Otto is still here

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

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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 decisi