Saturday, July 19, 2014

In the twinkle of a (dog's) eye

My beloved mutt has been squinting out of his right eye lately.  We got this pooch from the Humane League at the advanced age of 6 or 7, and in the years he's lived with us, he's become a loyal devotee of his beloved Miser Mom.  He follows me around the house; he curls up by whatever chair I happen to be sitting in; he eats my underwear.  (That last weird quirk still confounds us.   But aside from his culinary habits, he's a great dog).
Meeting Miser Dog at the Humane League, August 2010.
At any rate, he's been squinting with one eye.  He doesn't seem to be disoriented, distressed, or in pain, but the squinting is unusual.   So, I took him to the vet.  The first thing the vet said was, "Wow! Ten-and-a-half years old!"  And then the vet decided the dog has a torn cornea, "but fortunately, those heal fast."  We got a tube of antibiotic ointment and went home.
Miser Dog likes food in canning jars, but of course!
I was relieved at the diagnosis, for two reasons.  First, I was glad my dog wasn't some kind of deathly ill; he's in remarkable shape for a dog his age.  Second, I'm not a huge fan of end-of-life excessive medical intervention.  A tube of ointment; yes, I'll fork over $150 for that and another $100 for a follow-up visit, but I was leery of getting in much deeper.
I don't have a picture of putting ointment in his eye,
but I do have a picture of J-son brushing the dog's teeth.
Speaking of "end of life", just how geriatric is my dog?  I asked my vet that.  I grew up with Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes, two breeds of giant dogs with gentle dispositions and short life spans (they live about 7 or 8 years).  How long do dogs like my ten-and-a-half-year-old mutt live?  The vet said, "oh, nine years, ten years."   She paused.  "Um, maybe twelve."

Okay, so we're on borrowed time, and grateful for it.
Miser Dog wears J-son's Domo Hat.
But that's not the end of the story, because we went back for our follow-up visit a week later, and the torn cornea wasn't healing up after all.  My vet recommended we got to a doggy ophthalmologist, to get surgery (the ophthalmologist would probably do surgery: cut the cornea even more, in hopes that the blood vessels will respond by forming new blood vessels, and thereby heal the eye).  It turns out that this breed of doggy docs are few and far between; the nearest appointment we could get is three weeks away in time and an hour away in distance.  And they cautioned me:  it costs $150 just to walk through the door, with actual medical services costing more.

I asked: so . . . what happens if we don't do the surgery?  The receptionist didn't like the question at all.  "It might not seem like it, but torn corneas are painful."  And "It's possible the dog could go blind in that one eye."

So here's the dilemma:  am I heartless to say "No" anyway?  Going blind in one eye is . . . not fun.  If my mutt were a puppy, that argument alone would convince me.  But he's not a puppy, is he?   (Actually, a decade ago we faced a similar question with N-son, who has such bad nerve damage in his right eye that he's effectively blind in that eye.  His ophthalmologist told us surgery was an option, but not a very hopeful one, and so N-son has grown into his teens happily and productively seeing the world largely through his left eye).

And as for the pain question, my dog doesn't seem to be in pain or discomfort at all; he just squints a little.  On the other hand, a long car trip followed by a "cut your cornea until it bleeds" surgery seems to be a pretty nasty way to spend those golden years.  My husband and I talked about this; we decided against the surgery.  As I told my husband, "I'd do the same for you!"  And it's true; we've often joked about getting "DNR" tattoos should we ever come down with a terminal illness.

Still, a decision like this is hard.  It feels a bit heartless and calculating.  Am I really putting money and time ahead of my dog?
Dog kisses: they're the best.  Yecchh!


  1. The key, to me, is that your dog isn't in pain. If your dog was in pain, that might change the equation. But you have a pet who seems unaffected other than the squinting. Your response seems reasonable.

    I've had many a pet with end of life issues, and we always tried to follow the lead the pet was giving us. We never put a pet down until the pet seemed in awful pain, even if everything wasn't working perfectly. This even meant dealing with a very poopy IBS cat for over a year. She couldn't make it to her box ever (and ultimately lived in a dog kennel to save the carpets) but was so happy to snuggle right up until the end.

    1. Yes, my dog still loves snuggling, and although he loves car rides, he HATES the other dogs at the vet's office. I think we're all happier here at home.

  2. You know your dog best - if your dog isn't in distress, and still has quality of life (enjoys food, your company etc.) then I'm definitely not in favour of elaborate medical interventions - you can't explain to a pet why you are putting them through scary and painful treatments, and our culture does rather put QUANTITY of life above QUALITY in so many ways, but is that really the best way to treat a beloved pet at the end of their life? (or a beloved human - a dear relative who has multiple life-threatening conditions has worked her way through multiple doctors until she found one who stated up front that he believed in quality of life and not in heroic interventions, and is very happy with her choice).

    Even if your dog is in pain, are there doggy aspirin or the like? Many pets with arthritis or similar are given painkillers with their food to make them more comfortable... I'd surely rather pay for that than putting a pet who's close to the end of their life through an ordeal...

    1. I think I need to call my vet -- first, just to let her know that I'm not going the surgery route, but also to ask about your last question (doggy aspirin, etc). The dog seems to be very content -- sleeping more than usual, but that could be age or just happiness that the family is home for the summer. No sign of pain at all, at least not yet.