not a good day for the Mikester, but I was beyond thankful to know that the Trio was in the best possible hands. And Black Velvet's bloodwork remained totally fine - she never went off her feed, never exhibited any symptoms of copper poisoning. She basically got a vacation out of the cold with her siblings!

Well, after this things continued progressing in the right direction...Panda Bear was caught chewing her cud...Mikey started eating again...Black Velvet enjoyed the comings and goings around her (she did receive the medicine like Mikey, so that was her only trauma - a shot every other day for 3 days)! Then on January 24th, my daughter yelled for me - she needed to go to the emergency room because what we thought had been a migraine turned into such severe vertigo that she couldn't open her eyes without throwing up. After ruling out brain lesions with an MRI (thank God), the ER doctor diagnosed her with labyrinthitis - an inflammation of the labyrinth or nerves in the inner ear. It's a virus - like getting a cold deep in your inner ear. So there was no way to treat it - she was given fluids while in the ER, as well as Valium to ease the vertigo. She went home with prescriptions for anti-nausea meds and more Valium, and was told that she needed to rest as much as possible - hopefully the symptoms would ease up in a few days, but they could last 2-3 weeks. And they did. It was probably 2 weeks before she could really keep her eyes open and move around without setting off the dizziness.

While this was happening, I couldn't leave her, so I let the WSU vets know the situation. As the Trio were all doing splendidly, and as WSU desperately needed the stall space for incoming patients, on January 27th the vets brought the Trio home to us and helped me get them back in their pasture. During their absence, Daisy and Cupcake had been quite out of sorts - losing their flock like that was very stressful for them, so they actually spent much of their time in their barn - at one point Cupcake tried to jump the fence, but thought better of it at the last minute, and instead crashed into the fence...my nerves were shot, as were Daisy's, so they were barn sheep for most of the time that the Trio was gone. Having them back clearly made both Daisy and Cupcake feel more settled and secure.

We had a lovely weekend with all of our sheepies home...the weather wasn't even too awfully horrible - there was no fighting between the Trio and the Duo - and Mikey and Panda Bear were both back to eating. All seemed well...until Monday morning, January 30th. I went out to give the sheep their sweet feed and morning hay, but realized as I was pouring out the sweet feed that Mikey wasn't there. He hadn't stayed in their barn when I opened up the door - instead, he had made a beeline for the other barn up on the hill. I ran up to find him and he was shaking, laying down, standing up...it was unlike anything I had seen with the whole copper debacle. I ran back to the house to tell my husband, and called our local vet who makes farm calls to ask her to come out. While I was in the house, Mikey had come down to the fence and was staring at the house, repeating the same behavior - I know he was telling me something was wrong and asking for help. I went out and sat with him - my husband brought out a blanket for Mikey, but it scared him, so instead I just sat on the blanket and held my sweet boy. At one point, I thought he had passed, but he popped back up again. Our vet did come out - said his rumen was totally shut down again - but that didn't explain the other symptoms (the shaking and the obvious pain he was in). She recommended that we call WSU and ask them  for help as she just didn't have the equipment in the field to be able to determine what was wrong. WSU said to bring him back, so everyone helped me get Mikey into the van and off we went.

We watched as Mikey was examined - not running a temperature, but his rumen definitely not working. They did bloodwork - none of the numbers indicated that there should have even been a problem - but he was acting "shocky," according to one vet - she was totally puzzled because his symptoms didn't make sense based on what we had already seen with Panda Bear and the copper toxicity. Because he was obviously in pain, they gave him an anti-inflammatory - they transfaunated him - but then he began to decline and get even more wobbly, so they opted for morphine to ease his pain - it was obvious that he was hurting. After the morphine took effect, they helped him to lay down comfortably, with his sweet head in my lap. I held an oxygen mask over his nose to help him with his breathing, but it was clear that something else was going on - one of the doctors thought he might have passed a blood clot because of the symptoms we were seeing. After about an hour with Mikey cuddled in my lap, his breathing slowed, then stopped. He was gone.

I've lost animals before - cats and dogs - and it is the most God-awful feeling of loss. But usually there is some notice - we find out that somebody is sick beyond help and we're able to make the decision for them that it's their time to go.  I have not had an animal suddenly die in my lap before, and losing Mikey was...there are no words. I was thankful that he was no longer suffering, but I couldn't quite wrap my head around the fact that this sweet sheep - my ginger boy - wouldn't be there at the back deck in the spring, waiting for pets.

I donated him to the hospital so that they could do a necropsy to see what happened. This is a really important tool for a veterinary teaching hospital, and as difficult as it was to think of not cremating him or burying him like we have with other pets, I felt like it was more important for the hospital to learn. And we wanted answers - this didn't make any sense at all, but I figured that something weird happened in his system because of the copper.

A week later the doctors called to tell us the results - yes, his liver showed elevated levels of copper. But there was a blood vessel near his pancreas that had burst - the doctors don't know why as there was no evidence of illness or injury - I asked if the copper could have weakened the blood vessel, but they don't believe that is the case - if his liver had been cirrhotic, then yes, they would have expected to see bleeds. But it wasn't - they believe he simply had a weak blood vessel, one that could have been there his whole life, and it just chose that day to rupture. He was living on borrowed time. And even if they had known what was wrong the second it happened, those types of bleeds are so fast - there was no way they could have gotten in there in time to save him. It was simply our Mikey's time to go.

I never would have guessed that sheep could be like Mikey - that they could be so full of personality and love - that they could show their emotions with their eyes and the tilt of their ears. It was clear in looking at him when he was happy, when he was irritated, when he was sad...or just when he needed Mommy snuggles. I will miss his sweet face for the rest of my life - I hope that he is waiting for me over the Rainbow Bridge and that I will get to see him again someday. When I announced his passing on the BFF Facebook page, I ended with this, and would like to do the same here:

Be like Mikey - enjoy the simple things in life - love your flock - and don't forget to tell people you love them (Mikey did this everyday with his beautiful facial expressions and his very loud BRRRRR, which he did instead of baahing)! Thank you for reading and for being part of Blaine Fleece and Fiber.

Comments

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
To help us prevent spam, please prove you're human by typing the words you see here.