Bella came to us in February of 2014 after being found abandoned in North County Dublin. We think she was around one to two years old and she was incredibly underweight, weighing only 17kg. Bella very quickly went downhill after arriving to us and was rushed to the vets for immediate re-hydration and to find out what exactly was going on with her. Her weight had dropped to a life threatening 15kg, so things were very touch and go at this stage of her journey.
Bloods were taken to see if this was just a case of starvation or if there was an underlying medical cause and it was found that Bella suffers from a condition known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI).
EPI is a condition in which the pancreas does not provide the necessary amount of digestive enzymes that are required to properly digest food. As a result of this inefficiency, the body does not get the nutrition it needs, regardless of how much food is given. It is also a condition that is far more common among the Shepherds than it should be. As it is hereditary, bad breeding practices have increased its rate of occurrence within the breed.
Once Bella’s condition was diagnosed, she then received the proper treatment by having enzymes added to every meal. For dogs with EPI, this is something they will need for their entire lives. In the space of eight days, thanks to the incredible dedication and TLC by veterinary nurse Tina, Bella’s body weight increased by 5kg and after fifteen days in the vets, she was deemed well enough to go into foster care.
Bella thrived in foster care and her weight steadily increased. Over time, however, it was noted that Bella had quite severe issues with other dogs. While we may never fully know what happened to Bella before she came to us, it is quite probable that a lack of adequate socialisation as a puppy and the fact that she spent the first year or two of her life starving to death had a lot to do with these problems.
After a couple of months, Bella returned to us at the rescue and her behavioural issues with other dogs were worked on. Over time, her inter-dog attitude improved.
Bella will need a strict dietary regime for the rest of her life. EPI is a condition that has to be very carefully monitored and managed. As was shown in Bella’s case, dogs with EPI can very quickly become dangerously unwell. It is a massive welfare concern as when not properly treated, these dogs suffer from near constant, ravenous hunger with occasional abdominal discomfort and nausea.
The exact mode of inheritance of EPI is not yet known. Healthy dogs can give birth to puppies with EPI and vice versa. At the time of writing, there is no genetic test that can be carried out to see if a dog is a carrier of the condition or any kind of test that will show if a puppy will develop EPI as an adult.
The current veterinary advice is that until a genetic test is developed, breeders are advised to not breed dogs with EPI or to repeat mating’s that produced affected dogs. This works in theory, but due to extreme amount of indiscriminate and un-monitored breeding that goes on in the country, there is very little follow-up with dogs that are bought and sold.
We personally have noted an increase in the amount of dogs affected by this condition and until breeding legislation within the country changes, we believe that over time, the occurrence of the disorder is going to become much more common. Bella was one of the lucky ones. The timing in which she was rescued was impeccable, considering just how close to death she was.
Bella’s foster mummy is now her forever mummy and she lives with another one of our special dogs, Jessie, and her human baby brother. She is a happy, healthy girl who loves her people and she can usually be found with a ball in her mouth or in between her paws.