The Man says Jerico the dog has suffered from acid reflux since he was a puppy. I don’t remember the first time I woke up in the night to find Jerico swallowing rapidly and repeatedly, but this situation became a running theme in our lives. When the swallowing began, a hunt for grass was on. Jerico would eat the grass (with gusto, obsessively) and eventually puke it up. The puking seemed to settle his stomach and let him rest.
Finding grass was no problem if we were camped near a river or a meadow, but it was harder to come by if we were in a desert. I remember once waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Santa Fe, NM at 4am to the sound of the swallowing dog. The parking lot landscape did not include nonnative grass growing like a lawn (Good for you, Santa Fe Wal-Mart!), so there was nothing for Jerico to eat to induce vomiting. We had to drive off into the dark to find another business (a school, actually) that did landscape with grass.
I worried about Jerico eating grass, especially from an area where it might have been sprayed with chemicals. Who knew what sort of pesticides grass in or around a parking lot might be subjected to? Even if the grass wasn’t sprayed with poisons, was it safe for Jerico to eat so much of it? The Man maintained that dogs naturally eat grass, and since eating grass was the only thing that made Jerico feel better, it was ok for him to do so.
The Man experimented with other remedies. I drove to a supermarket late one night to buy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to cure Jerico’s ills. The Man poured a dose of the pink stuff down Jerico’s gullet, and it did seem to relieve his stomach woes. Baking soda dissolved in water seemed to work even better. Of course, Jerico didn’t enjoy having anything poured down his throat, so we often had a dried crust (either pink or white, depending on the remedy) on the floor on the morning after one of his attacks.
If no humans were around when an attack happened and Jerico couldn’t get to grass, he would eat anything he thought might help. Unfortunately, what his dog brain thought might help never did. Once I left a long, thin strip of sheet hanging in the bathroom of the fifth wheel. (I was sure I’d find a use for it eventually.) The Man came home to find Jerico had eaten it (then puked it back up) in a fit of acid reflux. Another time when we went on a hike that lasted waaay longer than we thought it would, Jerico chewed the portion of the plastic garbage bag that hung over the edge of the trash can. Luckily, he puked that up too. The Man lived in fear that Jerico would eat a plastic grocery store bag (or something equally dangerous) if he were to have an attack while we were away. Jerico didn’t stay home alone much.
We tried planting grass near the fifth wheel in the Sonoran Desert. I bought special organic “cat grass,” and The Man planted it, but it didn’t grow. I think it might have done better in a planter instead of going directly into the ground.
In retrospect, I see how Jerico’s bouts of acid reflux were getting more frequent. The Man must have recognized it too, even if only on a subconscious level. He did some research on diet and acid reflux and found that beef can exacerbate the condition. Jerico didn’t know it, but he’d had his last can of wet dogfood as a treat. He did get canned mackerel sometimes, when The Man could find a brand with no added salt or oil. The Man also switched Jerico to a dry food with salmon as the first ingredient. Jerico’s stomach seemed to do better for a while.
We’d gone into town early one day to take showers and do other errands. When I went to the parking lot after my shower, I saw The Man pulling the truck behind the building. I met him in the back where he’d let Jerico out to eat grass. I knew this meant Jerico was suffering from an attack. Throughout our day, we had to stop several times to let Jerico out to eat more grass. No matter how much he ate, it didn’t seem to help.
At home, he was no better. He kept trying to find something, anything he could eat to help relieve his discomfort. Unfortunately, there was no grass growing anywhere on our property. Finally, The Man (who was working to get our solar power system up and running) asked me to drive Jerico somewhere with grass he could eat. I ended up driving about three miles before I found some actual grass growing.
I parked the truck on the edge of the road, and Jerico and I crept through the barbed wire fence to get to the patches of deep green grass. I felt like the father of the unborn Rapunzel stealing arugula from the witch to satisfy his wife’s cravings, but what else could I do? I didn’t want to send Jerico to the other side of the fence alone. What if he saw a rabbit and bolted? What if a coyote or a half-wild dog came along and wanted to fight? I felt safer trespassing with him.
