How should I love my dog less?
May 23, 2019 10:07 AM   Subscribe

My (female) dog has a slew of heath issues: cancer of the mammary glands, pulmonary fibrosis, congestive heart failure, liver values that are off the charts and hormonal chaos. Amazingly, she is very sprightly & lively 6 months after the vet estimated she has at most two months left to live and most of her issues seem under control. But apparently, me loving her too much wreaks havoc with her hormonal system and makes her spontaneously go into false pregnancy & triggers her mammary tumours, which are popping in and out of existence depending on whether she is lactating or not. So ... how can I love her less?

She also seems to spread sex pheromones at the same time, judging by the effect she has on other dogs.

Her current vet is the second doctor who told me that at least half of the cure for her lactation issues is for me to ‘love her less’. I left the first doctor when he told me that I should leave her outside in a garden kennel (in -15 degrees Celsius temperatures!), alone, feeding her once a day without interacting with her; he had other obvious issues himself, so I didn’t give this advice any thought.

But now my second vet is telling me that her big problem is that I love her too much, so maybe there is something to this after all? I asked what exactly he means, but he just shrugged and looked at me like I should know better or something.

My questions:

1. Is there something to this loving the dog too much idea? The ways I currently ‘love’ her: I feed her, take her for walks, talk to her occasionally (more than I talk to humans in general, but that is not hard); she sits next to me on the sofa all day long (I work from home) and follows me around if possible when I get up. She also sleeps in my bed, but we don’t touch or anything and I shush her when she snores. She doesn’t like being held, but I sometimes scratch her tummy. And that’s it.

2. If I DO love her too much for her own good – what do I need to change in the above? Should I exile her into absolute solitude?

3. She has started medication to stop her lactation (Galastop), but her teats are still filled with milk and she licks herself obsessively to the point where she is digging wounds into her skin. I tried to stop the behaviour with cold compresses, and that does seem to calm her down somewhat, but she still smacks her lips like she clearly wants to do something with her tongue. She is obviously in some discomfort and agitated. Is there more I can do to give her some comfort?

4. Given that her teats are still full, should I just let her lick herslf so that the tumours have a chance to recede (they seem to be associated with full mammary glands or something – when her lactation vanishes they also recede)? Should I try to milk her? There is a lot of milk there and I can imagine it feels awful. If I milk her/ allow her to lick herself, won’t this just keep the cycle going?

Because of her other health problems the dog cannot be operated on, either to be spayed or to have the tumours removed.

Thanks for any help with this!
posted by doggod to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I DO love her too much for her own good – what do I need to change in the above? Should I exile her into absolute solitude?

At that point her quality of life would be extremely low, basically non-existent. And it doesn't sound like it's very high to begin with. At a certain point all living things get so sick that they're really not having a good time being what they are anymore and it's not going to get better. For a dog that point is absolutely when the only cure is solitary confinement which is torture. This stuff about loving her too much sounds bizarre and I'd never go back to a vet who said something like that. Take her to another vet who can work with you to make her comfortable however you can in ways that don't involve torture.
posted by bleep at 10:19 AM on May 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

I don’t believe your dog would choose a longer life with less love.
posted by Segundus at 10:20 AM on May 23, 2019 [75 favorites]

My single data point is that I'm a middle-aged man who's been around dogs for a significant portion of his life, and I've never heard anything like this, and I think it sounds bizarre. That's not necessarily to say that it's wrong--but if a vet, or any medical person, says something that can reasonably be taken as bizarre and unheard-of, and then explains himself by shrugging and giving you a look, it might be time to go shopping for a new vet.

Also, more broadly, surely the main thing one has to do as a dog owner is love one's dog in such a way that the dog is aware of it. If a vet recommended that I maybe quit that, I would probably question his judgement. On preview, what everybody else said so far.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:21 AM on May 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

It sounds like, from the timelines you've given, what your dog needs is palliative care. For animals, just as with people, this means focusing on quality of life only: whatever a good life is for your dog, whatever will ease her suffering, give her that.

Dogs are social and so are people, less love never did any of us good. Solitary confinement will kill both people and dogs, and I think that recommendation is bizarre. Love your dog so that she can have a good life and you can say good-bye knowing you did her right.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:24 AM on May 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

"Love her less" is the strangest veterinary "advice" I've ever heard, and I wouldn't keep going to a vet who gave it. Is it possible there's some other interpretation? It's just so odd. I wouldn't withold affection from your dog--especially if she's older, unwell, and potentally in her last months of life. If anything, shower her with love and attention until it's time to help her transition out of this life.
posted by adastra at 10:27 AM on May 23, 2019 [32 favorites]

You want to request actionable advice. What specifically should you do or not do? Does the vet mean stop rubbing her tummy because it’s stimulating her mammary glands? Does he mean never ever feed her table scraps? Does he mean the walks you’re taking are too long or strenuous, even though she enjoys them?

