more pupdate, more where i've been

I hate being away from wmtc for so long! Between Tala and my mom's visit, it's been quite the week.

Yesterday we went back to the OVC in Guelph for a consult with a neurologist. He feels the most likely diagnosis is degenerative disc disease, which secondarily is causing compression on spinal nerves.

This confirms the earlier diagnosis from the orthopedist, and adds information. The specialists always caution that a completely accurate diagnosis is impossible without an MRI, but this is where everything is pointing. They did some x-rays and it turns out there is already some deterioration in Tala's spine. The condition has been building silently, likely for years. (I believe a wmtc reader, also a member of the JoS community, has a dog with the same condition.)

We haven't made any decisions yet about surgery. If the risks were lower and the results higher, we wouldn't let the $6,000 (!) price tag stop us. After all, what are retirement savings for? But the surgery isn't a cure. Surgery might produce great results for a few years, then the condition would return. Or, horribly, surgery might make it worse, through a build-up of scar tissue. The surgery is risky and recovery is massive: six months in a crate, only being brought outside for bathroom needs.

For now we're going to try medical management, with drugs that target nerve pain, and a very gradual increase in her activity - meaning, from none to a few minutes a day, tiny steps, over a long period of time.

I'm very sad about this, and still reeling inside. It's hard to believe my little girl, so full of energy and sparkle, will be subdued and restrained for the rest of her life.

* * * *

Other than that... my mom's stay has been great. Her surprise birthday present was a day trip to Stratford. We had lunch with our friends Eric and Kelly of Across the Bridge B&B, walked around the town and by the river a bit, and saw "The Merry Wives of Windsor". (That was the only possibility for a matinee on the day we wanted.) The production was all right, not awful but not great, the weakest we've seen at Stratford so far. Janet Wright of "Corner Gas" fame plays Mistress Quickly. She's also playing Ma Joad in an adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath this season. #MostImportantThing: My mother had an amazing time and was thrilled with the whole day. That's what I was going for!

Monday, Guelph. Tuesday, Mom arrives. Wednesday, Stratford. Thursday, Guelph. My mom leaves this morning; Allan will drop her at the airport on his way to work. At least I get a day off before my work weekend. Whew.


Amy said...

That is so sad about Tala. I know you sort of knew this was coming, but that doesn't make the reality any better. I am not sure it helps, but remember that dogs cannot see the future and just live in the moment. Tala may be confused by the restrictions, but she will always know she is surrounded by love and will be happy to be with her people and Diego, even with restrictions.

Glad your mom was there and had a good trip.

laura k said...

Thank you, Amy. I need reminding and it definitely helps.

Every time Allan drives off to the dog park with only Diego, it's going to break my heart. But Tala will probably get over it sooner than I will.

Marie Hobblin said...

Yes, too. I went through something similar with our pet dwarf bunny, Truffaut. We chose to fight to the end, but in retrospect I'm not sure if that was the best for her. The end was very sad, even traumatizing, and she suffered. This happened seven years ago. I still can't summon the courage to get another pet.

laura k said...

NSS, that's very sad about Truffaut, I'm sorry for your loss.

We have been through many serious illnesses with many dogs. We are certainly in it for the long haul, although we do believe in our responsibility to end an animal's suffering at the appropriate time. That's not in the equation at this point, thank dog!

I hope you do take the plunge and get another animal. They're so worth it.

Stephanie said...

So sorry to hear this news about Tala. There is great comfort knowing she found you and Allan and that she will be well cared for.

I think Amy said it best. There is great healing power in love and Tala will deal with restrictions and whatever other daily inconveniences arise as she needs to.

But ultimately being in the company of her humans and Diego is the best reward for her, I am sure.

laura k said...

Thank you, Stephanie. Much appreciated.



johngoldfine said...

Laura--our situation with Boca is different: a younger dog, a more sure diagnosis (MRI), a much cheaper surgery, and a projected much-easier convalesence.

Six months in a crate would be impossible for us to imagine sustaining.

She's had a couple of relapses since the surgery two years ago--so far controlled with Tramadol and Prednisone.

This isn't a learning experience or a test of character. It's just one fucking thing after another, watching her health every day and hoping that we can all continue to find the rich pleasure and happiness in each other's existence that we daily do.

She's a dog, we love her, she's going to die probably sooner than we will, just like most dogs die--but knowing the odds, the realities, and the lessons of the past offers us no great succor in the present.

laura k said...

