Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rough Days

We have three dogs:
  • Leah: a 13 year old, spotted, mix breed.
  • Danno: an 8 year old, Siberian Husky.
  • Skookie: an 8-ish year old, Shepard mix, who moved into our house because it was better than her previous home.  Really.
Skookie is in good health as far as we can tell.

Leah, being quite a bit older, has been panting a fair bit for a long time.  Even when it is cool and she's been doing nothing.  She doesn't always pant, but it definitely happens more than should be required.

And something like four or five weeks ago, Danno, our big Siberian Husky started showing unexplained pain on occasion. He would just stop what he was doing and start howling like he was being stabbed. Huskies aren't notoriously stoic about pain, so we didn't take this too seriously in general, but we always went looking for a cause and never found one.

As it happens, we had plans to go out of town for a week to see family, and the dogs were going to be kenneled while we were away.  We decided to take them to the vet to be sure they were OK before we left, rather than deal with surprises while we were gone.

Sometimes it seems it is better not to know.

Leah's panting is almost certainly something called Laryngeal Paralysis.  As some dogs age the larynx gets stiffer and won't open easily to let air in and out of the lungs.  These dogs have to work harder to breathe over time, and thus pant a lot.  The diagnostic tip is to listen for a deep resonation while they are panting, and Leah has that.  The actual diagnostic requires sedating the dog and observing the larynx at work, but we aren't doing that to her just to confirm a diagnosis.

This condition is essentially fatal, but it takes a long time.  Leah could have months or years left with us, and is in no immediate danger.  The only available treatment is to tie half the larynx open surgically, which makes breathing easier, but can allow them to aspirate things into the lungs.  Pneumonia is a relatively common result, and our vet says she probably wouldn't do that surgery on her own dogs.

So we let Leah's situation play out.  We have to keep her walks short and keep her out of the sun, though, because she has a hard time cooling off given this condition.  Otherwise, we wait and keep her happy.  She's in good shape and still has plenty of energy, so nothing here is all that urgent.

Danno's situation is much, much worse.

Sparing you all the diagnostic details, it turns out he has cancer.  Probably two tumors, one affecting the neck and another the brain.  The impact of these tumors hit so hard and so quickly that we were stunned.

Just a couple of days before we were to leave town, Danno was unable to drink any liquid.  He'd just cough up a bunch of clear, viscous, phlegm after each drink.  He was dehydrating as a result, and he wasn't eating either.  His right eye was turned in - something called Horner's Syndrome - and the right side of his face collapsed in as well.

But two days of overnight care with IV fluids, antibiotics, and (most importantly) prednisone helped quite a bit.  He could eat and drink again, and while none of that was going to fix the underlying problem, his quality of life was back to the point that he was enjoying things again.

We discussed surgery, but decided it is not an option.  Given the expected location of the tumors, they would not be fully removable, which means they would just grow back, and quickly.  Recovery would be long and painful - for a dog that actually screams when he stubs his toe - and the specialist vet told us that even after all that, he might live another six months.  The cost for all of this proposed treatment was astronomical as well, but that wasn't what made up our minds.  I wouldn't want that kind of treatment for myself given the probable outcome, and we won't do it to Danno either.

As I said above, prednisone gave relief from the pain and let him drink and eat again, to the point that we went on our scheduled trip.  We came back late on Friday, and picked all our puppies up from the kennel on Saturday morning.

Skookie and Leah are as they were - though Skookie really wants her big, white friend to play with her again.

Danno was as good as could be expected, but is clearly on a relatively quick decline.  Despite the prednisone, he is still coughing up phlegm regularly after a few days, losing weight, and some coordination.  I fear he has only days - perhaps a week or two - left with us, before we have to make the final choice.

These things are always hard - awful, in fact - but we've had great times with our 85 pound furball.  He's brought joy - and an overwhelming amount of hair - into our lives, hearts, and home.  We watch over him carefully, doing our best to make him happy and comfortable, knowing it is our responsibility to keep him from suffering.

In some ways, these are dark days in our home, but Danno is still with us.  He still loves laying at our feet, begging for most any vegetable that we're cooking with or eating, and being petted as much as possible.

And we remember all the good times he has given us: the unconditional love and trust,  the need to lick everyone's nose just to show he's completely submissive, and the complete friendliness towards every human and dog he's ever met.

The vets all tell us he has an unusual disposition for a Husky.  Apparently some members of that breed aren't all that nice.  Danno is amazingly friendly, even now in his decline, and no matter what happens I will always think of him as our canine ambassador of good will.

The last chapter isn't written yet, but there isn't that much time before it is.  He's asleep behind my chair as I write this, and even now I smile when I look at him.

You're not a good dog, Danno.  You're a great dog.  And you always will be.