If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably been there: You’re in another room and you hear the kitchen trash can fall over. That’s right—it's the dog, going to town on anything that smells like food. Or, you take your eyes off the snack bowl for one second, and the bowl is flipped over, the pooch is eating whatever hit the carpet. Normally, you remove the tempting item and redirect the dog. No harm, no foul.

But sometimes something goes horribly wrong—fast.

That’s what happened on Labor Day 2022 for Karen and her two dogs, Lola and Pickles.

Shaking That Wouldn’t Stop

It was a holiday, and Karen was relaxing at home with her family when suddenly, everything changed. Karen ran into the room to find both white-coated Lola and apricot-coated Pickles “flopping on the floor like fish out of water. They were moving so violently, I couldn’t even hold them,” she remembers

It didn’t seem like a seizure, during which people—or pets—are nonresponsive. Karen says they had “panicked, little looks” in their eyes. They just couldn’t stop their tremors or walk. They couldn’t even stand up.

On the ground near the dogs was a possible culprit: a leftover burrito, black with mold.

Karen rushed the two dogs to the nearest hospital open on a holiday, which happened to be VCA Veterinary Specialists of the Valley.

The hospital offers a variety of state-of-the-art care, including emergency and critical services, neurology, diagnostic imaging and more. VCA Veterinary Specialists of the Valley’s team of board-certified veterinary specialists have access to extensive medical resources, including the VCA knowledge base, which allows doctors to tap into the collective knowledge of over 4,000 VCA veterinarians nation-wide.

Dr. Denitza Kakacheva in the emergency and critical care department got word from her medical team about the patients before they arrived.

“We heard that two possibly seizing patients were coming in from the same household,” Dr. Kakacheva says.

When Dr. Kakacheva saw the two dogs, they were shaking so violently that she also figured they were having seizures. But Lola and Pickles were “mentally aware,” she says, and clearly distraught. They knew what was going on but couldn’t stop the violent tremors.

Just to be safe, Dr. Kakacheva administered anti-seizure medications, which didn’t work, then moved on to muscle relaxants. Lola responded well, with less extreme tremors, but Pickles’ shaking and high temperature didn’t improve.

“A normal temperature for dogs is 102.5, and Pickles was at 107,” Dr. Kakacheva says.

What was causing the tremors? Dr. Kakacheva had to treat the two dogs before knowing for sure. A toxicology test on the burrito would have taken days. But the tremors were consistent with mold poisoning, according to the poison control experts consulted over the phone. If it was the moldy burrito, Pickles—a more eager eater—had likely eaten more of it.

”We’re Out of Options”

Lola improved overnight. By the next morning, the little dog was able to stand up on her own. Karen took her home that day with physical therapy exercise recommendations and a prescription for the muscle relaxant methocarbamol.

Pickles, though, was in worse shape, according to Dr. Kakacheva.

“Pickles was tachycardic, which means she had a high heart rate,” she says. The unstoppable shaking was taking its toll on Pickles’ body.

The toxicology expert Dr. Kakacheva consulted recommended medication to slow the heart rate as well as an infusion of lipids (fats) directly into Pickles’ blood stream to try to capture some of the toxins. Dr. Kakacheva administered both treatments, and they helped, but not enough.

“Pickles was breathing too fast, so deeply, and she was weak and exhausted,” she says. “Something didn’t feel right.”

Pickles suddenly went limp as her heart rate dropped dangerously low, then quickly stopped. The emergency team jumped into action, administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and medication to get the little dog’s heart pumping again. In a few minutes, her heart was beating, but Pickles’ breathing was “short and shallow,” according to Dr. Kakacheva. The emergency-room machine was breathing for the dog.

“We called Karen and told her she should come down,” she says. Pickles’ prognosis for a good outcome was getting worse.

“I told Karen, ‘We’re out of options, short of keeping her on a ventilator with no guarantee of recovery,’” she says. “We needed to consider euthanasia.”

The Unprecedented Close Call

Karen remembers the scene: “Pickles was ready, lying on the table, with two needles next to her”—the first injection to make her more comfortable and the second to put her to sleep.

The next moment was powerful for Karen, as she leaned in and cradled the dog. She didn’t want to let go of Pickles forever, but she wanted to do the kind thing.

“I whispered in her ear, ‘This is gonna kill all of us, but God has a plan that I don’t understand, and I have to accept it.’”

Karen says Dr. Kakacheva was very sweet, helping Karen think through what to do.

“I asked her, ‘What would you do if it was your dog?’” Karen says. “She said she wouldn’t let her dog suffer. I felt the same way.”

Suddenly, Pickles’ eyes started twitching, and she slowly opened them. Within a few minutes, she lifted her head and, with the breathing tube still down her throat, was looking at her owner. She had barely moved for hours before that moment.

When Pickles started chewing on her breathing tube, Dr. Kakacheva rushed over to remove it. The emergency veterinarian calls it the closest call—with an animal fighting back from the brink of death—she’s seen so far.

Pickles stayed one more night, receiving more oxygen as well as more fluids and dextrose intravenously to help with low blood sugar. An X-ray showed some bruising of the lungs, typical of the chest compressions involved in CPR, but no other significant injury.

When Pickles was sent home, Karen left with antibiotics, an appetite stimulant, and special at-home instructions. Karen remembers that Dr. Kakacheva warned her that Pickles might not get back to full health for a long time, if ever: “She said she might have tremors for the rest of her life, and I said I could live with that.”

“It Was a Miracle for Us”

“It’s a toxin,” Dr. Kakacheva explains, “that, if it gets through your system, you could get back to normal.” And Pickles, remarkably enough, did just that.

By the end of the first night home, Karen says Pickles was up and walking to her favorite sleeping spot under the bed. The next morning, she ate and walked around a little more. By that second night, she was mostly back to normal.

Dr. Kakacheva asked Karen to bring Pickles back for a physical exam so she could see for herself how the dog was doing and to make sure everything was okay. The entire hospital team was excited to see the little miracle dog, according to Karen.

Karen is grateful for the happy outcome. Pickles was a dog that her two sons had received from Karen’s mom seven years before. Karen’s mom has since passed away, so Pickles is a connection to Grandma for the family.

“Pickles is the dog she gave my sons for Christmas,” Karen says. “And it’s no question, it was a miracle for us.”

If your pet is shaking uncontrollably, call your veterinarian immediately. VCA has hundreds of emergency hospitals across the country, ready to help when you need them. Find the nearest one to you here.