A pill bottle sits next to my laptop. The label is fading. The dispense date is June 2006. A prescription for 15 pills. Canine pills. For Holly, collie mix.
The pills are Deramaxx.
This afternoon I decided to clean out the medicine cabinet. As I filtered through the medications, checking expiration dates, I came across this bottle. Small, brown and seemingly innocuous. I don’t remember why our vet at the time prescribed them. But as soon as I saw what they were, I was flooded with a terrible realization.
We could have lost Holly in 2006. She would have only been four years old.
I stood at the counter a long time just looking at the bottle, at Holly’s name and the date. Then I opened it up. The faux beef smell turned my stomach. I counted them. Twelve and a half pills remained of the original fifteen.
In 2006, we gave Holly two and a half pills. We were supposed to give her more than that. And had we done so, we probably would have lost her. We shouldn’t have lost her in 2010, but I’m so grateful for the four more years we had as a result of NOT giving her those pills.
God, I miss her.
To all of you who have arrived at this blog because you’ve lost your companion to Deramaxx, my heart goes out to you. You are not alone. Every day, people search for information about Deramaxx and come here. Close to 2,000 visits as of this posting. They read Holly’s story, and the other stories shared in the comments, and they know they’re not the only ones affected by this terrible drug.
To all dog owners, please hug and squeeze and love your dogs and promise them you’ll always research the side effects of medications before giving them any.
Thank you. ❤
It’s been a year since Holly died. And my heart still hurts. I miss her so much.
The Sunday after she was gone, we went to church as usual, even though I didn’t want to get out of bed much less get dressed and go anywhere public. I had no interest in the service, the music, the sermon. Didn’t care. All I could think about was the grief that had invaded our lives.
Throughout the service, I prayed, as I had been doing since Holly died. It wasn’t an elaborate prayer. Nothing formal or fancy. Just, “Please give me some kind of hope that I’ll see her again.”
Now, I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes. And others of you are straightening your theological lapels and readying a rebuttal. And that’s fine. Just hear me out.
I grew up in the church. And I learned, as most do, that animals don’t go to heaven, because animals don’t have souls. How anyone can state this for fact, I have no idea. But that’s the stance I’ve always heard from pastors and others “in the know”.
Anyway, from the moment Holly died, I began to pray that I’d get to see her again. Usually my prayer goes something like: “When I die, please let Holly be there to meet me.”
There are two things I rarely talk about on here or with others: politics and faith. Though I have strong opinions on both, I’m not very vocal about either. I’m a peacemaker by nature, and would walk through a pit of snakes to avoid conflict. But here’s the thing: I believe in a loving, merciful God. And I think he revealed his love and mercy to me that Sunday after Holly died.
After the service, we went out to lunch at a sushi restaurant near our church. Over tempura veggies, I told my husband what I’d been thinking about and reading about animals and God and heaven. And I told him what I’d prayed.
At the end of our meal, our waiter brought us fortune cookies with our bill. We each chose one and opened them to read our fortunes, as we usually do. I took one look at my “fortune” and, stunned, I started to cry.
While my husband, son and daughter each had Confucius sayings, my fortune read: “Faith is the evidence of things unseen.”
Did God give me a nudge via a fortune cookie? Call me crazy, but I think he did.
Am I going to see my sweet Holly again? Call me crazy, but I believe I will.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
This week, some of the search terms that led people to my blog included:
- deramaxx and border collies
- my dog is still sick from deramaxx
- my dog can not walk after taking deramaxx
- my dog is no deramaxx
- deramaxx made dog lame
- can deramaxx make a dog sick
- deramaxx shot
- is deramaxs compatible with thyroxine
- deramaxx side effects
- deramaxx cause dog illness
I wish I could tell you this was an odd week, with all these Deramaxx-related hits. But I can’t. Ever since posting Holly’s story at the beginning of December 2010, this blog has received daily visits from people seeking information about this medication and its effects on dogs.
It breaks my heart. To be honest, some days I haven’t had the strength to log on here to do my regular blogging schedule. I’d see the search terms and wonder about all of those owners and what might be happening to their dogs. Were they feeling as scared and helpless as I did last year with Holly?