He’s got to get specific about what that very vague advice means for your life and your dog.
posted by bilabial at 10:30 AM on May 23, 2019 [28 favorites]

The explanation given by the vet doesn’t make any sense. I have never heard of affection causing health conditions in a dog. I suggest changing vets again to someone who doesn’t do this: I asked what exactly he means, but he just shrugged and looked at me like I should know better or something. At this point just say “I need you to explain this again, in detail, because it’s my dog and I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
posted by sallybrown at 10:32 AM on May 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

How old is she?

Is she spayed? Has she had puppies? When?

Are you overfeeding her? Is she overweight?

Where are you? Is it possible for you to go to a third vet who could communicate with you better?
posted by amtho at 10:37 AM on May 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

It sounds like, from the timelines you've given, what your dog needs is palliative care.

Agreed. Losing a dog to old age / health issues is hard, non-dog-owners will never understand how very close it is to losing a family member. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of people try to keep their dog hanging around for much longer than might be humane for the dog (I am not saying you are one of these people!).

My general rule of thumb when it comes to palliative care for my dogs has been to put myself in their paws: would I want someone keeping me alive longer when I've already got cancer of the mammary glands, pulmonary fibrosis, congestive heart failure, liver values that are off the charts and hormonal chaos. And my teats hurt so much I'm licking wounds into my flesh to try to stem the pain? I'd probably want the strong pain meds for just one of those things. Definitely at the point of 2 or more.

I think you've been a great mom to this dog and the best way you can love her now is to let her go with as little physical pain for her as possible.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:41 AM on May 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is nonsense and you should ignore it and look for a new vet. What country are you in? This part:

I left the first doctor when he told me that I should leave her outside in a garden kennel (in -15 degrees Celsius temperatures!), alone, feeding her once a day without interacting with her

doesn't sound like anything any American vet would ever say to me.
posted by Automocar at 10:41 AM on May 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

I am a dog person and have been around dogs and vets my whole life, and I have never heard of a vet saying something like this - either vet's advice, frankly. This is very bizarre. As others have noted, dogs are pack animals. Given that your dog has a lot of health issues and you seem very (rightly!) focused on making her comfortable and happy until it's not possible to do that anymore, I would expect a vet to be telling you to love her MORE, not less.

Isolation is such an odd thing to suggest as a treatment for a medical issue (as opposed to a behavioral one) that I almost wonder if the vets are not communicating what they mean in a way that's easy to understand. Are they both in the same practice? Is there another veterinary practice you have access to?
posted by superfluousm at 10:45 AM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of my kids in the vet field says some vets do, under some circumstances, advise a little less love because the dog/owner relationship has become dysfunctional. She said the dogs are treated in a way that isn't good for them (allowed to sleep with and sit all day with owner, given human food, no expectation of basic doggie behavior, bad manners because the dog doesn't obey the owner, dog tries to get aggressive with anyone who comes between them and their owner) and the attachment is dysfunctional.

Considering in your case the dog is enjoying its final time on earth, she says just keep loving your dog and don't change anything. But this is definitely a thing vets will say.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:48 AM on May 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

This just seems so odd to me, especially the vagueness of the advice. Maybe rubbing her stomach is stimulating her mammary glands in some way? But the vet should have told you that.

At this point, I think what your sweet girl needs is (a) pain relief and (b) as much love as possible until it's time to go. (If (a) isn't possible, that's a strong indication it's time to go.) Not being separated from her person. Dogs aren't happy by themselves. You want to give her the happiest possible existence. (I'm dealing with a dog in my life with cancer right now and the thought of exiling him to a lonely existence til death, even if it got him a few extra weeks, is nearly bringing tears to my eyes! He would be so sad!)

I would go to a new vet and ask specifically what can be done, besides the Galastop, to make her more comfortable. That's really all I'd be worrying about.
posted by praemunire at 10:53 AM on May 23, 2019

I'm wondering if the vet was trying to hint that you're loving her too much to let her go once her quality of life becomes (perhaps has already become?) very poor.

Regardless, if the vet won't be more specific a new vet is a good idea. Please do ask a vet asap about pain relief, both short-term until the Galastop starts working and longer-term if it doesn't work. It sounds like she's certainly very uncomfortable right now, and might even be in constant pain.
posted by randomnity at 11:26 AM on May 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

Thanks so much for your replies, so glad to see my intuition confirmed.

A few more details:

I found the dog 3 years ago on a motorway; she was near death, with a huge gash in her tummy, starving, dehydrated, etc. This is what she looked like three weeks after I found her (and this is her now). She’s a bit of a patchwork dog – all vets I visited with her are confused, since different bits of her seem to be of different age. She is likely quite old, but she behaves a lot like a (fairly sedate) much younger dog.

