While kidney failure can sometimes be mitigated by treatment for a few weeks or even months. Lowder's case was very severe with a rapid onset. When he last had blood work in the fall of 2015, his liver values were a bit elevated while his kidney values were normal. Now, only six months later, his kidney failure was revealed as the cause of his recent illness. It's likely that this was just a normal aspect of aging since he is almost 15 years old, but it surprised me because he'd been so healthy for most of his life. I know 15 is a long life-span for a dog, but I still wasn't prepared for this news.
In the past month, Lowder-dog lost another 2 pounds, making his total weight loss since last fall 1/3 of his body weight. Originally about 21 pounds, he now only weighed 14 pounds. He'd gradually been losing his appetite and had only eaten 2-3 bites of food at a time in the past week or two. I was finding it harder and harder to find anything he'd eat, so I knew his health was rapidly declining. He hadn't had a lot of vomiting or diarrhea up to this point, but I know now that was because he wasn't eating anything. He was also spending almost all of his time sleeping, but I had chalked that up to old age rather than to illness. Again, these changes seemed gradual at first, but looking back, I realize that the acute kidney failure probably started about a month ago.
The vet was clear: I might be able to eke out a few more weeks with him IF I administered subcutaneous fluids 3-4 times per week (a kind of at-home quasi-dialysis) and medicated him heavily for the increasing pain he'd feel as the toxins built up in his system and organ failure occurred. He'd likely go completely blind and experience both continued gastro-intestinal trouble and heart palpitations and seizures because of the toxins. Or I could do nothing and let nature take its course while trying to keep him as comfortable as possible in the process. How long he might last was hard to say though, it could be a few days or a few weeks. Since I'd be out of the country for six weeks beginning in mid-June, the vet recommended that I make a decision immediately and follow a course of action.
Tears streaming down my face, my heart breaking as I continued to question him, the vet agreed with me that the kindest course of action was to keep my baby comfortable until I was ready to say goodbye before I left the country. He explained that I had to be able to live with myself if Lowder-dog crashed while I was out of the country and died without me. When he said that, I knew that I couldn't run the risk of that happening to Lowder-dog or to my daughter who would be caring for him.
I left the vet's office with Lowder cradled in my arms and took him home before returning to work for a couple of hours. As you can imagine, I was a wreck. The vet's parting words had been for me to take the weekend to make my peace with it and to make the appointment to euthanize Lowder-dog on Monday. I rushed home from school early that day to hold my sweet boy and to try to come to terms with this decision. I cannot tell you how long I cried, but I spent the entire weekend sobbing hysterically, cuddling him close, and trying to convince myself to do what had to be done.
Friday night, he was horrifically ill. He couldn't eat or drink anything without vomiting. He was listless and dazed, not his normal self at all. Layne (my bestie's daughter who works at the animal clinic) came by on Saturday afternoon to give him a strong anti-nausea injection. Thankfully, it worked, and the vomiting stopped. He even managed to eat and drink a little bit. The rest of the weekend, he seemed a bit more like his old self. He slept most of the time, but he ate and drank a bit and even stole a dog treat from Charlie-dog.
I had to work Monday, and I left the house fearful that I'd come home and find him dead. I found myself struggling between hoping I'd have him a few more days before euthanizing him and hoping that he'd die peacefully on his own but when I was there with him. Neither is the choice I want, but one thing was clear to me: I needed to be with him when he died. Thankfully, Lowder seemed to make it fine without me on Monday, but I realized I needed him close to me to make peace with this decision. I called to make arrangements for the vet visit on Wednesday, but Friday was when they could make the appointment. I'm so glad I would have a few more days with him.
