Don’t Give Up Too Soon
Every pet owner is different, and each of us has a different level of tolerance for our pets’ illnesses and infirmities.
I take great pride that, in addition to extensive formal continuing education, I still try to learn something new every day.
Through the process of our Pearl’s illness, near-death experience and eventual passing, I was amazed at her staying power. Of course, she was getting the best possible renal failure care, starting from the time of her diagnosis, long before she was symptomatic. At the time of her sudden worsening, we realized that she was near the end. That fear seemed to be confirmed by her loss of appetite and generally extreme lethargy. However, thanks to a ton of TLC, Pearl had another ten weeks. While they weren’t the best days of her life, she never suffered and her nubby little tail wagged until the very last day.
What I learned was that our concept of “the end” may sometimes run ahead of reality.
As advanced as modern medicine is, we still don’t have a test for how long a patient will last, and prognosing “the end” remains inexact.
The point of today’s stories directly impacts the decision of euthanasia. While we don’t want to prolong our pets’ lives for selfish reasons, and we don’t want them to experience suffering, we also don’t want to cheat them or us out of life we could enjoy together.
We had a similar experience with our Peyton. When he was first diagnosed with liver damage, the internist (board-certified internal medicine specialist) said he might have a year and a half. He lived two and one half years.
We shouldn’t underestimate the will to live.
Late one evening I was seeing Snow, a beautiful white German Shepherd I’d treated for many years. She was ill, weak, could barely stand and I was convinced that she would not survive the night. Tears in all our eyes, I encouraged her owner to let her go so that she would not suffer in her passing. He considered my recommendation, but just couldn’t bring himself to let her go right then. I called the next day, and Snow was hanging on. She lasted a month from the night I didn’t think she could make it 12 hours.
Yesterday I saw Annie, a precious little Schnauzer. She’s three months shy of 16 years old. Nine months ago Annie fell ill. We treated her aggressively and, after some hospitalization, thought she was well. Upon dismissal, she walked toward the door to leave, and collapsed. As it was close to our closing time, her owners and I loaded up and went to the emergency hospital so that she could have overnight care and monitoring.
Additional diagnostic procedures were performed, then we sent her to the Louisiana Veterinary Referral Center (LVRC) nearby referral center the next morning. There, the specialists found a very unusual abscess near her urinary bladder. Several ultrasound-guided treatments later she was good-to-go and has thrived for the last nine months.
Today she is back at LVRC with a disk problem, and we believe she will overcome this challenge, too.
Sometimes, it is painfully (literally) obvious that a pet’s “time” has come. That happened this week with Nicki. A combination of liver disease and arthritis took him from a lively 14-year-old to age 15 and severely declining health. I last saw him a month ago, clearly in decline. When he could no longer walk, his owners, too, knew that it was “time.”
A signal such as that is nothing short of a blessing from Heaven. Regular readers remember that our Martha stopped eating, then, inexplicably, lasted another full month with no distress.
Until, right at bedtime on her final night, she began to shiver and exhibit weakness.
That was the sign we needed to know that she was ready to let go. And, we did.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.