But yesterday when I sat down to blog, an email notice popped up on my screen. The subject line caught my eye:
“I am so sorry about Holly, but your blogging about Deramaxx may have saved my dog’s life”
I opened the email and fell into a jumble of grief and gratitude and…I don’t know what else. I was a mess.
Here is Cathy’s email, reprinted with her permission:
“First, I must offer my condolences about the loss of Holly. I could sense the bond you had with her and what a wonderful dog she was. Please know that I believe that your sharing of this horrendous experience saved my dog’s life. Duke, an 11-year-old Siberian Husky, was brought to the vet about a month ago because he limping on this front leg. He was prescribed Deramaxx for this limp and for arthritis in his two back legs which were the result of crucitate ligament surgery years ago. For whatever reason, he improved after a few days. Less than a month after being on the Deramaxx, he was carried into the vet. He could hardly stand, wouldn’t eat and seemed unresponsive. This was just two days ago. The vet didn’t offer a firm diagnosis. Kept him for the afternoon, sedated him for x-rays and sent him home on an antibiotic for an elevated white blood cell count. It was during a sleepless night of worry about Duke that I found your post. I woke my husband up in hysterics saying the Deramaxx was killing Duke! Since then, (just days ago) and off that horrible drug, there has been a marked improvement. He is eating again and although weak, trying to move around. The vet just discounts that this medicine had anything to do with his illness. To her it is a wonder drug.
I would not say Duke is out of the woods yet but looking back during the past month, I really see a pattern with the Deramaxx. At least twice, he seemed sick to his stomach and not eating and during that time, I would not give him the Deramaxx as he was sick and then of course, he improved! Once back on this though, he became sick again. How horrible this is, I can only offer my sympathies to you for the price you paid for your dog’s life. Here we are, paying hundreds if not thousands in Vet bills to make our dog’s better, and it is the treatment that is killing them.
Thank you again, for sharing this. It is so important to get the word out about this as I for one did not hear about any potential side effects from my vet.”
I wrote back to Cathy, thanking her for contacting me, telling her how relieved and thankful I am that Duke is okay, and trying to express to her how much good her email did.
It’s been four months since Holly passed away. I miss her more than I can even attempt to put into words. Some days are better than others. Some days are just really, really hard.
But because of what happened to Holly, Duke is alive. It doesn’t bring my sweet friend back, but it makes the hurt a little less.
If you haven’t read Holly’s story, please do. And please pass her story and Duke’s along to warn others.
Cathy, thank you for emailing me and allowing me to share your story. Here’s hoping we can help spread the word about the dangers of Deramaxx. Here’s hoping no one else has to go through this.
This is a hard post to write. And it’s going to be a hard post to read. But please read it. And tell your friends to read it. And help spread the word so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
On November 10, 2010 I took Holly, my McNab (border collie mix), to see the vet for a limp she’d developed a couple of days earlier. We’d been playing fetch, as we did every night while the kids brushed their teeth. Part of the bedtime routine. She landed funny on one leg while catching the ball and after that began limping. We were heading to California for a quick vacation and decided she needed to be seen to be sure it was going to be okay to board her while we were gone.
The vet — someone we’ve trusted for years and who has literally saved two of our pets’ lives in the last two years — checked her out and prescribed a medication called Deramaxx. He said it was an anti-inflammatory which would help her limp. Because we trusted him, we gave Holly the medicine, no questions asked. He also put her on a diet dog food to help shed some extra pounds so she wouldn’t be carrying around extra weight. Made sense.
The following week, Holly continued to limp and become wobbly. We also noticed she had very bad breath. Still she was eating and wanting to play. However, she was less reluctant to run after the ball when we were playing, or she’d let our other dog, Hannah, get the ball for her. We continued to give her the Deramaxx, hoping it was going to help with this limping and wobbling problem.
Around midnight on November 23 — the Tuesday before Thanksgiving — our cat, Henry, developed a block in his urinary tract, and I took him to the emergency clinic. This was the second time Henry had blocked up — he has FLUTD — so I knew the signs to look for. The doctor at the emergency clinic was unable to unblock him, so on Wednesday, we transferred him to our regular vet, who performed emergency surgery, called perineal urethrostomy. It saved Henry’s life. On Thanksgiving night, the vet called me to say Henry could come home to recover, and gave us instructions for his aftercare. This event was unexpected and had me very anxious, taking care of a sick cat. He had most of my attention during this time.
