Sunday, January 27, 2013

A scare on the Unfarm

Last Friday morning I noticed Maia was a little wobbly. Because she had suffered a bout of Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome six months or so ago, I was worried this was a recurrence. I called our vet (who is, of course, on a first name basis with us as we have spent enough money there to put EVERYONE'S kids through college - vets, techs, receptionists, the whole shebang) and got an appointment for that afternoon. 

When I took her in I wasn't overly concerned, as she had come through the previous bout quite well and this one didn't seem nearly as bad. The vet found that she had slow reactions on her left legs and in her right eye, leading them to suggest that it might be a neurological problem. Concern started to wiggle in the back of my mind. The vet ordered blood tests, thyroid tests, a urinalysis, and suggested we take x-rays. Hmm, someone else must be approaching college age. I was able to authorize the blood work but the powers that be (my parents) decided to wait on the x-rays. 

By the time my mom arrived home from work the blood test results were back and the vet managed to convince my mom to approve the x-rays for the next day on the basis of the neurological symptoms and the fact that she was anemic, which might be caused by internal bleeding.

Saturday morning I managed to get Maia to the vet by 9 am so they could work her in during the day. She seemed much better so I was optimistic. The concern had made a quiet exit. By the early afternoon I got a call informing me that the x-rays had shown a mass in Maia's spleen and the vet recommended an ultrasound to get a better picture. The door slammed open and worry barged in. While on the phone, the vet told me that the ultrasound techs were at the local ER vet and they were holding the last available appointment for me at 4pm if I wanted to take it. Schedule it. I'll pick her up in 20 minutes.

Down to the ER vet. Yet another place I am all too familiar with, having visited it before with at least one cat, one duck and two rabbits. The ultrasound showed that there was indeed a mass in her spleen, which may have been causing the neurological symptoms, along with fluid in her belly that had leaked out of the mass yesterday. I think they used the term "ticking time bomb" when they told me that the mass could burst at any time; they recommended surgery. Then. Saturday night, not even 48 hours from the first sign of any trouble. I could not bear the thought that the mass might burst, causing Maia pain and forcing her to go into surgery in a state of shock. 

There was good news and bad to consider. On the positive side, we had caught this problem early, before it burst. Many of the patients the ER vets see come in after the mass bursts, and Maia was in the condition that the vets want to see a patient go into surgery in: stable and relatively healthy - she is in remarkable shape and most people do a double take when we tell them she is, in fact, 16 years old. The bad news was that the vet was less than optimistic about the outcome. He informed me that the ultrasound can't see everything and that many times, when they open the abdomen they find that the tumor has spread. To the liver, the kidneys, the abdominal wall. Needless to say, this was NOT what I wanted to hear. 

I authorized the surgery. I did not check with my parents, on the grounds that I was afraid they would say no and I was not at all ready to lose Maia, or risk a possibly painful death at some point in the future. I left her there, and drove home, still in something of a tailspin. To their great credit, my parents were not mad but were, in fact, supportive of the decision to go ahead with the surgery. Maia has always been a good little girl, and is very fond of sleeping all night in my room, and then all day with Dad when he is on his week to work nights. She is, as he often reminds us, "a good little sleeper."

The vet had informed me that they would call when they started the surgery. I checked my phone to ensure it was on the loudest possible setting. I then checked my phone at 9:30 to be sure I hadn't missed the call somehow. 9:37. 9:46. 9:50. 10:13. 10:25. 10:39. 11:01. 11:16. Sometime between then and midnight they called to say they were beginning the surgery. If they encountered anything unexpected (read: bad) when they opened her up they would call. I spent the next half hour laying on the couch in the dark, visualizing with everything I had that the vet opens her up, inspects her abdomen and says, with amazement, "it's clean - no signs of spreading! Wow!" I also pictured the happy dance I would do when I got the good news. (The visualization has more power when you imagine how you will feel when whatever you hope for happens.)

A little before 1:30 in the morning, my phone rang again. 
"We're all finished with the surgery. The spleen came out in one piece without any trouble." 
"And the spreading? How did it look?"
"Oh yes, we checked the liver, kidneys and abdomen and everything was clean. No signs of spreading."

I thanked the vet and hung up, then bounced down the hallway, burst into the master bedroom and told a somewhat confused, bleary eyed Mom the news while doing my happy dance. (And yes, it did look ridiculous.) I then called my brother, my dad at work, and my sister - even though it was 3am in Minnesota.

