I laid down to take a nap today, and Willow crawled into her dog bed to take one too. After not too many minutes, she started yelping/whining. It’s not a noise she often makes, maybe 2-3 times in 8 years, but whenever she has made any similar noise it has been an indication of pain.
I immediately hopped out of bed and put my glasses on to see what was going on. Whatever it was, she was having extreme pain in one of her back legs.
When I touched it, she yelped again. I was a little afraid she was going to bite me. I was finally able to get her in a position and felt her leg. I flexed it in and out, and she didn’t yelp. She got up and hopped out of the dog bed, and she did yelp again. She laid down, and I was able to examine her a bit more. I got her to push against my hand with the leg as she laid there, no yelping. I gave her some doggy pain killers and left her alone, even though I wanted to try to get her up and walking to more fully determine what was going on.
Later, she did get up and was walking with a light limp… So things seem Ok.
So, why am I writing this blog post?
Willow is 11.5 years old. She’s a pure bred English bulldog. The average life span for English bulldogs is 10-11 years for those that die of old age, which only a small percentage (~9%) ever get to enjoy. This makes Willow about 90 years old in dog years.
Gods, am I conscious of that…
Bulldogs are notorious for having bad joints, especially hips. Approximately 74% of bulldogs are affected by hip dysplasia, which means that the hips are malformed and the head of the femur doesn’t sit quite right and can result in arthritis. I’ve never gotten X-rays done on Willow, but as she’s gotten older, it’s been obvious that there’s something going on with her hips. Her back legs are sore, and though she walks on them, she doesn’t put full weight on the one that she hurt today. Day-to-day I can tell she’s in some pain, but mostly it doesn’t seem to bother her too much. I keep her on light meds to help keep her comfortable, but I’m unwilling and unable to pay for the more expensive pain meds that might really help her. (I don’t want her to be all drugged up. One of the main side effects of the more expensive drugs is sleepiness.)
Then something like this happens, again, and I’m left weeping and thinking:
When you have an aging pet, when is it time to euthanize?
When is too much pain, too much pain? How many times should I let Willow have episodes like this?
I don’t want to be one of those pet owners that keeps their pet alive at all costs. Willow’s quality of life is much more important to me than extending the quantity of her days.
If Willow ain’t happy, well…
I already have some guidelines to lead me. I know that I will not authorize surgery on Willow. She’s too old to be put through that. I also won’t heavily medicate her just to extend her days.
But will I know when it’s really time?
In this case, hours after what happened, it seems that the pain was just a Charlie horse.
Obviously I wasn’t immediately ready to call the vet to have them euthanize Willow when this happened, but it brought up a lot of fears and emotions.
Will next time be the time that I have to make the decision?
After I put down my cat, Pete, back in 2011 I bought Jon Katz‘s book Going Home. One of the things that brought me peace about making that decision was when Jon talked about being an advocate for your pets. Your pet has no voice, so you must act as your pet’s voice. I know that’s what I’ll have to do with Willow. I’ll have to assess her day after day, and when it seems that her quality of life begins to decrease too much, it will be time.
I’ve always known that Willow’s body (i.e. her joints) would probably give out before her spirit. In the not-too-distant future, I will have to be the voice of my pet, and on that day it will be the right decision. It will be a hard one, oh yes, but it will be the right one.
I’m glad today isn’t that day.
Damn, I’m glad today isn’t that day…