Category Archives: Shaky Dog

Owen has crossed the Rainbow Bridge

Two weeks ago I helped Owen cross the Rainbow Bridge.  He suddenly developed peripheral vestibular syndrome and the world was spinning around him.  He lost his ability to walk, he stopped eating, he was disoriented, and while there was a chance he could recover, recovery would involve him being hospitalized to start, and a lot of rehabilitation.  With his other conditions (hip dysplasia, arthritis, degenerative myelopathy and Cushing’s) Owen’s vet felt very strongly that his quality of life would be diminished to the point that he would likely be suffering.   But more importantly when you tied all his issues together and looked at them, it seemed very likely there was a brain tumor causing them all.  I agreed it was time to say good-bye.  Below is the e-mail I sent to the group I volunteer with, the group that brought me Owen.

Meanwhile, I will continue to share Owen’s Bucket List – remembering him and all we have done together still makes me smile.

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Words I always knew I would have to type someday, but it doesn’t make it easier.  Forgive the novel, but it is Owen’s story, and I just need to share it for those who didn’t know him, or us.
I still remember Owen at his first clinic.  He sat in the corner with David, Maria and Erica, so unresponsive and sick he went back into the van.  I told you all not to send him home with me then and there.  The next clinic he was with Bryan, so shut down you had to pet him a few times before he would notice.  That was the clinic I brought him home – that is completely David’s fault.  I stopped for a cheeseburger for him on the way home and he refused to eat it.  Granted, he refused to eat hamburgers for a while and the joke was that he heard he was a hamburger intake and wasn’t going to fall for it, because he knew what it meant.  It took him a year to learn to enjoy cheeseburgers.
Owen has been a fighter from the day I got him, and well before that.  How he managed to survive as a stray I have no idea, and don’t really want to know, but this dog continually amazed me with his independence, and heart.  I suspect he would have gone on fighting if I let him, but, I had to make a decision.  A long time ago I promised Owen I would not let him suffer, and he was suffering.  Owen came down with peripheral vestibular syndrome, and the likely cause was a tumor.  While there was a chance it was idiopathic and he could rebound, it would require hospitalization, and his balance would always be compromised, and with his other health issues it was likely life would be a struggle.  His life was already starting to be a struggle – he had been wanting to go on shorter walks, he wasn’t rolling over for his daily belly rub as easily, and he was panting more and more.  Plus, the vestibular syndrome was getting worse, not better, and that is not usual, and not a good sign.  Yesterday Owen didn’t want my help getting up even though the world was spinning, today, he let me help him.  That is not Owen.  Dr. DeVries initially had me come in to talk about treatment, but when he saw “Handsome,” he told me if this was his dog, he would not ask him to go through treatment, and I had to agree.  So today I told Owen he could stop fighting, because he wouldn’t have on his own.  He went to the bridge with his head resting in my hands.  As hard as it was, it felt right, and Dr. DeVries agreed, we’re both glad I gave it a few days to be sure.
Owen had major mobility issues from day one, hip dysplasia, arthritis, ACL issues and later degenerative myelopathy – on top of all his allergy and digestion stuff, and then the Cushing’s.  When his vet told me Owen had probably lived most of his life in pain and didn’t know life could be less painful, I broke down, and promised Owen that was going to change.  I always knew my time with Owen would be limited so I created a bucket list for him.  He and I did a lot together – he hiked many trails, got his CGC and touched a lot of hearts – as the neighbor told me last week, you can just look at him and know he is a good dog – he was.  He visited the kids I work with, he adored my Grandfather, and he was Aaron’s first dog (and he set a high standard).  And he taught me oh so much – I thanked him for all of that.  The only dog I’ve worked with that was returned from a placement for being too good.  But even when he was returned because the adopter felt she didn’t deserve him I fought the inevitable for a bit and didn’t accept what Owen knew from the start – we belonged together.
I am attaching some pictures, because it is me, and I have to.  The first is his picture from NYC.  One with his buddy Kate who we saw at the vet’s yesterday for his final visit, which I do not think was a cosmic coincidence, then two in the Adirondacks, one from my parents house a few months ago, and then one from just two weeks ago of him surveying his yard, along with a few of my favorite face shots.
Thank you for pulling him from NYC, even though I thought you were crazy at the time for bringing up one more emaciated senior shepherd.  He got his cheeseburger, but thankfully his life did not end there.  And , I kept my promise – he got lots and lots of belly rubs.
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One Day at a Time . . .

Every day I worry this will be the day my dog will not be able to get up, this will be the day his back end gives out completely, and every day my dog struggles, but still manages to come out ahead.  He may slip and fall, he may wobble, he may shake.  But he still gets excited when it is time for a walk, and he still tries to spin in circles, and he still tries to forge ahead on the leash.  He is still living life, and I am trying to help him enjoy that life.

