My dog is suffering
February 18, 2006 9:15 PM   Subscribe

When is enough, enough regarding a 7 year old dog with deteriorating spinal pain?

My dog is part lab and part beagle. The body of a beagle and the appetite of a lab. Has been obese as a result for most all of her 7 years of life. A week ago she started acting like she was in pain, walking gingerly and doing all the things dogs do when they hurt. Took her to the vet on Monday. The vet gave her a shot of pain killer and steroids and sent her home with Prednisone and Robaxin with a diagnosis of cervical slipped disk. Things did not get better the rest of the week. Finally, on Friday the vet took her in and placed her under general anesthesia to take xrays. The xrays revealed a reduction in the vertebral space between her last cervical spine and her first thoracic spine. Looked like there was some spinal bone contact but I could not see any bulging.

Ok, so she's hurting real bad, screaming occasionally, not eating, moving, the works. The vet says if things do not improve by early next week then "more aggressive" treatments will be necessary. They eluded to a spinal fusion ultimately. We added Tylenol with codeine today and it seems to help her not appear to suffer, less panting or screaming but she is definately snowed, not eating and not wanting to be messed with.

Spinal fusion sounds painful and not a long term solution since it has been speculated that her body is going to always be prone to spinal problems. The other problem is that this is turning out to be a financial gusher and, if a surgical procedure is not going to really help, cure, or prevent this from occuring, is it worth it? Is 7 yrs old considered "young" for this in your experience? Is euthenizing her a realistic option or am I jumping the gun? I would rather give her the chair rather than see her continue to suffer...or is surgery going to be worth my while?
posted by SparkyPine to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
I think the title of your post gave away the answer.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:49 PM on February 18, 2006

i grew up on a farm, one of the saddest moments of my life is when my dog got a bad skin disorder and my father took her out back and shot her(she was in constant pain and had chewn most of her fur off). we were very poor and just couldnt afford to keep a (very) old dog alive with expensive treatments. it is cruel to keep a dog alive that is in great pain, but if you have the money to spend and dont care about the cost then try and save the dog, however dont try to keep the dog around just because you love it a lot, try to think about its best interest.
posted by stilgar at 10:05 PM on February 18, 2006

If the dog's pain is unmanageable in a way which does not interfere with her enjoyment of life, you have only one decision to make, and that's whether you have the vet come to your house, or you take the dog to the vet.

Dog age is a very difficult thing to ascertain, because it very much depends on the dog's breed and general health. And the dog's age is very much secondary to the issues of quality of life, and what doing major surgery will buy you in this case (financially, this could easily be a very large investment for an uncertain outcome). The only person who can really help you with the latter issues is your vet. But ultimately, you need to remember that it is FAR worse to let an animal suffer than it is to humanely euthanize them a tad bit too early. And if your dog is screaming in pain, unable to perform the basic tasks of daily living which are often essential to a dog's mental and physical wellbeing, and there does not seem to be any indication that this is a temporary situation, the animal is suffering.

I suspect your mind might be nearly made up and you just need someone to tell you that it's okay to euthanize your dog. It's okay to euthanize your dog. In fact, it's your duty to do so if she is suffering. Part of being a good pet owner is accepting that there often comes a time when the ONLY responsible, loving and right thing to do is euthanasia.
posted by biscotti at 10:22 PM on February 18, 2006

I have an 11 year old greyhound who underwent surgery and chemotherapy and came through totally in the clear against all the odds. I talked about it here.

It was very expensive (about $3k all told) but worth it. I had just adopted him at age 10, three weeks before he was diagnosed with cancer. Had I put him down I would never have known the best dog on the planet. I can't even imagine how it must be for you who have had her all her life.

Thyroid cancer isn't a spinal problem, and I don't know much about your dog's condition, what surgery would entail or how much it would be. I don't know what you should do, but I wanted to share my own success story about beating the odds, to give you a little hope in case you decide that going forward with treatment is worth it.
posted by Meredith at 10:28 PM on February 18, 2006

The body of a beagle and the appetite of a lab. Has been obese as a result for most all of her 7 years of life.

