Thursday, July 23, 2015

The End

We're entering uncharted territory. Now that we have vaccines and antibiotics for infectious diseases, and fences and leashes to prevent injuries, dogs can live well into their senior years, just like humans. We have veterinary cardiologists and oncologists to treat their ailments. We've pushed the envelope so far that dogs are living to unprecedented ages, and we are entering into forms of senior care we've never seen previously. I've outlined how I've raised Fletcher, who is well over 16 years old. I call him and my other patients who are over 15 or so, "super seniors". Just like their human centenarian counterparts, they come with unique needs.

Just before I went on maternity leave, I ran bloodwork on Fletcher, which was normal. His most recent cardiologist visit showed no progression of his heart murmur. He has been blessed with good care and good genes. This year he has shown a lot of signs of slowing down and we began to think this was going to be his last year. As my pregnancy advanced towards spring, Eric would jokingly say, in Fletcher's voice, 'Hurry up and have that baby, so I can die." He really did seem to see like he was holding on until the baby came.

Fletcher comforted me and stuck close by me during early labor, then watched me disappear to the hospital. Eric came home at intervals to take care of the dogs, and reported that Fletcher seemed to be looking for me. When I arrived home a day and half later with my new baby in tow, I went in to greet the dogs first and assure them I was ok. The younger dogs danced around me, and I pushed past a wagging Fletcher to drop my bag on the counter. "Say hi to Fletcher!" Eric scolded. "He was worried about you."

After Sarah was born, Fletcher seemed to get a second wind and perked up. When we moved to our new house six weeks later, he galloped around the yard, and seemed to say "I think I'll stick around for a while yet." So I was very surprised when, 10 days into the move, he had a bad night. He vomited his dinner and seemed agitated. By 10pm, he lay down and seemed listless. Since he was not in distress, I left him alone. There was no more I was going to do to interfere if he was dying on his own. I stroked him, the dog I have had for literally half my life, until he seemed settled, then whispered in his ear through tears "If you need to go, you can go. I'll be ok now."

At 3am, he woke up and his heart was pounding in his chest, and his stomach felt hard. I worried about
GDV, and decided to take him to Vancouver Animal Emergency Clinic. I loaded the baby in her carseat and lifted Fletcher into the car. When we arrived, Fletcher's heart rate was a pounding 170 beats per minute, but he had perked up a bit. The doctor on the case worked him up, and suggested the same treatment plan I had thought up (always good to know someone agrees with your assessment). X-rays would tell us if it was something serious, like GDV or a tumor, in which case I knew I would euthanize him immediately, rather than attempt treatment. While we waited, I took some photos of us together.
I call this one Not Our Last Selfie
X-rays revealed gravel in his intestines, likely from eating mud in the new yard. Most of it had made it to the colon and would pass on its own. In the meantime, we treated him with an anti-nausea injection and an injection of narcotic pain control. We drove back across the Lions Gate Bridge as the sun rose, and the 3 of us headed back to bed. Fletcher slept most of the day, and by the afternoon he was up and drinking low sodium chicken broth. I made him homecooked food, which I put through the food processor, but within a week he was back to eating Happy Dogs with the other dogs. He spends most of his days lounging around, with the occasional energy burst around the yard, and even some short jaunts along the trail behind our house.

Fletcher and his human sister
How do you know when it's time to say goodbye? There a lot of factors for both animals and owners. Is there pain that can't be treated? Is there still some joy in their daily life? Has caring for them become too much strain for the family? Do the bad moments outnumber or outweigh the good? In Fletcher's case, I was ready to let him go if he was in immediate pain that I couldn't treat. Going forward, as long as he can do his daily activities (eating, sleeping, yard time) I will continue to support his needs and keep him going.
Two weeks after his near death experience, I posted a video of him tearing around the yard after the two younger dogs; proof that old age is not a disease.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tiki's Scent Recognition Test

Yesterday, I took Tiki through a Scent Recognition Test, hosted by Dogs On Source who we have been taking nose work classes through. Tiki was introduced to odor in November, and so far has learned to detect wintergreen. This is a test where she has to tell me which box has the odor in it.

At the start line, when did her little face and legs become so grey??

Just in the last week, she has starting working the boxes in order, checking each one.
Teek has just realized the wintergreen is in the next box, and isn't going to waste her time on this one!

WINTERGREEN! Tiki has found the correct box and she lets me know by her interest in the box (she usually smashes it).

I stand beside the box and announce "alert" to let the judge know we have found the correct box. Once we're confirmed as correct, Tiki gets a food reward.
Tiki found the odor in 10.12 seconds! I'm very proud of how far she has come in a such a short time. We will continue to work on our skills together in this fun sport!

Nose work is great for dogs of all ages, especially dogs with reduced mobility, as it does not require much physical activity, yet the dogs get a great mental workout. It also helps boost the confidence of shy dogs. If you are interested in learning to do this with your dog, check out the classes available through Dogs On Source