Otto is still here

A lot of old dogs have good days and bad days, and even good weeks and bad weeks.

119

Last week, I was 100% sure I would be having Otto euthanized at today’s appointment with a veterinarian who provides hospice and home-euthanasia services. I won’t beat around the bush; he’s still with us.

There was one important difference between last week and this: The “heat dome” that has kept California roasting for over a week finally broke, and temperatures dropped all the way down into the 80s, a welcome relief from a week with daily highs over 110°F. As dawn broke this morning, we even got a little spotty rain – bizarre for this area and this time of year, but welcome just the same.

As I said in my last post, Otto has never liked heat, and as an old guy, set in his ways, he was super grumpy about not being able to lay in his damp, shady sandbox outside. He didn’t want to be kept indoors (protected from the heat); he wanted to be outside, but outside was just awful! So he was extra miserable.

The veterinarian who came to my home today was impressed by Otto’s insistence at joining the scrum of dogs to greet her at my home-office door, even as young Boone and middle-aged Woody were knocking into him in their effusive greetings. She also was impressed by his intense interest in the treats I gave her to introduce herself to him. He’s also completely continent, in contrast to many of her other patients. Apparently, a lot of the dogs she sees in this type of practice are much closer to the end before their owners call her in, to the point where they won’t get up to greet someone, aren’t eating much, and are in diapers.

That made me feel a little bad; was I being over-anxious, pulling the trigger too soon? Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been at the deathbed of loved ones – humans – who were in hospice care as well as those who were unable to receive hospice care for some reason; I just don’t want anyone I love to suffer before death. I’ve seen deathbed suffering; it’s ugly and unnecessary.

The doctor put some of my fears at ease. We discussed Otto’s panting, which I have interpreted as a symptom of pain and anxiety. She agreed that pain and anxiety could be a factor in his almost non-stop panting, but said something I’ve never heard before, that a lot of old dogs have enlarged livers (as I have been told Otto also has) and that as the liver enlarges, it pushes up against the diaphragm, and requires a little more forceful breathing.

She agreed that his front paws and elbows appear to be paining him quite a bit, and she could see how he has altered his posture to compensate, but thought that the amount of difficulty he shows in getting up from laying down is not too bad. As skinny as his thighs feel to me now, she thought his muscle tone was decent, given his age.

She also made me feel a bit better about the panic I was in last week. She said that a lot of old dogs have good days and bad days, and even good weeks and bad weeks, but that she often sees old dogs who look like they are death’s door bounce back when minor issues are addressed – and that the heat of last week was just pushing him past his ability to tolerate his chronic arthritic discomfort.

We reviewed his medications; he’s currently on omeprazole (for acid reflux), Galliprant (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), and Tramadol (a synthetic opioid). She suggested I add gabapentin back into the mix. I have had him on gabapentin before, for many months while he was also being given the Galliprant, but I could not say I ever saw any difference in either his discomfort or sleeping patterns when he was on it. But she thought the third medication might complement the Galliprant and Tramadol together, so I’ll give that a try again.

dogs swimming in lake
Two big fires are burning in northern California, and though one is about 60 miles away and the other is about 150 miles from here, the air quality in the entire Sacramento Valley was awful at the end of last week. That’s the sun going down in the reddish-brown haze over our evening wading and swimming session. ©Nancy Kerns | The Whole Dog Journal

All in all, even though he seemed so much better today than he did last week, I’m so glad I brought this vet in for this examination and consultation. Given Otto’s lifelong aversion to slippery floors and most dogs’ apprehension to going to a vet’s office, it’s understandable that when I take him to see one of his regular vets, he always looks worse than he does as home, wide-eyed, trembling, and shaky. A month ago, I brought him to see his internal medicine doctor, and she seemed more dubious about his ability to go on than even I was last week. This morning, on his home turf, Otto seemed, for the most part, like a creaky, limpy, lumpy version of his usual unfailingly well-mannered and friendly self – if a little more unselfconscious about begging for treats than he ever used to be. Now this veterinarian will have an idea about his current baseline – where he is now, and what “too much” might look like. And I got some reassurance that I’m not doing to wrong thing by trying to keep him around at least a little longer.