This is bothering me in a general sense. We have total and complete control over our dogs' food intake and activity levels. I say this for general education purposes, because I see obese dogs nearly every single day: people should remember that a dog's appetite should not be the arbiter of how much the dog eats, the dog's condition and activity level should be the only things which dictate how much the dog eats. Dogs get fat because we make them fat, not because of their breed, appetite or anything else.

You should not blame yourself for the situation your dog is in, and I am very sorry that you're finding yourself in it at this relatively early stage in your dog's life. Yes, there are definitely success stories out there should you wish to try and treat this (and you should certainly discuss this in detail with your vet if you are considering it), but the impression I have from your post is that treatment may be beyond your financial means and/or uncertain enough in prognosis as to make it the wrong choice for you, and you should most definitely not feel that you have to put this dog through surgery, nor should you feel that euthanizing her is the wrong thing to do.
posted by biscotti at 10:42 PM on February 18, 2006

Ok, so she's hurting real bad, screaming occasionally

If the above doesn't qualify, what kind of behavior *would* be reason enough to move her out of her pain? Lots of bleeding? You probably won't get that in this case. Maybe a more constant level of screaming? Even if you do decide to prolong things with surgery, you should still think about what sort of signals you'd take as signs that she's moved into a new stage of her illness - one that required her to be helped along towards some kind of peaceful end.
posted by mediareport at 10:50 PM on February 18, 2006

Hmm. I'm so sorry for you. I wish my wife was around, as she could probably give you some real information about the risk/reward analysis on spinal fusion for your dog. If the decision is still waiting to be made in about 18 hrs, email me or post again to this question and I'll get her expert opinion.

That said, living with a Vet Tech has taught me that when it comes to euthanizing a suffering animal, it is very rare to regret doing it too early, but all too common to regret doing it too late. I'll also add that veterinary orthopedic surgery is VERY expensive, very hard on the animal, and often requires further surgeries or other follow-up care down the road, and if you are already having doubts about your financial situation, the news is not likely to get better.

If the pain can be abated temporarily, I'd advise giving it a few more days to get a second opinion (preferably from an orthopedic specialist), just to make sure you have as much information to base your decision on as possible. Good luck.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:59 PM on February 18, 2006

My 10-11 year old yellow labrador was diagnosed with a case of spinal stenosis. It's obvious that he's in pain, because he'll walk with a wicked limp on his front right paw.

Our doctor has prescribed him Rocephin, which we're finding is working great for pain management. He seems happy, seldom pants endlessly and never moans or cries (though his threshold for pain has always been very high—he once caught a fish hook in his paw, and simply licked my father's face as he pulled it out backwards, against the barbs).

He also runs around, plays fetch, and wags his tail regularly. In short, he doesn't appear to be suffering at all.

That is, unless we miss a doseage. He starts limping a lot more, falling occasionally, and panting like crazy. He'll not lay down at all and not know what to do with the back pain.

This is all by way of saying at the very least, consider a second opinion and ask about Rocephin (although note there are risks associated with taking it in some dogs.)

Good luck, but if you come to the conclusion that you need to euthanize, read this before you do so.
posted by disillusioned at 11:24 PM on February 18, 2006

Enough is enough when you feel it is enough. Let your own gut instincts lead you in this, not pressure from a peer group.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:32 PM on February 18, 2006

I second the advice to get a second opinion. Also, my parents' Pekingese had really bad back/spinal trouble when she was 5 (not related to obesity). The doctor recommended surgery. My mother found out about a pet chiropractor, and 6 months later, our dog was much better. Even the vet was surprised, and it was a lot less invasive and expensive than spinal surgery.