I let him eat to his heart’s (stomach’s) content, then loaded him back into the truck. I hoped it was safe to take him home now.
At home he continued to swallow excessively. His stomach still hurt. He wanted more grass.
The Man mixed up some baking soda with water and poured the concoction down Jerico’s throat. We tried to keep the pup calm while we gave the remedy time to work. He was obviously uncomfortable and wanted to pace.
I wonder if dogs can have Zantac, The Man muttered, reaching for the phone to ask Google.
Turns out dogs can have Zantac. I got in the truck and made a trek to town to get the medication. Nearly two hours later, I got home with my precious cargo. The Man cut on of the tablets in half and pushed it down Jerico’s throat. We again tried to keep him calm, and this time after about half an hour, the medication actually worked. We were all able to get some rest that night.
About a week later, Jerico was at it again. We got home from another day of errands. Jerico jumped from the truck and started eating from clumps of grass The Man had recently transplanted. Thus began 18 hours of hell.
First he ate more grass than I’d ever seen him ingest. He literally ate the newly transplanted grass to death.
When we brought him inside, he stayed in front of the door and paced. When we let him go outside again, he headed straight to the grass and started chomping on it again. This pattern was repeated throughout the evening.
At a quarter to six, the Man gave Jerico half a Zantac. Again, we tried to keep him calm while the medication did its magic. He never calmed down. He continued to swallow and pace. The medicine did no magic.
Around six o’clock, The Man wondered if we should make an emergency visit to a vet. He called the after-hours number of one of the veterinary offices in town. He didn’t specifically say his dog was in an emergency situation, so the woman who answered the phone made an appointment for us to go in the next day.
The only thing other than eating grass that seemed to ease Jerico’s distress was going outside and walking. We weren’t sure if he was soothed by the distraction of the change of scenery or the motion of movement or by the fact that he was in an upright position (or some combination of the three factors), but he was calmer when we took him outside. We spent a lot of time that evening taking Jerico outside, thinking (hoping, praying) he was better, taking him inside, then realizing he wasn’t better at all.
At ten o’clock The Man decided to give Jerico another half a Zantac. I was afraid it was too soon to give him more, but The Man said obviously the first dose hadn’t done anything to solve the problem. He thought a second dose might make things better for Jerico so we could all get some sleep.
The second dose of Zantac did not allow anyone to get any sleep. Jerico continued to move around and swallow. When we took him outside for the last pee of the night, he headed directly to the transplanted clumps of grass and tried to eat some more.
Around midnight I had Jerico on his leash, walking with him around our property when he barfed up a wad of grass that had the approximate look (size, shape, color) of an unshucked cob of corn. Gross! The grass had come back up, but that didn’t solve the problem.
We continued to walk around past 1am, when I grew too tired to stand. Jerico and I went into the trailer and got in the bed with The Man who’d had the pleasure or an hour of sleep.
Jerico never settled down, never stopped swallowing. I got a few hours of fitful sleep, but Jerico’s distress kept me from resting. Around 5am I took him outside again. Sunrise seemed to bring him some relief, although he was by no means well. We were glad he had an appointment with a vet for that day. None of us wanted to spend another night like the one we’d just had.
We arrived at the appointment right on time. Everyone working at the office was friendly and kind. We were brought into an exam room with a vet tech; the doctor came in shortly after. The Man explained everything that had been happening, and the doctor agreed with the diagnosis of acid reflux. He recommended The Man give Jerico 10 mg of Prilosec every day as a preventative measure.
What about eating grass? I asked the vet.
He said grass is really hard on a dog’s throat, mouth, and stomach and we should keep Jerico from eating it if we could.
After nearly two weeks on Prilosec and the special food we bought at the vet’s office, Jerico hadn’t had a single episode. He hadn’t tried to eat grass even once, and he only swallowed in a normal manner. I was glad he was feeling better, and I was glad we were all able to get some sleep.