Living with a dog with mobility issues is exhausting.  Going for a walk is not just putting on his leash and making sure I have a poop bag anymore.  It is putting on his boots, strapping on his harness, getting him into a cart, and then making sure he does not try to pee on a tree and tip the cart over (because he will!).  Then we get home and I have to unstrap him and take off the harness, and the boots, and follow him into the living room making sure he does not tumble before he gets to the carpet.  I put medicine on the scrapes on his feet, and give him his medicine.  And make sure he got water and is comfortable.  I am tired, and I miss the days of grabbing a leash and going, but if he can do it, so can I.

Sunday Dinner with Owen

Now that the family is dog-less, Owen has been coming to Sunday dinner.

He has been enjoying the time at his grandparent’s.

And enjoying the chance to wander a yard, without a leash.

It is nice having a dog in the old house again, even if he is just visiting.

Owen’s Bucket List – Steak

Owen is a lucky dog, and not jut because he lives with me.

He also lives with the boyfriend, and the boyfriend, unlike me, eats meat.  Owen loves the boyfriend.  He especially loves the boyfriend when the boyfriend finds an old T-Bones in the freezer and decides they are too old for him to eat, but still okay for the dog.

Owen was moving so fast he was a blur on camera.

So I took video.

One item more item off the bucket list!

Gabapentin, because sometimes opiods are just not enough.

Sigh.

So, Owen has hip dysplasia.  Owen also has arthritis.  Both common in German Shepherds, and typically enough for one dog to handle.  Well, Owen also has a narrowing of his spinal cord.  Now, I cannot really lie, I try to forget that part of his diagnosis.  Why?  Because that is the part that says that Owen not only has two orthopedic conditions that cause pain and will eventually make him unable to walk, he also probably has neural degeneration.  This is a condition common in German Shepherds, but since Owen is not a purebred you would think he could avoid it?  Nope, double whammy.  Triple whammy?  Either way Owen loses, but do not tell him, he likes to stay positive.

Owen added meloxicam to his regime, and he improved, but his back leg continued to shake.  Could it be the Cushing’s?  Possibly.  Could it be arthritis?  Possibly.  Could it be neurological pain or general unstableness?  Possibly.  Enter Gabapentin.

When the vet mentioned gabapentin I flinched.  I knew of it for two reasons, seizures, and a pain killer for dogs dealing with cancer.  Pretty heavy stuff, and I was wondering why, with all Owen is on, did we need something that strong.

It turns out that the meloxicam deals with inflammation, the tramadol deals with pain, but the gabapentin deals with neurological pain, a different type from arthritis.  The type that comes with neurological degeneration, although it helps with the other type of pain too.  Basically it blocks the neurons from perceiving pain.  I immediately had a vision of Owen on House as a patient who cannot feel pain and burns themselves in the shower.

As a medication that can be used to treat seizures gabapentin is something to take seriously.  If Owen ever wandered more then 20 feet from me I would make a medical tag for him alerting people that he was on it.  It is something you cannot stop suddenly and I am, as always careful to keep to the medication schedule.  It can make you drowsy, or dizzy, or trigger seizures or upset the stomach.  Owen also cannot drive while on gabapentin, this has put a real cramp in his social life since he hates taking the bus.

I was warned it can be quite pricey, $60 a month for a dog Owen’s size (around 65 pounds).  I thought hard before adding it to the mix but the vet said he really thought it would help, so, credit card in hand I headed to the Target pharmacy.  I have to say I love the staff their, they gave me the discount they typically give to the uninsured and I was able to get it for $12 a month – score!

So far, so good.  Thankfully Owen did not show any symptoms, and took it right in stride, as long as I stick it in liverwurst.  I am incredibly grateful that it does not need to be given with food so I can give it first thing in the morning, with all the supplements, whether or not he eats breakfast.  It allows me to push the tramadol later into the morning so I can stagger the pain killers, making sure they are not all wearing off at the same time.  Gabapentin certainly seems to help, and I am glad to have it in the mix.

Meloxicam, aka Metacam I can afford!

So, remember when I said I could not afford Metacam to try it?  Well, turns out I can afford meloxicam, aka generic Metacam.

I discovered the existence of meloxicam when bringing Owen into the vet for his increased water intake.  I saw a new vet and she mentioned (thanks to an increase in Owen’s weight) he was almost big enough to take the human version of Metacam, meloxicam.  Say what?  There is a human version?

Turns out that in dogs 75 pounds they can take meloxicam, Owen had just hit 69 pounds (and is now 71!).  The vet said it could be a bit inexact but very affordable,  I was game.