On Tuesday, Lowder-dog needed another injection of the strong anti-nausea medication. In the interim, we'd been making do with the pill form, but I could tell he was beginning to struggle more and more. The whites of his eyes had become discolored from the toxins in his blood that his kidneys are no longer filtering. His balance had become affected too; he'd fall a bit when he tried to go down the two steps to the patio and struggled to come back up the steps on his own. His breathing and heartbeat alternated between super fast and very, very slow. He continued to have a bit of diarrhea because his body was struggling to process what little food he was eating. He started having the shakes and also twitched some as he rested, something I read would become more frequent as the toxicity level increased. He had a hard time regulating his temperature, so I kept him wrapped up constantly to calm and soothe him. He was incredibly thirsty and urinated a lot, but it didn't really help clear any of the toxins. He started to smell funny; his breath took on that ketone smell that you might recognize from someone who's gone on a high protein/low carb diet. He became increasingly lethargic and listless for most of the day, even though he'd have small bursts of energy. It was Tuesday that I recognized that he really wasn't going to get any better and that ending his life was the logical, responsible, kind thing to do.
In this past week, I've spent every possible moment with Lowder-dog that I could. Besides working on Monday, I wasn't away from him for more than two total hours on any single day. When I was home, his little eyes followed my every movement if I was up doing chores. If I sat down, he was in my lap or cuddled against my shoulder or snuggled up next to my thigh every moment. When it was time to go outside, he'd lean against my shoulder like a little baby, something he never did when he was well. I'd set him on the patio, and he'd wobble over to the landscaping or to the patio set or out into the grass to quickly do his business. The whole time, he kept his eyes on me for reassurance. When he finished, he'd wobble back to me, and as I'd reach over to pick him up, he'd wag his tail as if that made him the happiest pup in the whole world. Sometimes, he'd become disoriented, and I'd have to go out into the yard to fetch him. Even then, his whole body wiggled in joy as I approached to pick him up. He slept a lot this week, snoring softly as his little body sought refuge in my lap. He couldn't get comfortable if I weren't right there with him, so I spent most of my time just sitting with him and talking to him.
This past week, I took a couple hundred photos of him and shot a couple of videos. I'm suddenly desperately afraid that I don't have enough to remember him by, even though I know that everything about him is engraved on my heart. That heart of mine continues to break a bit more each day, but I can't help but be grateful for the extra time I've had with my boy this week.
For the past 15 years (almost), my sweet boy has been by my side. He was one of the reasons I survived the sudden death of my mother. He was my best friend during a bad marriage and painful divorce. He was my sidekick when I was suddenly faced with an empty nest and single existence. He was the presence I counted on in the midst of bad dating experiences and betrayals. His little face greeted me with the joy at the end of every day. His little body curled up against me each night - reassuring, loving, calming. He kept life and joy in an otherwise empty house. He was a constant in my life as it changed from what I knew into the unknown. Other than Kelsey, he was the thing I loved the longest and the most in this world. For people who don't see their pets as family, this all might seem a bit strange and overdone. For those of you who love your pets like children, I know you understand.
My friends have been great in all of this. My bestie and her husband came to see Lowder-dog and say goodbye. Layne has made housecalls to care for him, comforted me when the vet gave me the news, and comforted us both at Lowder's last moment. Sergeant baked us a ziti that both Lowder-dog and I have greatly enjoyed. Lorie has texted every day to check on us. Tracie and Tonia have called and messaged to check in on us both. Almost all of them offered to be with me at Lowder's last appointment. Travis called to make sure I was okay and to offer some words of solace. Kelsey came to see us the day I found out and again that weekend; she also drove me to Lowder's last appointment. because she knew I'd be so upset. And the fella has held me as I cried my eyes out for days on end. He might not have ever felt this way about a beloved pet, but he respects the way I feel. I know they're all worried about me, and all I can say is that I'm doing the best I can.
One of my dear friends put it best this week, "Lowder-dog was a witness to your life. Now, you will bear witness to the end of his. That's an amazing thing. I can only hope someone will love me enough to want to bear witness to the end of my life when it comes." That's what I kept repeating to myself as I've struggled to come to terms with this decision. I don't want Lowder to suffer, even if that means that I do suffer.