A final note: Thank you all for your comments with support and advice. I read and appreciate every single one. I feel truly honored to be able to share my magnificent Otto with you, and I am grateful for your care and feeling for him more than I can possibly say.

119 COMMENTS

  1. So glad that the weather is giving Otto some more comfortable days and that you found the special vet to visit him at home.
    We have a special local vet that only visits for end of life decisions and service. She is wonderful and perfect for that particular job. We had to say good-bye to our sweet Madison over a year ago and Dr. Rebecca made it a better experience for all of us. A loved and loving pet should be able to cross the rainbow bridge from home with family if possible, rather than in a strange building, on a cold metal table.
    Lucky Otto to have you as his mama!

  2. Saying prayers for you both. I am so happy that Otto has made a bit of a comeback (as have we all) after that awful heat last week. You are a wonderful and caring pet parent and I so appreciate you sharing your story with us. It will give me strength to look at all the options when it’s our time. You have informed and helped so many with your diligence and care. Thank you for your posts.

  3. I’m so happy for you and Otto to spend more time together. What a difficult decision to have to make on behalf of a beloved friend. I know you’ll do the right thing when the time is right, my heart goes out to you both♥️♥️

  4. Glad you will have more time with your old guy. I’m reading your posts about Otto regularly as I’m in the same situation with my Pyrenees/cattle dog mix, 14 1/2, with good and not so good days. Still more good than bad. Unfortunately, we don’t have a vet who will come to the house and she is traumatized by vet visits, so we’re mostly going it without that support.

  5. Nancy, it warms my heart to read your latest article about Otto. You see, I just lost my baby dog Dexter (Toy Manchester Terrier) quite unexpectedly even though he too was an older (a few months shy of 13) dog had several medical conditions that he has been battling for many years. I love that you will get to spend some more time with Otto. I hope you cherish every moment with him as you never know when it will be the last. I had hoped to have a few more years with Dexter and it breaks my heart that he had to go through that end of life agony in his last few moments of life. Now I just hope he is happy and healthy at the rainbow bridge waiting for the one day that we meet again, this time forever.

  6. Being able to see how you and Otto are working through these massive end of life questions is an amazing gift you are giving us. We rarely have the honor of seeing how someone else deals with such big and deeply personal decisions. Thank you. I’ve lost two of my beloved dogs and one I did well (focused on his needs) and one I didn’t do so well (focused on my loss). And both decisions were made alone. It’s hard alone. Bringing in the hospice vet is brilliant and I will do the same when the time comes. You and all of your dogs are in my thoughts as you move forward.

    • Well said! I was just thinking what a gift her writing is for those who have to go through this. It IS hard alone, and there will always be regrets and “if onlys”, but we always make our decisions out of love. Thanks, Nancy, and Sharon. Happy Days, Otto! Sending lots of love.

  7. We have a mobile vet who see’s Miss Sara at home where she is most happy and not stressed as she is afraid of everything. Miss Sara is a rescue so we have no info on her health but Dr M did a great job of working with us so Sara has a quality life. I would tell everyone about home health care for their animals when you think it is nearing their time. We are so very happy to hear about Otto and hope you have a long time to love on him. Treasure every day with him.

  8. Within the last five years, I had to put my two beloved Beardies down for different reasons: lupoid onchodystophy for my male and scabies for my female. In both cases, while they were otherwise healthy and both had bounced back from fairly serious medical conditions, independent of one another, I made the decision that their quality of life was not what they deserved. Brother and sister from different litters, they were my very best friends. “I” made a selfish decision to put them down (a year apart in their mid teens) based on my perception that 90 days of treatment by the vets was not helping. You are doing the right thing for you and your beloved Otto. While deeply painful for “me,” I know I my heart they are chasing sheep in some infinite meadow as they deserve. When the time is right, you will know. Best to you and Otto.