Even now, with all her problems, you wouldn’t be able to tell that she has any issues. The only visible signs are that she coughs (honks like a goose, more like it) when she gets excited. She walks 10-15 kilometres no problems, is very playful, likes her intelligence games *and is very good at them).

She did put on quite a bit of weight since she started her medication – she is on a very low dose of prednisone for her various conditions, and this seems to have had a very positive impact, so I am loath to stop it. She eats well (and is hungry most of the time), but well within recommended limits for her size. Her fur also seems to have taken a hit from the prednisone – again, a price that seems OK given that she is doing significantly better with this treatment than she was 6 months ago.

Re. vets – I am not in the US (Eastern Europe, but I’d rather stay vague on location), but I’m getting the feeling that vets here are not great. We’ve already seen 5 vets; her first was the best but he unfortunately left, I’m on no 5 now and left the others because of lack of interest on their part/ repeated awful advice. I’d rather not leave this one, since he literally saved her so far via her treatment, and she is doing really well with the exception of these recurring lactation problems.

This is also why I have turned to Metafilter – beyond Galastop and ‘stop loving her’, I get nothing from local vets. I thought maybe there might be other ideas in the community.

Thanks again so far!
posted by doggod at 12:14 PM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Forgot to add: I've already spoken with the current vet about putting her down when the time comes. She's obviously had a really shitty life for a long time, and whilst I'd love her to stay aloive for as long as possible (she very clearly enjoys life! she's an inspiration), I want to give her as beautiful, peaceful a death as possible. I'll no doubt have some questions at that time and will probably turn to Metafilter again for that.

But for now, much to my surprise and joy, she is a dog who is very much here to stay for as long as the medication keeps her from suffering. The biggest issue impacting on her life is her recurring bouts of lactation; other than that she is far from being a dog that needs to be put down.

I'm just at my wits' end re. how to deal with this and help her be less uncomfortable.
posted by doggod at 12:21 PM on May 23, 2019


Mild cases should be given a few days of close observation before a treatment is instituted, as spontaneous remission is not uncommon especially if the bitch does not lick or suckle on herself. Stimuli for lactation such as licking, milking and the use of cold and hot packing should be avoided. A light fasting regimen for a few days may be of help, especially if the bitch's appetite is unchanged or increased during the condition; water deprivation may also be indicated, although many perceive it as non ethical, and renal function should be checked prior to instituting any water regimen. Treatment is a must whenever licking or maternal behaviour are displayed, as well as when other ancillary signs are present. Pharmacological agents used to treat pseudopregnancy in bitches include dopamine agonists and serotonin antagonists. Prolactin secretion by the lactotroph cells of the anterior pituitary gland is regulated by multiple neuro-transmitters and hormones, with the major control mechanism being the activation of prolactin-inhibiting dopaminergic neurons in the hypothalamus. Ergot alkaloids such as bromocriptine or cabergoline have a strong dopamine D2-receptor agonist activity, and thus can reduce prolactin secretion. The serotonin antagonist metergoline stimulates endogenous dopamine secretion and thus can inhibit prolactin secretion via an indirect mechanism.

Cabergoline has a slow clearance, which allows for a single oral daily administration. Furthermore, its action is longer than 48 hours due to its particularly long (minimum 48 hours) half-life at the hypophyseal level. Because of its more specific D2-type action, cabergoline presents only few side effects when used at clinical dosages. Bromocriptine mesylate inhibits PRL secretion during relatively short periods of time (half-life: ± 4-6 hours) and in a dose-dependent mode. In order to effectively inhibit PRL tone in a continuous fashion for therapeutic purposes, bromocriptine should be administered orally at least twice a day at doses of 10-50 mcg/kg (Figure 1). Its lack of specificity leads to side effects on the cardiorespiratory system, causing hypotension due to vasodilatation (adrenergic type effect), or emesis (the most common side effects, especially at doses > 20 mcg/kg) due to stimulation of the chemoreceptive trigger zone. Attempts to improve side effects by gradually increasing an initially low dose, or by pre-treating with an anti-emetic drug have proved only partially effective. Among the antiemetic drugs, metoclopramide should be avoided as it may cause PRL release in the dog. Although its effectiveness has never been questioned, bromocriptine is not approved in most countries as an anti-PRL in small animals and its extra-label use has not caught on, in spite of its world-wide availability as a human drug.

In the bitch, the anti-lactogenic action of both metergoline and cabergoline is well known; their administration for 4-5 days at pharmacological doses is effective in treating pseudopregnancy signs and reducing milk production in most bitches. Occasional failures can be dealt with by repeating the treatment protocol and extending it to 8 to 10 days, and also by using joint protocols of cabergoli+metergoline or cabergoline+bromocriptine (see Table 2 for dosages)."

from this from 2009, which I have no idea what it is, but it seems like an unlikely topic to draw random gibberish posting. Galastop is cabergoline, so it sounds like you're getting the first-line treatment for her. I do note that cold packing is considered a stimulant to lactation.