I would NEVER suggest that the illness of a loved one is a learning experience or a test of character or anything of that nature. And I'm guaranteed to reject the platitudes of anyone who does.

John, I'm very curious why you've been told (presumably) about less expensive surgery with a less prolonged recovery.

Also, the reason we haven't done the MRI is only because if we do opt for surgery at any point, the MRI would have to be repeated. At a minimum of $1000 and possibly as high as $1800, we have to wait on that. But they are as certain as they can be that it is disc disease.

johngoldfine said...

Originally, Laura, I'd written something like, "As I know you know, this isn't a learning experience or a test of character," but that first bit sounded a bit cocksure and smug and I'm wary about ascribing things to people... but I did know you knew.

Originally X-rays had convinced our vet that there was some problem in Boca's neck. But the specialist he recommended in southern Maine had a different opinion--a leaking disc lower in her spine--, which the MRI confirmed. The surgery repaired the affected disc, and other than normal convalesence for the surgical incision and general warnings about overdoing it, nothing was said about prolonged inactivity.

Second time, though, a year later and and another MRI, a different story. Instead of a disc problem of unknown origin, we had a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease and stringent warnings about exertion.

I've written you about this before: the things we could do to stop her, for example, from jumping up on furniture. And the things that, for us, seemed not worth doing: extensive crate confinement as an example.

The second specialist vet made it clear that Boca could not expect to live the 15 years I take as reasonable for a dog, so we have to look for a balance between her life prolonged without pleasure and a happier life shortened because we were insufficiently cautious with her.

Putting it a different way: Jean and I agree that if Boca isn't happy, she's nothing, and the only way we know to have her happy is to take some risks that a vet, concerned only with extending life, might not advise.

With the second breakdown, diagnosis, and MRI last year, Jean and I went through exactly the weighing and balancing and calculating of risk you and Allan are going through. We decided against a second surgery at that time and so far, with only one recurrence of pain and need for Prednisone, have been lucky.

God knows there is no bright line to follow.

laura k said...

Thanks, John. You're very considerated to be so catious.

We absolutely agree that merely extending life is not the goal. I believe the specialists and vets were dealing with are all about quality of life, too.

I would never want Tala to merely exist, unhappy, in order to continue her life. But I can't easily derive an equation of happiness vs restrictions, because of one factor: pain. If we allowed Tala to do what she will - unrestrained running and playing - she will be in terrible pain. And with each flare-up, the nerve will be more compressed and take longer to decompress. We have to somehow balance out a quality life with as pain-free a life as possible.

Six months of cage rest, and then another six months of gradual return to activities, sounds absolutely unthinkable to us, too. Yet if it would buy Tala 5 years of a life free of restriction and pain, I'd consider it. BUT there's a good chance it would not.

Since we always (with one exception) have had larger dogs, and since their backgrounds included early deprivation, 11-13 years is more likely for our crew. Our one smaller dog had a congenital heart condition and only lived to be about 10. :( Although she was a puppy until the last minute, then had one bad week. :) <-- It has taken me 12 years to say this.

Given all that, Tala at 6 is probably middle-aged. OTOH, up until this point she has been super high-energy, super active, thin as a rail - she seemed more like 3 than 6.

I can't bear the thought of losing her before, say, age 10 or 11. It is simply an unbearable thought at this point. But I know that we'll have to take it one step at a time and see how her pain goes.

Dharma Seeker said...

I was absolutely crushed to read this, so that is the reason I'm only weighing in now :(

Everything about this just feels wrong, the way Riley getting cancer so young felt wrong. But Riley was never like Tala. Mixed breed more often than not = healthy. Active more often than not = healthy. Being extremely well cared for doesn't guarantee health but it should stack the odds in her favour. So like you I'm having a difficult time getting my head around it.

Your friends have given you some very wise advice/reminders. Dogs do live in the present, and they don't fear death the way people sometimes do. You and A are committed to making her present as comfortable, pain-free and full of love as possible. No living creature could ask for more, and few are so blessed.

I'm here if you need anything at all.


laura k said...

DS, thank you so much. Really.

I have to say, I'm taking this kind of hard. I know in my head what you, Amy, Stephanie and other friends are saying is right, but my heart has yet to accept it.

You know, all our dogs have been mixed breeds, all have been active, even when we lived in an apartment, yet many had health problems. I think that neglect and/or abuse early in life may take its toll, just like overbreeding does in its way.

But in any case... this continues to hurt.