  9. I am in a similar situation w/Farfel my 15 year old cocker spaniel. He has good days and not so good days. Severe arthritis in his back legs and spine. Gets acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments. Plus supplements. Has lost a tremendous amt of weight. I call him my bag of bones. Getting him to eat is a challenge. I make something different every day. He no longer wants to go to the dog park. Has some dementia at night. Sleeps till noon. Interesting point about the panting. I could go on will stop now. Thank u for posting about Otto.

  10. My old dog Joey was also in misery because of that awful heat we were suffering through…and while we’re all incredibly grateful the heat has broken, the smoke from the big fires hasn’t. I have to wonder how much the smoke is affecting our dogs’ lungs: when the AQI gurus designate our air as “Unhealthy” or even “Hazardous,” they tell us humans to avoid going outside…but our dogs don’t have that choice.

    Many prayers for you and sweet Otto…I know you’ll cherish every second with him.

  11. Always love reading your articles. This one touches my heart! I am a long time dog owner and lover, Have experienced just what you are writing about more occasions than I wanted. I always find another beautiful friend or two to sit at my side because the rewards of their friendship are remarkable. Otto has a true companion and friend. He will be at peace knowing you were there for him. Bless both of you.

  12. I am so happy for more time for you and magnificent Otto. I appreciate you sharing details from your vets visit and observations. We all want to do right by our beloved pets and making this decision is highly unnatural and unbidden for us humans. Observation, assessment and anecdotes from others helps clarify so we can make a good decision for these souls we love so dearly. Thank you Karen.

  13. I am from Minnesota and I certainly have been thinking about you… Very hard to loose a pet. One of your previous posts made me want to reach out and didn’t, but now I am. Years ago we had a Norwegian Elk Hound. She was very much a family dog and lived to the age of 12. But before we had to send her to puppy heaven, she would sit by the bed at night and pant right in my ear, continually. I would get up with her and take her outside, but that isn’t what she wanted. So I would sit at the kitchen counter and she would fall so sound asleep by my feet that she would snore away. Took me a bit of time but realized what the problem was, she couldn’t hear much anymore and it bothered her to not be able to protect us at night so she wanted me up so she could sleep. Her way of getting us to know that was to continually pant in our face so we would take over… When a dog cares they really care!! Thinking of you with Otto and look forward to your messages.

  14. Dear Nancy,
    I’ve been a subscriber to WDJ for a long time and have followed Otto from the start. He is just spectacular and always looks like he’s got a lot to say. I really appreciate your blog about his ups and downs – it’s been a few years since I’ve been on the rollercoaster, but it all comes back when I hear someone going through it w their beloveds. I know that the sharing of these experiences during this time is so very helpful to others who might be going through something similar and the support that you receive when you share is equally powerful. You are not only giving Otto the best care but looking beyond to make sure you haven’t missed anything. I can’t tell you how happy I am for hearing that Otto is not only still with us but that he still has some sass. Thank you for sharing with all of us who feel like we know you and him.

  15. You are a good Mom! He is a lucky boy.
    I had to put down my 15-year-old girl two years ago. I did not get to spend her last days with her on a daily basis, so it was brutal on me. Don’t know if I will ever have another dog but am hoping.

  16. As I read your journey with your precious Otto. It makes me try to look at my elderly Dalmatian/Aussie, Jersey. She turned 15 in May. Her subtle decline started after she lost her “life mate” a Jack Russell that she lived her whole life until a year and a half ago. It just seemed like her “spark” had dimmed. I didn’t realize Jersey was mostly deaf now, as the Sophie our Jack Russell was her beacon. I too have Jersey visiting our Canine Fitness Centre for therapy and laser, and this works when her neck and pelvis are out of alignment and causes her unstable movement. Stairs need assistance and Jersey won’t let me out of her sight. She has moments of that spark but her movements are slow and thought out. I too have seen the suffering in Hospice and I will never let any of my pups suffer but its a fine line. Jersey is on the Galliprant. I found that the Gabepentin made her very wobbly and seemed even more stressed. Every day that Jersey wants to walk and come with me and the new one year old Jack Russell, I am grateful. I can’t let my heart even comprehend the loss that I will experience as I am still mourning my late Sophie. Wishing you all the strength and heartfelt passion and commitment to love your Otto the very most when he needs it the most. I will try to do the same with my Jersey.