While the dog won't be climbing up stairs or jumping on couches anytime soon, she is able to run around the first floor of their house and is back to her old self.
posted by bluefly at 9:21 AM on February 19, 2006

I think taking extreme measures to prolong the life of a pet can be selfish and cruel. I don't know exactly where I would draw the line but I think spinal surgery is further than I would go.

I had an English Mastiff who had some spinal problems at the end of his life. When the problem first showed up I had to take him to the animal emergency center because his vet wasn't open. The emergency center people gave him some medication but it didn't do anything for his pain. I took him to his regular vet the next day thinking I was probably going to have to have him put to sleep. His pain hadn't improved and all he had done all night was pace and pant. Neither of us had slept a wink. We get to the vet's, vet gives him a couple of shots and "miraculously" his pain ceased within no more than 15 minutes. My point here is that I would definitely look for a second opinion before taking any extreme measures.

My heart goes out to both you and your dog. It's tortuous to watch such innocent, loving animals suffer.
posted by Carbolic at 9:42 AM on February 19, 2006

Side note--Disillunsioned--Rocephin is an antibiotic, are you sure it's being used for pain or for an infection that is causing pain?
posted by 6:1 at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2006

ugh, just reading these responses is making me cry.
Like carbolic said, a good second opinion asap.
Like almost everyone is saying, don't prolong the animals pain at all if it looks like the problem can't be fixed.It hurts a lot, but our psychological comfort in having them alive is no trade-off for a pets physical pain.In regard to your dogs age, unfortunately it doesn't have much bearing on the situation...when something happens, be it accident or illness, it happens irregardless of the pets actual age...animals can be in pain whether they're 7 or 17, so don't let it color your decision too much.and as a probably very hokey sounding aside, I lost a beloved dog to a long term illness a few years ago. After a little time had passed, I realized that as much as I loved him, that shouldn't stop me from providing a loving home for another animal that would otherwise be without one. I adopted two homeless kittens and now they're the light of my life. I often feel that a little of his spirit has found its way into them, or at the very least, he kind of guided me to them and is happy they're here. So, if the situation calls for putting your dog to sleep, don't forget, there are a lot of potential new little friends out there who really need your love and help.and of course my thoughts and best wishes to both of you right now.
posted by BillBishop at 10:45 AM on February 19, 2006

7 is not very old for a beagle/lab mix. That said, there are times when the kindest thing you can do is euthanasia, and if your dog is in that kind of pain, it may be all that can be done. And my heart goes out to you. However. This is my story.

5 years ago my then 10 year old shepherd mix had a spinal problem: he was out playing in the snow when suddenly he couldn't walk. A disc had deteriorated - it sounds pretty much like what you're going through. The local vets couldn't do anything so I ended up taking him to the UTenn vet clinic in Knoxville, a 2 hour drive, for spinal fusion surgery. No guarantees, and it costs the earth (and I do mean the earth, my life savings & I had to borrow) but that year my son had lost both his grandparents and, essentially, his stepfather (I had broken up with a long term live in boyfriend) and we had moved 550 miles away, so I was absolutely damned if I was going to let his dog die too.

Well, it took a while, but Toby recovered completely, and while he was never the same leap a 10 foot fence dog he had been in his youth, he got around fine. As he got older he had other problems (arthritis & Cushings specifically) and 4 years later I did have to make the very, very hard decision to let him go, but I have never regretted the money, the time, or anything else, because those 4 years were worth it, for all of us.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:54 AM on February 19, 2006

I won't be marking any "best answers" on this thread. The fact that you guys took the time to offer your experiences makes them all good.

Thanks for your input.
posted by SparkyPine at 11:18 AM on February 19, 2006

Good Christ.
RIMADYL is my dog's drug. Rocephin was what I had injected for pnuemonia. Into me.

Ask about RIMADYL. Thanks, 6:1
posted by disillusioned at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2006

No problem disillusioned. :-)
posted by 6:1 at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2006

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