When dog Zeus was rushed to Blue Cross after swallowing a ball, his life was already in grave danger.
But when vets discovered the Rhodesian ridgeback was also suffering with an undiagnosed heart condition, things became even more critical – and complicated.
Although it was a race against time to remove the toy that was lodged in the five-year-old dog's stomach, his heart was not strong enough for him to survive the anaesthetic needed for surgery.
It was devastating news for his owner Demi Jones, who brought her beloved pet to our animal hospital in Victoria, London, earlier this month after he fell ill.
“We noticed that two to three days prior to us bringing him in to Blue Cross he just went off his food and was vomiting quite a bit,” she said.
“We had phoned before and were advised to keep our eye on him and to bring him in if he didn’t improve after 24 hours. But he didn’t get any better.
“He’s usually such a happy dog but he was completely flat, and didn’t even get up to wag his tail when we came through the door. His tail is so hard you normally have to run through the house when you get home otherwise it hits you! He just wasn’t the same dog.”
Zeus came to our animal hospital as an emergency case during the night, and X-rays confirmed Demi’s suspicions that he had eaten something he shouldn’t have – but she had no idea what.
Vet Cristina Buil, who saw to Zeus on his arrival at the animal hospital, said: “Zeus was feeling very poorly and he was very dehydrated. Abdominal X-rays confirmed a foreign body in his stomach that had to be removed surgically.
“Unfortunately that was not the only problem for poor Zeus. He also had an abnormally fast and irregular heart rhythm, which made us think that he was suffering from a heart problem.”
Further tests revealed a serious and life threatening heart condition which could have been fatal had it continued to have gone undetected.
“In a way it’s lucky that this happened as we would never have known he had a heart condition otherwise,” said Demi.
Explaining the diagnosis, Cristina said: “Zeus had an electrocardiogram which is a test to check the heart rhythm and electrical activity, chest X-rays and a heart scan.
“These tests confirmed that Zeus had an abdominal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. It makes your heart rate very irregular and very fast; this condition makes your dog feel very unwell, short of breath and very tired.”
At this point, our veterinary team had no other choice but to delay surgery while Zeus’s heart rate was stabilised.
“Our team of vets and nurses worked round the clock to make Zeus stable for surgery as, in his situation then, an anaesthetic would have been a great risk.
“He was started on medication to slow down his heart and after 36 hours he was able to have this much needed surgery. It was a major operation and we removed a plastic ball from his stomach.”
Our team of vets and nurses work round the clock to make Zeus stable for surgery as, in his situation then, an anaesthetic would have been a great risk." Vet, Cristina Buil
The object causing the blockage was a shock for Demi, as Zeus only ever plays with footballs and has no other balls in the house – so she believes he must have picked it up on a walk.
But Zeus made a good recovery from the surgery and two days later Demi was able to take him home to be reunited with her two daughters, aged two and four, who had also missed him dearly.
It was an incredible day for them all, and one that Demi feared would never happen.
“We didn’t expect him to come home,” she said. “We were warned that there was a high chance he wouldn’t wake up from the surgery.”
But Demi said he’s making a “perfect” recovery and is "really happy again.”
She thanked everyone involved in his care and described them as "miracle workers".
Cristina said: “Zeus will have to continue his medication for his heart condition, probably for the rest of his life. And we will have to regularly monitor his heart rhythm.
“He was a very challenging case that could have gone very wrong had we not had the tools to diagnose what was wrong with his heart.
“Zeus was very lucky to have come to us and to have got the diagnosis straight away.''