Since Owen had such a strong reaction to Rimadyl we started slow, with Metacam, and weaned him on.  I was increasing the dose every four days and he was doing really well on it.  So we tried meloxicam, 1/2 of a 7.5 mg pill a day.

Did I mention it is only $4 a month?  Yup, $4.  Heck, I could lose half the pill trying to cut it into the right size and I don’t think I would mind.  Comparing it to the price of Metacam made me really hate the drug industry, but, moving on.

It is very, very small, and Owen takes half.  I was a little intimidated in trying to break it but the pill splitter works like a charm and it is easy to sneak in with the rest of the supplements.  Best of all I have not seen any adverse side effects, but I did see results.

Owen immediately seemed a bit less stiff, and more eager for walks.  I do nick a bit of the tip off since he is not quite 75 pounds, but with his recent weight gain (even though I’m trying to take the weight off him for the sake of his old bones!) I probably should not be bothering.

The side effects of meloxicam are the same of any NSAID, but it is typically the easiest on the liver and the best accepted.  Owen is a picky eater so I do have to make sure he has eaten his breakfast before I give it to him since it should be taken on a full stomach, but, if he does not eat, I just do not give it.  Thankfully his appetite has been good and I have not had to worry much.  I would highly recommend it, and wish Metacam were more affordable because it clearly works.

Cushings, and why I am letting it be.

At the end of the summer Owen was drinking a lot of water.  I let it go for a month, thinking it was hot out and he may just be thirsty, but I watched, and I worried.

I knew he was old, he has always been old.  I knew increased water intake could be many things, and none of them were good.  But I waited, hoping it would pass.  It did not pass, and he soon started peeing large amounts, large dilute amounts.  And he needed to pee more frequently.   Then I started to find “leaks.”  Little wet spots when he got up from his bed, or off the couch.  I knew we needed to see the vet and planned to call, but was better about getting him out before bed and first thing in the morning, put some waterproof pads under his bed, and the leaks stopped.  Then I came home one day and discovered his bed soaked through, and a very anxious Owen.  My boy had wet the bed.  I was worried, not because he had an accident, but because he had an accident while sleeping.  We went in to see the vet with urine sample in hand.

The urine sample came back inconclusive, it was too dilute to get any information.  So we did blood work, and waited, and then we had to go in for a follow-up appointment.  That is when I got news I did not want to hear.

Owen had increased liver levels, and increased cholesterol – two indicators of Cushings.  Now, I can pretend Owen had not been developing a pot belly, and I can pretend that his hair had not gotten a bit thinner, but, I cannot pretend the blood work was wrong.  I will admit I panicked, I knew the medications for Cushings were expensive, and had many side-effects.  And I knew the testing to confirm Cushings was not cheap.  And I knew Owen could only handle so many conditions before I had to accept it was time to let go.  I cried in the vet’s office, it was not the first time and it will not be the last.

I did not see my regular vet for this visit, he was out of town and a young, eager, and talented vet who I have a lot of respect for took care of me and Owen.  She listed all the tests, and the possible treatments, and sent me home.  She wanted to take it head on and was full of ideas.  I was overwhelmed, and not sure what to do.  In a move that never helps when one is overwhelmed, I went online and did a lot of research.  I looked into dog walkers, and supplements.  I checked my credit card balances and bank balances and tried to set limits on how much I could pursue.  And I waited for the call from Owen’s vet.

I have only known my vet for two years, but he knows me, he knows me well.  He knows I need answers, and I will do what needs to be done for my pets.  He asked me what I was thinking and I said I was worried about the side-effects of the medications.  And he told me he was to, and that he often left senior dogs untreated for Cushings.  I then asked about testing, and he told me he was not going to let me do it.  He did not think pursuing treatment for Owen was worthwhile, and that if we tested to confirm Cushings, it would not change our course of action.  We would still continue working on pain management and supportive care for Owen.  He knew it was not what I wanted to hear, I wanted to know the problem and fix it, but he also knew it was right for my dog.

So that is where we are.  I put Owen on a food with a lower amount of protein (Nutrisource Large Breed Grain Free Lamb), I am giving him Milk Thistle for his liver, and I am giving him a lot of love, because, I have to accept that our time together is limited.  His liver is still enlarged, but he is not peeing as much, or drinking as much water, so I will be grateful for small victories.  I could put him on a low-protein food designed for liver health, but if he does not like it, what is the point?  My vet told me that it would add a few days to our life together, and he would rather see Owen enjoy his meals.  I love my vet, I love Owen.

I do not love watching my dog grow old, but I do love trying to make each day count.