Maia got the OK to come home Sunday night. Before picking her up I stopped by the store, got three different kinds of treats and a very fancy $70 metal frame "princess bed." Now, a week out from the surgery, Maia is doing very well. She has a cute red hoodie vest on to keep her from licking at her staples and she is back to her old self, with some improvements: her appetite has greatly improved and she is much perkier than she's been in a while, which has me wondering if this mass had her slightly under the weather for longer than we realized. 

All in all, I am quite pleased with the condition of all the Unfarmians. Kita continues to trek along, Ginger continues to insist that her litter box will work better if she dumps all the hay out onto the floor and then turns the box upside down like some post-modern sculpture in the middle of her cage, and the ducks are both molting, blanketing everything in a layer of down and feathers.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unfarm updates and tips for living with an elderly dog

Well, it's 2013 and we managed to make it through 2012 relatively unscathed. We had two losses: Suki, who died and Buttercup - our hen turned rooster who we had to give up when s(he) started crowing. He did go to a good home, however, through a local farm store re-homing that places roosters with out-of-city farms that want them. We gained three new additions: Belle, our Brahma hen who arrived with Buttercup, and Beauty a black Australorp hen that we adopted to replace Buttercup so that Belle would have a companion; we also added a rabbit named Ginger who was given up by her owners when they could no longer care for her. 

After Suki died, Jojo was left alone and I was left with three bachelor bunnies. Adding a girl seemed to be the perfect solution: an unattached female might be just the thing to bring my bachelor males together. Forget sugarplums - I had visions of four calm bunnies, happily coexisting, dancing in my head. Alas, it was not to be. I now have FOUR rabbit cages in my art room, and have to juggle time out between four separate rabbits, instead of the three time outs I had before when Jojo and Suki could go out together. Of all of my pets, it is the rabbits who fight the most. Yes, those cute, lovable, fluffy bunnies are actually vicious fighters. Go figure. 

One significant loss that we did NOT experience in 2012 was Kita. He turned 15 last year and has slowed down considerably. He has arthritis and can no longer see or hear very well, but he's still happy and not ready to go yet so we keep him as comfortable as possible. He also sleeps a lot more than he ever used to and I always hold my breath a few seconds until I see his side rise when he's napping. As much as I would love for things to continue as they always have, and as much as I hate watching my children grow older, it is a part of having pets. Admittedly, one of the worst parts of having pets, but a part of it nonetheless. Given my experience with Kita's aging in the last few years I thought I would pass on a few tips for living with an elderly dog. 

1) Don't be so stingy with the treats. Splurge on some super tasty treats to spoil your pup. Kita is quite fond of original flavor beef jerky (the kind made for people - we get a bulk package at Costco.)

2) Let sleeping dogs lie - but if you must wake them, do it gently. Older dogs can't hear as well and tend not to sleep as lightly as they used to, so be gentle when you wake them up so you don't startle your dog. I put my hand on my pup's muzzle or paw, or wave a scoop of peanut butter under their nose to let them wake up more gradually. 

3) Accept accidents. More than likely, your older dog will have accidents in the house. They don't do it on purpose and they likely feel bad about it when it does happen, so yelling at your pup for something they have little control over won't help anyone and it won't fix the problem. Take a deep breath, give your pup a pat, and remind yourself of all the fun you've had together.

4) Now that you know accidents are in your future it's time to invest. Buy stock in paper towels and/or purchase an industrial carpet cleaner. Overboard, you say? I beg to differ. Our industrial carpet cleaner gets used at least once a week, it lives in our main bathroom and we've decided to name it Mighty Mouth. It is practically part of the family and one of our most used cleaning tools.

5) Quality over quantity. As your dog gets older, they will have more trouble keeping up on walks and likely won't be able go on the long rambles you went on a few years ago. It's time for quality over quantity, which means you take shorter, slower walks and let your dog sniff anything and everything without rushing them along or pulling impatiently on the handle of the leash. It's about the journey now, not the destination. Let your dog have fun and go at a pace that is comfortable for him or her. 

6) Take photos. We all get busy with our day to day lives and take for granted that our pets are always going to be there, but in the vast majority of cases, we outlive our pets and we don't know when the last day will be so take lots of pictures. Today. Now. What are you still sitting there for?