by Tracy Weber
Bella, the German Shepherd hero in my Downward Dog Mystery series, is very special dog. Like most heroes, Bella is brave, loyal, and willing to make great sacrifices to protect those she loves. But her heroism isn’t the only thing that makes Bella special. Like my own German shepherd Tasha, she lives with an autoimmune disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI).
One of the many unwritten rules I follow when writing a cozy mystery is that no animals shall ever be harmed. Bella will be no exception. But “not harmed” doesn’t mean “not challenged.” In Bella’s case, her challenge is a significant, lifelong, yet manageable health condition.
|Keiara in agility. When|
she was diagnosed, she
had lost so much muscle
she couldn't walk
Including a dog with EPI in my series was no accident. Like most fiction authors, my primary goal is to entertain. To immerse my readers in a world they would otherwise never experience. But that’s not my only goal. My secondary, not-so-secret goal is to spread awareness of EPI and provide hope to owners of animals impacted by the condition.
EPI is an autoimmune disease that destroys the exocrine cells of the pancreas—the cells that produce digestive enzymes. Without digestive enzymes, EPI-dogs can no longer digest food, no matter how high the quality. Symptoms begin manifesting when the pancreas is 90% destroyed, at which time the dog starts losing significant weight.
|Izzy, 6 years after EPI diagnosis|
and doing great
The disease is primarily diagnosed in adolescent German Shepherds, but it can occur in any breed, even in cats and sometimes in humans. With lifelong treatment, an animal with EPI can live a basically normal life. EPI dogs go on to be search and rescue dogs, agility champions, therapy dogs, and cherished companions. Without treatment, those same dogs would literally starve to death.
The true tragedy of EPI lies not in the illness itself, at least not in most cases. It lies in the lost lives of dogs that were needlessly euthanized, either because EPI was never diagnosed or because owners falsely believed that they couldn’t afford the animal’s lifelong treatment. While this may have been true in the past, today treatment is much more affordable. Enzyme co-ops can furnish the needed medicine at one-third retail cost, and multiple online support groups have formed that coach owners through the frustrating trial-and-error beginning stages of treatment.
|Tasha, still thriving at 10 years old|
My own girl Tasha was diagnosed at age two, after losing twenty-five pounds in a month. As I watched her waste away in the weeks before diagnosis, I was convinced that I would soon lose her. Six months after we started treatment, she reached her goal weight of one hundred pounds, which she has maintained for the past eight years. No one who sees her now would guess that she has a wasting disease. Her vet has even nicknamed her “Fatty.”
Strangers used to chastise me because they wrongly assumed I was starving my dog. Now they stop to tell me how gorgeous she is, even at age ten. The same can be true for the vast majority of dogs with this condition.
A simple blood test can determine whether or not an animal has EPI. If you or someone you know owns a dog with the following symptoms, ask your vet if a Serum Trypsin-Like Immunoreactivity (TLI) test might be appropriate.
If your dog is a German shepherd, insist on it.
Symptoms of EPI Include:
- Rapid weight loss in spite of a voracious appetite
- Frequent elimination of greasy, malformed, often yellow-colored stools
- Rumbling sounds in the abdomen
- Pica (eating of inappropriate substances)
If you have questions about EPI, please feel free to contact me at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com. Be sure to check out the website EPI4dogs. The before and after pictures will astound you.
Sometimes all it takes is information—and hope—to save a life.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at all of these gorgeous animals, each thriving with EPI.
Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Tracy loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.
Tracy and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.
Visit her at TracyWeberAuthor.com, friend her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tracywe, or e-mail her at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com