Friday, July 1, 2011

The Sadness and Facts of Aging

My two dogs are seniors, and lately some unexpected health issues have arise. These "conditions" happen with little to no signals, and can shake a pet owner to the core.

In March and again in April, our blind Springer Spaniel, Sage, experienced what appeared to be a stroke. She could not stand up and her eyes began twitching and moving in various directions. We were able to get her into the vet immediately the first time, and there she stayed for nearly four days. The vet diagnosed her with a common condition in older pets, but one that cannot easily be explained as to its cause. It's called Vestibular Syndrome. There are two types: central vestibular disease and peripheral vestibular disease. Central vestibular disease occurs because of an abnormality in the brain, and peripheral occurs because of an abnormality within the nerves of the inner ear. Peripheral is the most common; one could think of it like a bad case of vertigo. Central vestibular syndrome often occurs due to a tumor on the brain. The onset is sudden and makes an owner think the dog is having a stroke; however, canine strokes are very rare.

We hoped Sage's condition was the less of two evils, but when she experiened another "episode" in April, basically one month after the first, we began to believe she may have a brain tumor. The only real way to know if that's the case is to have a CATSCAN or MRI done, so we decided to just wait and see if she experienced another episode. The second time she had one, it didn't last as long, and she was at the vet's only for one night. Now it has been nearly two full months since Sage experienced the condition, and she's not had another episode. Therefore, we are believing she has the peripheral syndrome, not the central type. We give her the steriod Predisone two to three times a week; it's one of the meds she was given back in March, and her system seems to tolerate that small dosage, and perhaps it's kept the vestibular disease in check.

According to most vets, the cause of this disease is unknown, and affects dogs ages 12 and older. Sage turns 12 this fall, but with her other physical limitations, it's not hard to conceive she could be affected by this at 11 1/2 years of age.

For an indepth article on vestiublar disease, visit the PetPlace website:

Cody, our Cocker Spaniel, turned 13 in mid-June. During the last week of the month, he became extremely lathargic and stopped eating. I was out of town, so my husband took him to the vet after the second day as Cody appeared weaker. The vet and his staff ran some tests, and diagnosed him with autoimmune hemolytic anemia, a condition in which the dog's immune system attacks its healthy red blood cells. It is a critical situation, but with the proper treatment, not necessarily fatal. Cody spent five days at the vet hospital, being kept quiet (a blood clot could develop which would kill him) and pumped on steriods and other drugs to combat the situation and re-build his red blood cell count. Cocker spaniels are prone to this disease, although according to our vet, it generally occurs in dogs 7 to 10 years old. Other breeds are also susceptible, including poodles, Old English sheepdogs, and Irish setters. Females are twice as likely to get the disease. So, Cody having developed it was somewhat of a surprise.

Prognosis is not great; about 40% of animals do not survive, and the condition usually re-occurs. I'm fortunate that my vet has experience dealing with this disease, but Cody's age is most likely problematic. For more information on this condition, visit

We can feel quite sad when our pets age. As I journey through the aging process of my pets, I am also traveling the road of aging parents. The paths are quite similar. As I await Cody returning home, I am exploring options for my parents, who live 450 miles away, to move closer. On their behalf, I am looking into senior housing in communities closer to where I live (though they have expressed their inclination to move closer, they don't want to live in the same town as I do becasuse they really don't like the town or the area; that, too, will most likely change at least as far as location, but not the "liking" of the location).

I, too, am aging and feeling the physical inadequacies of middle-age. We all go through it, it's a fact of life, but a fact not less challenging, and in many cases, sad. I am thankful I beleive in a better life beyond what I can see and currently physically experience, a wonder-filled special place where neither people nor pets will age, experience health issues or the ultimate "as we know on Earth" death. There is a better home a'waitin' as the old hymn says.

In the meantime, we live, we laugh, we love, we experience, we age. And, we enjoy the good as much as we can. Be blessed along the journey!