On Friday, when the vet called to see how Henry was recovering, I mentioned to him that Holly, our dog on Deramaxx, wasn’t eating. The vet suggested she might not like her diet dog food (which she’d been scarfing up like crazy until this point), and that we should mix in some of her regular food. We did and she ate some, but not much.
Over the weekend, she grew wobblier and weaker. She slept a lot. She didn’t want to eat. She had diarrhea. We’d entice her with roast beef and other temptations and she’d eat them reluctantly.
It was over this weekend, I googled “Dermaxx side effects” and found this list of symptoms:
- kidney damage or failure – change in water intake, increased urination, changes in urine odor
- gastrointestinal ulcers/GI disorders – loss of appetite, vomiting, dark of bloody stool, diarrhea, constipation
- liver damage or failure – jaundice-yellowing eyes, skin or gums
- high blood pressure
- lack of coordination
- behavioral changes – restlessness, lethargy
- allergic reaction – scratching, facial swelling, seizures, sudden vomiting or diarrhea, shock
At this point, she had lack of coordination, diarrhea, lethargy and loss of appetite.
On Monday, November 29, I called my vet and made an appointment to see Holly. She could barely get in and out of the car. She couldn’t hold her legs up strong enough to stand on tile. Whenever she wasn’t moving, she’d just lay down because it was easier.
The vet took a blood sample to run tests. I asked him if it was possible the Deramaxx was causing these problems. I told him I’d read some of her symptoms as side effects on the internet. He said no, it wasn’t the Deramaxx. He’d given it to lots of dogs over the years and never had any problems with it or seen symptoms like this in his patients.
I trusted him. We continued to give her the Deramaxx.
I wish I had listened to my gut instinct instead. But by then it was probably already too late.
My last good memory of Holly was Monday night. Even though she was weak and didn’t want to eat, she still brought me a toy to play. I didn’t want to hurt her, so we’d just pass it back and forth to each other. Her sweet face still had that, “Come on, Mom, throw it” look. And when I wouldn’t throw the toy, she’d make a little yip noise at me, as she always did when she wanted to play. We played as best we could that night until bedtime.
Tuesday morning, I let her out to do her business. She was unable to walk back inside. I had to help her walk back into the house. She got inside and immediately lay down and slept with her legs stretched way out straight, which was something I’d never seen her do before. She threw up the previous night’s dinner. I was crying over her when the phone rang. It was the vet with the blood test results.
He said she had kidney failure and hypothyroid. He said her cholesterol was very high, and said sometimes cholesterol could act like clots in the bloodstream. I asked him if he thought she’d suffered something like a stroke, and he said perhaps. He said we had to start giving her fluids and the same kidney supplements we’d been giving our cat (with much success). I told him I wanted to bring her down for him to see her. He agreed he’d keep her for the day and get her on fluids to help her kidneys.
I could barely get her into the car.
I could barely get her out of the car.
She couldn’t walk on the vet’s tile floor. The assistant and I had to carry her back to the kennel, where I scratched her ears and told her I loved her. She couldn’t get comfortable in the kennel. She wanted to stretch her legs out.
The vet was in surgery when I’d arrived, so I didn’t get to talk to him, only with the nurse. Crying, I told her I to tell the vet that I thought the Deramaxx had poisoned Holly. She said she would tell him.
I went home and googled hypothyroidism. I read the list of symptoms:
- lethargy, mental dullness
- hair loss
- weight gain
- dry hair coat, excessive shedding
- hyperpigmentation of the skin
- cold intolerance
- slow heart rate
- high blood cholesterol
OK, I thought, she has hypothyroidism. The vet will get her going on thyroxine and we’ll get her kidneys back up to par like we did with the cat and all will be good again.
The vet called that afternoon and said Holly wasn’t responding like he’d hoped. He said she’d been unable to get comfortable all day. He said she’d been nauseous, so they gave her an intravenous anti-nausea medicine to settle her stomach. He’d done a chest cavity x-ray and saw nothing unusual. He did an ultrasound and found that fluid was collecting in her abdomen. He suspected she had some kind of tumor activity going on that he wasn’t able to see with his x-rays and ultrasound. He made an appointment with an ultrasound specialist for the next morning, and he asked us to take her home and gave us some pain medication to help keep her comfortable. He made a point of showing us her liver numbers on the blood work and insisted this had nothing to do with the Deramaxx. He said she wasn’t showing the symptoms of his regular kidney and thyroid patients. That this was “something else”.
