Our dog, Cami, is very old. I don’t know, 15 or 16 years. She’s a beagle mix (but she doesn’t look like a beagle). I know she won’t live much longer. I’m ok with that. But my wife and I are having a fight about her end of life.
Every time Cami shows signs of decline my wife gets very emotional, more than I do, and wants to have the “conversation.” When I argue with her, she says she’s not talking about “today,” but I think if I agreed with her, she’d have the vet come over and we might well do it today. If Cami stumbles up the step on our back deck, or pees on the deck, without going down the steps then it becomes “she can’t go down the steps anymore,” even though I see her going down and up all the time.
Cami is old, no doubt. She acts old, stiff when she first gets up, like me, frankly, I’m getting old too. I’m peeing more often too. I’m not going to kill her for that, though I’m not peeing in the house. Cami is. But I want to know that she is in pain. It seems obvious to me that her worst symptoms have come as the result of medication, but my wife seems to resist seeing the connection, despite that I spell it out for her. We’ve been here before, thinking it was the end, and then took her off some medications and she improved, but the vet left her on one, gabapentin, saying “it can’t hurt to have an old dog on that.” It’s an anti-convulsant that is prescribed for humans, but prescribed off label for dogs for seizures (which Cami doesn’t have) anxiety (also not – she’s less anxious because she can’t hear anymore, although if you sneak up behind her it will startle her; my wife cites that as evidence that she is anxious) and it is also prescribed for pain. Whether she has pain is up for debate in our house also, but that’s why she takes it. The assumption was that because she walks like an old thing, and has trouble getting up sometimes that she must be arthritic and in pain. When I tell my wife I don’t see the signs of pain, just loss of ability, she says that dogs hide their pain, which may be true, I don’t know. But if that were proof, then every dog every where at every age would have to be in pain. All that really means is that we don’t know. But I don’t buy it. Who decided that and how? Did some dog explain that to someone?
“You look good, what’s your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?”
If someone figured out that a dog was in pain even though it didn’t look like it, then there must be a way to tell. I think I could tell. She would be trembling, or she would not want to move (actually we’ve been there before when she hurt her neck and then she healed), or she wouldn’t be eating.
Lately she has had bouts of drunkedness, like she can’t even control her legs. She will walk sideways like one leg doesn’t work, and like she doesn’t know where she is or how to sit down. At it’s worst, her legs will splay out into a split. She won’t be able to stand up. It’s at these times that if we can even get her outside she does have trouble with the stairs. But then in the morning, she’ll be able to stand up and walk, she’ll be fine again, her normal old dog self.
Here’s the kicker. We only give her the gabapentin at night and her worst symptoms are only at night. Not only that, but sometimes, like two nights ago, she won’t eat her gapapentin, she manages to leave it uneaten in the bowl, all by itself. That night, she came in from outside hopping around excitedly like a puppy. I actually thought she might hurt herself jumping around like that.
Gabapentin is a people medicine, and I found a description by a person of what this medicine does to them, weakness, and even bladder problems. Dogs can’t talk, but people can.
I’ve also found comments on a page about this drug from dog owners who describe the same kinds of symptoms that I am attributing to the gabapentin to their dogs, and worse.
My wife says the peeing in the bed is a sign. “Dogs just don’t do that,” she says. But they do, if they can’t get up because they’re drugged.
I am ok with letting Cami go. Sometimes I hope that she just passes peacefully in the night so that we never have to make a decision. I will be relieved. I look forward to having the freedom of not having a dog again. She’s had a long life, longer than average, she was there for all of our kids until they became adults, and she can’t live forever. I’m ready, but I’m not impatient. I want to wait until she’s ready. If I thought she was in pain, or if she had cancer, and I knew the pain would come, I would be able to ease her over.
But she can still get comfortable. She still gives and receives love, maybe more than she used to.
I don’t want to be fooled into thinking this is the end because she’s taking a medicine that she doesn’t even need that makes her seem even older than she is. If we take her off it, and she seems like she has some pain, there are alternatives.
My wife is getting so mad at me because I am pushing back on her. She thinks she’s the one protecting our dog. She’s convinced Cami must be in pain, even while lamenting that dogs can’t talk and tell us what’s going on. Cami has her moments, good and bad, but so far when she does seem bad, it’s still temporary. She keeps recovering.
Let her enjoy her last days, that’s all I want. We can deal with the pee. Maybe taking her off the medicine will help with that.
I gave her some of my breakfast this morning. She was very excited about it. I can still make her happy.
Why should I deny her that? I’m not going to. Not yet.