Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Caring for a senior companion animal

Note: This is another one of those very personal posts.

Mike and I returned home from vacation to our senior companion animal Rock, a 16 1/2 year old Yorkie who in the time we were gone went from being old and not in great shape to being old and in bad shape and not being able to walk.

We all get to this point. Some more often than others. Mike and I certainly have been here before.

As Rock has gotten older he has lost a good portion of his sight and a lot of his hearing (although his hearing always returns when there is food or a treat involved!). He doesn't like going outside to pee as it's a long walk for an old dog with short legs, so he gets out of bed and pees in the hallway or the living room or the kitchen. He can't jump up on anything and gets uncomfortable easy. He never sleeps through the night and one or both of us are up two to three times during the night to take him out and love on him.

It can be exhausting. And we would do so much more.

His attitude and personality and appetite are all at 100%.

His back and legs are not. Upon return from vacation we took him to the vet and began the conversation around what we can do, and more distressingly for us, when nothing else can be done. After a long exam with our trusted vet and some x-rays, we decided to change the meds Rock is on and to invite another vet who does acupuncture and laser treatment for dogs and cats in a similar condition to our home. Yes, she does house visits!

More importantly, and very difficult for us but so critical for Rock, we decided that if the med change and acupuncture did not work within a week or so, and that Rock could still not walk or get up on his own, that we would do what we believe would be best for Rock and have him euthanized.

The emotions in just writing about this are huge and uncomfortable and in a sense tragic. Rock has been part of Mike's life for over 16 years and part of mine for almost 10. He is our family. He is my little schmeagle beagle.

The day after the vet visit and the change in meds the vet who does acupuncture and laser treatment came over. The treatments lasted an hour. She really impressed Mike and the treatments seemed to help Rock right away, at least in making him more comfortable in his own body.

Two days later Rock has been able to stand outside to do his thing, and has walked from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom. He is definitely showing signs of being in less pain, and we are cautiously optimistic. Not for ten more years with him, but a life with him that is one day at a time and includes him being in little or no pain with the ability to walk and go to the bathroom on his own.

Thank you so much for reading this post. I will keep you all updated as we continue this process.


18 comments:

  1. The most difficult part of our animal companionship is the decisions that come at the end . I'm caring for my 16 year old cattle dog mix. It's hard to judge "is today too much for her?". But like you, it's a journey that we owe her, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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    1. Thank you Maria. Sending love to all of you.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. My partner and I are facing this with our 14 year old Beagle. Some dementia has set in and it's heartbreaking. I love on him more because I know it's just one day at a time.

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    1. Thanks so much Rick. Thinking of all of you with love.

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  3. Rock is so fortunate to have such loving dads. I hope he continues to improve. If you don't mind sharing the name of the vet who does home treatments...we have a 14 year old Malti-Poo who is in a similar situation.

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    1. Thank you. Her name is Dr. Nancy Tharpe. I am trying to find her number and will get back to you.

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  4. I'm glad to hear the treatment worked for Rock. It's really hard when our animal friends get old... they get there so much faster than us.

    And it's good to hear that you two wouldn't let him linger and suffer. That's, to me, a proof of the love and respect you have for him. He's a lucky dog.

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  5. I empathize. My oldest cat, Orko, is 15 and has horrible arthritis (and luxating patellas and the start of kidney disease). He's on daily pain medications because without it he lashes out on the other cats. That was the only way we knew what pain he was in other than his back leg going out every once in a while. But this is it - there are one or two pain meds we can give him but it just means his pain is managed for now. When his arthritis deteriorates and he can no longer walk, I will be in a very similar position. I know it doesn't matter how long he's been with me (13 years) because no matter how long you've known an animal, this kind of decision always always sucks.

    My heart is with you two, doing what you can for him and what is best for him one day at a time. I know it is hard to always live in that gray area and stay present - and know when things turn on a dime, you will need to be present to respond to it. And ready. For him. Even if you're not really ready. That takes such a big heart to show up for. I wish every animal out there had guardians like you two. Having loving guardians present and showing up for them, doing what's best for them. Sending healing thoughts his way and love and courage your way. xoxo

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  6. Thanks Jesse. I sure do love you.

