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What caused liver fracture?

Species: Dog
Breed: Pitbull mix
Age: 1-2 years
We fostered an abused, rescue dog in January of 2012 to May 2012 when she died suddenly of a ruptured liver. After spending enormous amounts of time undoing the damage someone else did, loving this dog completely and gaining her trust, we are dealing with the horror of guilt and blame for her death. We left town and arranged for two friends to take care of her and walk her. On the day we came back, it was extremely hot, she went for two long walks each with the different walker, even though she wasn't a fan of long walks. That night when we returned, we witnessed her fall down stairs (which was weird, but didn't think it injured her), she didn't eat much (but we didn't think anything of it because it was so hot) and the next morning when we woke, she was dead in her crate. The vet for the rescue said she had two ruptures in her liver, which could only be from blunt trauma - they believe either she was kicked or hit by a car. This is devastating news to us, as either one of the dog walkers kicked her, or she ran out in front of a car with them, or the trauma from the fall down the stairs, possibly onto a sharp metal object could be the culprit. There has been a wave of dogs dying from squirrel poison here in Chicago, and we thought that might have been it before the vet did the autopsy. What has been most devastating, is that some people in the rescue believe there was foul play involved and we are to blame. I am desperately searching for answers. It feels wrong to blame the dog walkers, when they insist they took good care of her and we have NO reason to suspect they would otherwise. We are about to adopt another dog, and I am searching the internet for whether squirrel poison can rupture a liver. The only fact we have is that she was abused before we got her, and now we are suspect of abusing her, which is the strangest irony. I just would like a second opinion, which is difficult without the autopsy I know, but the trauma for me has subsided enough that I feel brave enough to try and find the answers again. Losing a pet is sad enough, but being blamed for her death is something I don't think we will ever recover from. Thanks for your help.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm so sorry to hear of this sad situation.

In 13 years of practice I only ever recall having one dog with a ruptured liver. This dog was hit by a car and had very serious injuries.

If the liver was ruptured, then there had to be some kind of trauma. Usually the trauma has to be very dramatic in order to rupture the liver. However, there is another possible explanation.

You mentioned that someone has been poisoning squirrels in your area. As far as I am aware, there is no specific poison for squirrels. It seems that what is being used in Chicago is actually rat poison. The way that rat poisons work is by making it so that the blood cannot clot. Then, rats (or squirrels) that eat the poison will die because of internal blood loss. These poisons are usually either warfarin or coumarin based.

If Sally had ingested some of the poison then it would mean that any type of trauma that causes even slight abdominal bleeding could be fatal. It is conceivably possible that the liver was damaged with the fall down the stairs. It is also possible that that fall was caused by a poison. If rat poison was ingested there could have been internal bleeding which caused weakness leading to the fall. If the liver was damaged by the fall, then a normal dog that hadn't ingested poison may have been able to repair it without anyone ever knowing that there was an injury. But, if a dog that had eaten rat poison had an injury to the liver then it would be very likely to be fatal.

Another thing to think of as well is that if someone had kicked Sally, causing her liver to rupture, it would have to be a very very hard kick and there definitely would be significant signs of bruising on her body.

Ultimately we will never know what happened. It is horrible that people may be blaming you. You know that you have given Sally the best of care. It sounds like she had a wonderful family.

I am so sorry for your loss.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.