I wish you and your girl an easy time of it.
posted by praemunire at 1:18 PM on May 23, 2019

Your pup looks incredibly cute and sweet! I love all dogs but yours is definitely extra awesome! It sounds like you two have had a very wonderful three years together.

First, it sounds like the vets are doing their best but also are coming from a different perspective. It's not wrong, it's just different. A good friend from Eastern Europe who lives in the US noted that North Americans tend to treat dogs differently than people do back home in Bulgaria: there dogs are "just" dogs whereas here they're more seen as a member of the family. I think back to how we treated our dogs and cats growing up: lovingly and humanely, of course, but things have really changed in the past 30 years!

As a pet owner, I try to strike a balance between level of care ($$$) and quality of life. My go-to question is if they're in pain and are they still enjoying life? Yes, there are many interventions but often they're more invasive and painful for the pet than simply letting the go when the time comes. I had two cats born with feline leukemia: finding this out when they were three months old was so devastating (life expectancy is often under a year) but also gave me the determination to give them the best life possible (within reason.) I probably waited a little too long to put the first one down at 10 months; I was much more aware when it came time for the second dude at 3 years. The first cat's death coincided with a LTR's break up and I'll openly admit I was so much sadder about losing my kitty than losing my ex.

When I think of those pets, I don't think of their illness or their short lives but rather how wonderful they were and how lucky I was to have them in my life when I did. I was going to wait to adopt another cat but ended up leaving the shelter with a new kitty not even 36 hours later! She just turned a year old -- no health issues, thankfully -- and I miss my old kitties but also love our life together. I feel lucky! I'm not saying a new pet could ever replace your little sweetie but rather that there are many dogs that need homes and many pets you can create a life with. A friend once said it so well: we are blessed to have wonderful pets in our lives but also cursed in that their lifespan is often so short.

Five years ago, I didn't have any pets of my own. Currently I'm dogsitting for my brother and his pup is sleeping on my bed while my kitty naps on the floor. This weekend I'll be petsitting for my neighbor's two cats plus a mama cat and her five foster kittens. Talk about living the dream!! But I digress: technology and love mean we can do so much for our critters but eventually comes the time to let go, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. I'm so glad you've had a happy time with your dog and wish you much continued happiness together. When the time comes to let go, you'll just know and be ready. But it's not the end of your story together: you'll have many happy memories as well as the chance to make new happy memories with even more animals and it will be beautiful and sad as always!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:36 PM on May 23, 2019

Your dog is adorable, and I'm so sorry you're both going through this now. I'm also wondering if the vet's "love her less" was meant as, let her go now, gently, with appropriate medical intervention. Whatever you decide to do for her and your family, I wish you well.

If future-doggod chooses to adopt again, please consider spaying in those plans, as it seems to offer some health benefits. Regardless, you're the ideal, devoted pet owner, and you gave your pup a great life. First of all, you rescued her from a highway! You've shopped around for vets, to ensure she's getting the very best care. And she gets to spend most of the day beside you? That is dog paradise. There's no way you've loved her "too much," and now have to dial back.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:44 PM on May 23, 2019

Thanks a lot again.

Praemunire, that is exactly the info I was looking for. I'm going to avoid the cold compress & also not try to mil her (which I was considering, but it seems like a bad idea, so no).

Smorgasbord, you're right with this:

we are blessed to have wonderful pets in our lives but also cursed in that their lifespan is often so short.

Of couse, I knew she was quite old, but to me it feels in my bones like she is still young, since I found her fairly recently plus she is playful and devil-amy-care like a pup. My big consolation is that when I found her her life expectancy was probably less than an hour - she was a tiny, unmoving blob at night on a motorway in a snowstorm.

Iris Gambol, you are right re. spaying - my parents' female dog had similar issues with mammary tumours & false pregnancy, and they do say that spaying before their second heat, I think, is a good idea. Unfortunately, this dog cannot be operated without risk, and I don't want to put her through the trauma of an operation during which she could quite possibly die; in any case, she would be too old now. But you're right, the percentage of mammary tumours in unspayed females is quite frightening.

Thanks again, all, I'll probably be back when I have to ask the question about putting her down, so hopefully not for a long time:)
posted by doggod at 3:22 PM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Based on Praemaunire's comment above : "Stimuli for lactation such as licking, milking and the use of cold and hot packing should be avoided" can you put a cone on her to prevent her obsessive licking?
posted by vivzan at 9:41 AM on May 24, 2019

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