Chapter 32 – Years 14 and 15

Year 14

Year 14 was quite uneventful.  I kept looking for Gabby to slow down, and she didn’t… not at all. She still ran and played like a pup.  Her tail was constantly wagging at warp speed as she had fun chasing toys, knocking over her bowling pin, headering her soccer ball and spreading love, happiness and smiles wherever she went.

Medically, nothing happened that was immediately life threatening.  There was only one memorable medical event. I was visiting a friend and noticed a very scary-looking growth coming out of her cheek.  Fearing the worst for my senior dog, I rushed her to the VCA Castle Shannon ER.

The doctor looked at it closely, and finally said, “It’s a tick!” What a relief! They took her down the hall, and brought her back ten minutes later with the tick completely removed. If you look at the picture above you can see how incredibly large the tick expands after it  attaches to something. The tick itself was impossibly small compared to what you see here.  You could not even see it at the base of her cheek.

Some months later…

In her senior years I had Gabby get an extensive lab work up and exam every four months or so. The next 3Dx blood test showed she had contracted both Lyme and ehrlichia infections from the tick.  A three-week cycle of doxycycline cleared it up, and she tested completely negative the next time we ran the test.  It is a good thing we caught both early, before they progressed into full disease.

I picked ticks off of Beni all summer, and he tested negative for everything.  Gabby gets one good bite and she tests positive for two diseases!  Perhaps this was due to her older body’s immune system not being quite as strong as young Beni’s, or perhaps her tick was an unlucky one.
Year 15

Gabby entered her 15th year and as you can see in the video below, she still wasn’t slowing down!  The video was made in March of 2013.

As you can see, she was still active like a puppy.  She had already outlived every dog we ever had in my family and was still her same old self.

A month or so later I noticed she was drinking more and sometimes would drip some pee when I picked her up.  Once I picked her up when her bladder was full and she leaked on my clothes. I spoke with Doc Slobody about it and he wasn’t surprised, given her age.  I took a urine sample early one morning and drove her to Meadowlands for an exam.

The beginnings of CRI/CRF
Gabby’s blood work was perfect and no murmur was audible yet, but her urine was dilute. In the past, it had been very concentrated. In fact, Doc had commented on what a good job her kidneys did concentrating urine.

Doc explained that her kidneys could not concentrate like they used to, and it was a normal part of the aging process. They were still doing the job of keeping her bloodstream clean, but they needed more water to get the job done. He also explained that there was nothing I could do to prevent it, the kidneys are usually the first organ to go, and the process could take years to reach full kidney failure. Given she was 15 already, potentially taking years to progress to full failure wasn’t exactly a death sentence.

As for the incontinence, the extra fluid intake combined with the weaker sphincter of an older female dog meant leaks and potential accidents.  Doc prescribed proin to tighten her sphincter muscle. If that did not work we could discuss hormone treatments, though he preferred not to go that route.  It would take several weeks for the proin to kick in.

As I left, all I could think was my little dog was definitely getting old.  Then I realized, she WAS old already. But given her age of 15.5 years, her quality of life was amazing and her medical problems, relatively small. When people met her for the first time and I told them Gabby was over 15 years old, they were in shock. She didn’t look old and she didn’t act old at all.

I read up on chronic kidney disease and saw that hydration was all-important.  I attached a bowl to the grates of her crate so she could drink when I was away, and made sure there was a bowl of water in every room we frequented. I also put a bowl of water on my nightstand next to the bed, illuminated by my clock radio, so she could drink anytime she wanted during the night. Her lapping woke me up in the middle of the night sometimes, but whenever that happened all I could think was, “it’s a good problem to have!”

The proin worked!  But…

The prion kicked in within a few weeks, and her incontinence was gone.  It was almost miraculous!

Then, I had a real scare.

One afternoon I fed Beni and Gabby and they were contentedly chowing down next to each other in the kitchen.  All of a sudden, Gabby shuddered, fell back a little and started staggering.  Her hind legs were weak as she walked towards the exit of the kitchen and she was swaying back and forth.  I don’t know what it looks like when a dog has a heart attack, but I imagined that was what it looked like.  Of course, we knew about the heart enlargement as well and it had been two years since we took another good look at her heart and what was going on.  We still could not hear a murmur.

I picked her up and she seemed shaken up, but fine.  I held her a while and a bit later she finished her dinner.

Off to see Doc…

I got her in to see Doc Slobody as soon as he could take us.  As I told the story, I saw the look of concern go over his face… it was chilling, knowing he was clearly worried.

This is when we did the second echo as mentioned in chapter 29, as well as a full blood panel and an EKG.  Everything was fine.  Doc thought it could be an arrhythmia, or possibly a seizure.

More scary events like this… seizures.

About every 6 to 12 weeks Gabby would have a similar episode, either fainting or staggering.  At this point we were fairly certain it was seizures, but they were not frequent enough that we thought it was prudent to start phenobarbital, especially given her age and the need to be on the drug forever once it was started.

Proin the culprit?

This is another place where I will tell you the rest of the story, before we actually get to it.  The proin was a seizure trigger and when I took her off it 8 months later, the seizures went away completely for almost a year.  You will read more about that starting in chapter 34.