  17. This is so awesome. There is something so endearing about a senior dog, they just take my heart. Being able to do Rottweiler rescue is so rewarding, especially when you take in a senior dog. Most get that furever home even if it is for a short time. Those that don’t are unconditionally loved until their time comes breaking my heart. Better my heart than their soul in a cold unloving shelter environment.

  18. This just brought tears to my eyes. I know the internal struggle you are dealing with in this journey with Otto. I had the same emotions when facing the decision to euthanize my Buddy. I had the vet scheduled to come out thinking it was time, then he’d get his appetite back and I’d cancel. I’m glad you have more days together. Enjoy every single one of them. This is precious time. Thank you for the photos of him in his sandbox and in the lake. It is evident that he has a great life and is well loved.

  19. Can’t believe Otto is nearing the end of his run. I remember when you got him! I love him, he reminds me of my most favorite dog (I love them all of course) and even looks like him. Bless you for taking such wonderful care of him, he’s one very lucky boy. Good luck. This is a very hard time, I know. Love to you and Otto!

  20. So happy that the vet’s home visit went well. What she said about old dogs having good days and bad rings true from the experience I’m having with my 16 year old Havanese. It’s the dementia that plays a big factor in my opinion. I have been catering to her much more in the last few months and she seems cognitively more aware than she was 6 months ago. At least your boy is still aware of going potty in the appropriate places. That’s what we are finding so hard to live with.
    Good luck to both of you … I hope he has many more days to be with you.

  21. So happy to hear this. As probably many others I went through losing one of my old girls recently. It was peaceful and right, but so painful to me. Reading about Otto and his panting, seeking his cool sandbox, and still alert and happy to greet and always get treats sounds so familiar! Thank you for journaling, I’ve read your words since Rupert! I feel like I know Otto ❤️

  22. In March of last year I thought I’d have to say goodbye to my old, arthritic lab-mix girl after she ended up splayed in the gutter when trying to go up the curb in front of our house. She was already on Galliprant, Cosequin, gabapentin, Adequan, and DGP, plus Sam-e and milk thistle (for high liver enzymes the previous year). My vet added tramadol, and it was like a miracle. With the pain relieved, she built muscle and gained some of her balance again. We’ve had to increase the dose about every 6 months as she builds tolerance to it, but because the only concern is quality of life I don’t care how high the dose gets. I also didn’t think the gabapentin was helping her, but kept her on it. A few weeks ago, when a tramadol increase didn’t seem to help much, her gabapentin was increased from 2x/day to 3x/day, and she’s doing much better. A blood test done a couple of weeks ago shows that her liver is still ok. She, too, has a wide range of how good or bad her days seem, but today she’s pretty good. I understand exactly what you’re dealing with and also understand the emotional churn over making the right choice. I’m glad Otto’s new vet helped you both and wish you as many good days with him as you can possibly have. Making sure our loved ones have a good death isn’t for the feint of heart, but it’s one of the most meaningful things we can ever do. All the best to you both!

  23. Nancy, I am so happy to read your blog this morning with this glimmer of hope for Otto. I’ve been following you and Otto well before Boone’s addition to you pack.
    I live on the west coast of Florida so am aware of the affect the heat has on our loved ones. Your cooler temps seem to have given Otto a new lease on life and it’s gratifying to hear Otto is back in his sandbox enjoying life again.
    Prayers that he will continue to brighten your life with his presence. Such a personality your boy has and his love for you. ❤️

  24. Thank you for sharing your journey with Otto… it’s helpful to those of us with aging pups, and it’s just a lovely reminder of the power of our connections with them. I’m glad for your work on WDJ, and I’m glad that Otto is still with us….