Holly didn’t make it through the night.
We brought home a very, very sick dog. She was bloated and breathing hard unable to get any comfort. We laid her down on a blanket in the living room, told the kids to kiss her goodnight and sent them to bed. My husband and I stayed with Holly all night, listening as her whimpers turned to cries of pain and watching her stretch her legs out and her head back trying to get comfort.
We made a couple of calls to the emergency clinic. We explained the situation, that we had an appointment with a specialist in the morning, but that she was gravely ill. The staff at the emergency clinic said they wouldn’t be able to do much more than the kind of ultrasound our vet had performed. We asked if they thought it sounded like tumor activity, and they said without seeing her they couldn’t know for sure, but that it was a possibility.
We didn’t know what to do, because we didn’t know what we were dealing with. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense, but in the moment, we just wanted her to be well, and we wanted to hold out hope for this specialist in the morning. But it was SO GOD AWFUL listening to her cry out in pain. I can’t even put it into word. The worst sound IN THE WORLD.
Around 3am, Wednesday morning, Holly began vomiting blood. And that was when we knew what had to be done.
My husband took her to the emergency clinic. They immediately administered pain meds and put Holly to sleep. They said we’d made the right decision, that there was no saving her.
Our sweet girl — who up to this point had been a vigorous, beautiful, healthy dog — died of internal bleeding.
When my husband returned home, we sat together and cried and told each other our favorite stories about our Holly.
When the kids woke up an hour or so later, we had to tell them the devastating news.
Later the next morning, our vet called to tell us he was sorry that we’d had to have Holly put down, and that if he’d known how grave she was that he would never have sent her home. He said he suspected an undiagnosed tumor had ruptured or “something put pressure on something until it gave” and caused the bleeding.
I still believed him. Until I googled “Deramaxx deaths”.
And that’s when I read these stories:
- Deramaxx Kills
- Zena (she survived after massive intervention efforts)
- Deramaxx Warning! Dead in 3 Days!
I also found a letter from Novartis — the makers of Deramaxx — to veterinarians, explaining their take on potential adverse reactions to Deramaxx. In their eyes, this drug is safe.
And finally I found this story about Abby and explained the dangers of Deramaxx.
I am 100% convinced our Holly developed gastric ulcers from taking Deramaxx, and like Abby in the link above, developed a perforation in her abdomen which caused her internal bleeding and her death.
I am compiling this information to give to the vet in hopes he’ll see the truth and not let this happen to any of his other patients or their families.
We are devastated. We are in shock. We miss Holly. We don’t know how to grieve her untimely and UNNECESSARY death.
On November 10, she had a limp. On December 1, she was dead. Because of a medication she didn’t even need to be on.
Here is the last picture I took of Holly, the Saturday before she died. She and her sister Hannah were laying in the shade outside. It was her last “good” day.
If you are a dog owner or know any dog owners, please pass this information along to them. Please trust your instincts. Please research any medications you give to your pets.
I wish we had. I wish we’d known. I wish Holly was still alive. She didn’t deserve this. No animal does.
UPDATE December 2010: Saturday, December 4, we talked with the vet. We presented him all of the information we’d found on the internet regarding the dangers of Deramaxx and all of the memorial stories we’d found of dogs who’d died from Deramaxx complications. We told him we were 100% convinced this drug killed Holly. He said the very words we’d wanted to say to him: that while he may have never seen these adverse reactions before in his patients, Holly could be the first case and “one case is too many”. He told us he would read through the information we provided, would contact the drug rep and the manufacturer and would be in contact with us. He showed humility in our exchange. The encounter went much better than I thought it would. I feel like I’ve done what I can, and hopefully this won’t happen to any of his other patients. Maybe I can start moving forward now, and focus on the joy and love Holly brought to our lives.
UPDATE June 2015: Here is an article that explains the science behind the adverse reaction dogs experience with Deramaxx. This is exactly what happened to Holly.