Saturday, June 16, 2007

Difficult Decisions

Our aging black lab continues to struggle to get up and walk, with his back legs sometimes appearing almost not to support him. Even when he is lying down, his back legs seem to be at an odd angle. For the past year he has panted a lot of the time, even in the depth of winter. We had felt fortunate thinking that he was not in pain since he never whined.

When my son Dan was home we took Dylan in to the vet’s to see if there was anything we could do for him. Dr. Cohen first told us that all that panting was his way of dealing with the pain. He also said that the problem is not necessarily in his hips, but more likely in his lower back. He prescribed a medication, but it’s not obvious that it has had a significant effect on Dylan.

This made me wonder if the weakness in his back legs is the same symptom we humans get when we have sciatica, which is usually accompanied by horrific pain.

I have always said that we will put Dylan out of his misery when he can no longer stand up and walk, thinking he had a degenerative condition that would eventually result in the inability to stand.

But then I found myself wondering if he has the equivalent of a slipped disc whether it could be repaired surgically, just as my husband’s herniated disc was removed. Finding out would of course require expensive tests, including perhaps an MRI. Could a 13-1/2-year-old dog even withstand the anesthesia for surgery? Would surgery correct the problem? How much would all of this cost? How much longer could we expect Dylan to live even if this problem were resolved?

Animals in the wild never face all of these possible interventions. They simply die when they can no longer function. But we often go to extremes for our pets, treating them as if they were family members.

Every time I see Dylan struggle to stand as he pants continuously, I want to do whatever I possibly can to make him more comfortable. But I just don’t know how far to go. Unfortunately Dylan can’t make his wishes known. He can only pant and look up at me with those big brown sad eyes.

What would you do?


Blogger Kristin said...

I think I'd cry a little and wouldn't have a clue. I've never had a pet but I'd imagine he's really a member of the family.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I think we call the Vet and see how long it takes for the meds to have an effect. Depending on the answer we can ask the vet what course of action he recommends given Dylan's age. Or, get a 2nd opinion from Dr. Farrell, my favorite vet there.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I would take him to see Dr. Kocen at South Paws (in Springfield) 703 569 0300. He's an alternative medicine vet who cured Jake (finally) of a urinary tract infection after eight weeks of antibiotics that didn't solve the problem.

Dylan is old, folding in his wings, no doubt. I would never subject such an old guy to traditional medical intervention which seems cruel (to me).

But I would give acupunture and/or herbal medicine a try at least to see if it can make him more functional or comfortable.

Dr. Kocen is great.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Aileen said...

Wow this a tough one. I can't offer advice- but I can offer empathy. I'm sorry you're having to go through this.

9:19 AM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

This was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to face, myself.I just know that the day my golden retriever could not go outside to relieve himself by himself was the day I made the decision.
He seemed to be doing o.k. for awhile and did not seem to be in any pain. But that ONE day I knew I could not face him going through ANY pain or indignity-shall I say.

Was it the right decision? I don't know.
Would he have lived another year or 5 years? I don't know.
I just know I did not want to see him in even the least amount of pain. He was also 13 at the time. And dog's that size don't usually live to be too much older (I don't think). I would have done anything the vet said to keep him, but, eventually he said the treatment and the pain would be too much.

I love having dogs (I have two now) But putting them down is so heartbreaking- I've had to do it 3 times now.
But, I will always have dogs. They're worth the eventual sadness of losing them.

My heart goes out to you, David and Dylan. It's not easy.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thanks for all of your ideas and support. Ironically when I came down this morning to greet the dogs, Dylan did his little dance that he used to do, albeit a little more slowly, so this is a tough dog that is not down for the count yet. I think I will pursue the alternative care vet Reya mentioned. Quality of life for both people and animals is just as important as longevity. (I hope someone thinks about me this way when I get to be 95!)

12:16 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I would do what is reasonable. Medication is one way of dealing with pain. Intervention is another.

From your description, it sounds like intervention would be the more traumatic experience for Dylan.

So I would go with trying to make him as comfortable as possible, but without taking heroic efforts to preserve his life.

(On the other hand, he is not my dog and I have no emotional attachment to him whatsoever.)

3:08 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

It sounds like he's still enjoying many aspecys of life, like seeing you every morning. I wouldn't put him down yet. I'd wait until his quality of life is much more drastically reduced...meanwhile try to make him more comfortable. see Reya's vet too.

5:04 PM  

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