Cruising with a Dog Sum It Up Sunday

Sum It Up Sunday: Caring for a Geriatric Dog

Sunday, February 02, 2014S.V. CAMBRIA

Sally walking along West Beach, Calvert Island.

Having a dog aboard can be challenging.  Having a 17 year-old dog, even more so.  And this has been our most challenging season.

It started back in August while we were cruising the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  Sally got really sick one night and we weren’t able to put her back on regular dog food without a similar effect.  She was fine as long as we fed her chicken and rice, so we waited until we got back to Washington to take her to the vet. 

Sally’s on a medication called Novox and has to have her blood drawn every six months to check her liver enzymes before the prescription can be refilled.  She was running low on medication, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and have her blood work done with the new vet (to be known hereafter as the WA vet).

That was our first mistake.

Her test results came back with a low T4 number (thyroid) and elevated liver enzymes, so the WA vet wanted to put her on medication to treat hypothyroidism.  GREAT!  It seemed to be the answer to all our problems (poor digestion and diarrhea can be symptoms of a low thyroid in dogs), so we started her on a course of 0.4 mg twice daily.  Normally we fax the test results to Sally’s vet in Kansas (the one we’ve been seeing off and on since she was five and prescribed her the medication in the first place), but this time we didn’t.

That was our second mistake.

I consulted with the WA vet’s office during Sally’s new treatment and felt something was wrong; but they advised me to continue with the medication, and I did.  We went back in for further testing six weeks later and her T4 numbers were high, so the WA vet decreased her dosage.  Sally was still sick but getting slightly better and we talked ourselves into trusting the WA vet – after all, we were in uncharted territory and she had been to school for this.

That was our third (and final) mistake.

After a stressful drive to Kansas for the holidays, things got worse and Sally was hopped up on thyroid medication, among other things, and a complete lunatic.  She was visibly stressed and spent more time pacing, panting and climbing the furniture than resting.  The only way we could keep her happy was to let her stay outside; but with freezing temperatures, that wasn’t always an option.  David and I took shifts at night to keep Sally as safe and as calm as possible:  She wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t eating.  And we were all at our wit’s end.  We had to do something, but we were afraid of what that something might be.

We made an appointment with her vet in Wichita and had her records from Washington faxed over.  The first thing Dr. Bogue’s told us was to take Sally off the thyroid medication . . . immediately.  Her numbers weren’t that low to begin with and could easily have been caused by an anomaly or Giardia (which Sally was also treated for along the way) – he would not have prescribed it for her without further testing.

From there, things have improved.  But we still have a long way to go. 

Since this all started, Sally has lost 15% of her body weight and dropped down to a shocking 35.2 pounds from an average of 42.  We’ve been working hard to change that and with a lot of time and effort, she gained 1.5 pounds back in four weeks.  There’s no question that it’s a difficult process and that we still have a long way to go, but we feel like we’re finally winning the battle . . . or at least that we’re not being beaten so badly.  But before we left Wichita, she still wasn’t sleeping properly and had one of us up, literally, all night long.    

We felt we needed to get her home, back in her own environment, to see what’s really going on.  She did well on the drive but, sadly, her late night pacing continues, which means we’re down to two possibilities:  She’s in pain.  Or she has Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.  We re-introduced Tramadol to her regimen to see if that helps and will wait a few more days to give her time to settle back in – there’s still a chance that Sally (in all her stubbornness) is just being Sally and has acquired some bad habits over the last two months. But if not, it’s time to start treatment for CDS, something we discussed with Dr. Bogue before we left Wichita, and see where we go from there.

So how do you care for a geriatric dog on or off a boat? 

We have absolutely no idea.  I wish we did, but we don’t.  All I can honestly tell you is that it’s a difficult time for us and for Sally.  We feel completely overwhelmed, frustrated and helpless.  But we’re doing everything we can to help her feel better – some things have worked, while other have been a complete failure.  Still, we’re optimistic.  Sally has just been through the worst four months of her life and the fact that she’s still with us says a lot about her resolve.

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  1. Oh and your bad habits. I love my dogs so much but sometimes they just don't know what is best for them. I hope that all is well with her! :)