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  7. It is so hard isn't it? But I wouldn't trade the short time I have with my fur babies for anything. I have an 18 year old cat who is deaf and senile. He is as old as my marriage and has been a part of my family since he was 7 weeks old. I don't want to think about him not being here. No matter how hard it is I will do right by him and make the hard decisions when they need to be made. I know you will too. Thank you for sharing Rock's story. I hope he is as pain free as possible for as long as possible.

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  8. Guys, my heart goes out to you both in this painful time. It is so hard to know when it's "time" so I am so glad your vet is helping you know when that time arrives. When my partner and I moved in together, he had two cats and so did I. Merging our households was a challenge, and the cats tolerated each other but barely. Over the years we lost one, then another and in 2007 the last of the four had passed over that Rainbow Bridge. My husband swore we'd never have another cat because the pain was too great, those last months of a pets life too heartbreaking and expensive. But then a year or so after we got our Daisy, and our hearts opened and rejoiced again. I will keep you all in my thoughts during my Metta meditations today. (((Hugs))) to you all.

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  9. What a moving story. I will keep you all in my thoughts. I have a very soft spot for yorkies. When my yorkie Chandler hit 9 he started having occasional shoulder problems. We bought a ramp to help him get on/off the couch and once he got the hang of it, it made a big difference. But still after lots of walking he would hold up his left leg. We tried accupuncture, but it only gave minimal relieft. At 13, it got really bad and had a specialist check him out. Basically his shoulder was shit at this point. Rather than surgery we found a brace for him to wear that would keep his shoulder aligned. It took a few days for him to accept it, but he was soon running again with no problems.

    I recall the first time I noticed his hearing was going. He used to be waiting at the door when I came home (he would hear the keys in the door). That first time I walked in and he was still asleep was hard (but not horrible once I confirmed that he was just deeply sleeping). I asked my vet about it and she told me that as dogs get old, they actually turn their hearing off when they sleep so the get better rest. If you asked if he wanted a cookie or to go for a walk, he was immediately ready though. He was like Rock, selectively hard of hearing.

    Sadly just after his 14th birthday we found our he had malignant oral melanoma. He had surgery and was on the mend when it came back. He may have been little, but he was a fighter. I told him daily how much loved him and that if it ever got to be too much for him to let me know. When it was time, he told me. He kept me from having to make the decision. I took him to the vet and even she said, "this isn't Chandler anymore." I got the honor of holding my arms and kissing him goodbye as he took his final breath. You can read my full blog about at http://chandlersuch.blogspot.com/

    I wish you all the best. Just take it one take at a time. Cherish the good ones and hope the bad ones aren't too bad.

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  10. Providing pain relief and any available care is something that should be done for one's companion animals.

    However, I do have a difficult question - as one who subscribes to a vegan lifestyle, is it appropriate to euthanise one's companion animals? Is it ethically consistent?

    I am not sure about this aspect myself - I recently lost my cat of nearly 18 years whose health was quite poor due to FIV about 2 months but before I could take him to the vet for care, he disappeared and sadly I have not been able to find him. So I do not know what I would have done in relation to euthanasia. My first instinct is to say No to it but I am interested in what you might say about this.

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  11. Hey Danny. Thanks so much for reading the blog post and writing a note! The question is easy, based on why I am vegan, which is to do the least harm possible. Once one of our companion animals life is filled with more pain/discomfort than joy, I deifnitely believe that euthanasia is a match to my beliefs and the value I have for them as living beings.

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  12. I can empathize. We lost our calico girl in March at only 11.5yrs old, and she had been with us since my son was 3. In her case, it was an extremely rare, untreatable illness (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in her lungs), so we took each day one day at a time and were blessed with about 5 months of her love before we had to make that tough call. I'm glad you are able to provide treatments that are helping. It's never easy saying goodbye, and we want to make sure we're making the best decisions for our companions, not just ourselves. Wishing you many days of Rock at 100%.

    (Oh, and also a vegan household.)

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  13. Rock is so fortunate to have the two of you. I was wondering if you've considered a wheel chair for him. My first dog suffered from a neuropathy that affected his hind legs. He had an Eddie's Wheels for the last 8 months of his life. Putting him to sleep was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'll keep you in my thoughts.

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