Friday, February 18, 2011

“Life Lessons Learned from My Terminally Ill Dog (Dakota)”

Four months ago I was told by the vet that my 16 year old dog, Dakota was dying from liver and kidney failure. She basically handed over some pain pills, told me to keep him comfortable until the day he stops eating and drinking when I would be forced to put him to sleep. At first Ikota2011 accepted her dismal news and gave him the pain pills every 4 hours, religiously. The pills were way too strong and put him in such a stupor the poor thing could barely walk. So I stopped. Pain meds were just putting a bigger burden on his liver and according to the vet he wasn't really in pain just a tad uncomfortable. There had to be a better way.

Now anyone that knows me knows that I'm a big believer in holistic health and the power of herbs, and I don't give up on anything easily. I started doing research online. A lot of research. Wanting to find out everything I could on natural remedies for dogs suffering with kidney and liver failure. There are a number of herbs that strengthen the liver, and help to cleanse the toxins from the blood supply, a job usually done by healthy kidneys and liver. I needed to help my dog's body do the jobs it could no longer do on his own.

I started him on a daily regimen of multi-vitamins, Milk Thistle, Burdock,
Dandelion, Alfalfa, Sam E, Fish Oil, Vit C, and Vit E. The doses were spread
out throughout the day so as not to overload his system with everything all at the same time. When the vet first diagnosed him he was barelydakota22011 eating and I had been taking him to the vets 2 days a week or more for anti-nausea shots which seemed to help at first but eventually stopped. Once the herbs took hold he ate pretty well most of the time with only an occasional bout of vomiting and diareah. Upon more reading I found that baths were a good way to remove toxins from the body so I added weekly Epsom Salt Baths which also seemed to help with relaxation and sleeping.

Over the past few months we've had good days and bad days. On bad days we might have a lot of seizure activity and not much appetite. He would sometimes stare at his water bowl for 10 minutes but unable to drink from it. And on good days he ate a whole plate of food every few hours and looked for more. The liver controls sugar in the body, and with that no longer working properly, I had to offer food every 3 to 4 hours to keep the blood sugars levels up to avoid seizures which seemed to get worse when intervals between feedings went too long. Some days he'd be very weak and fall into his own feces when going to the bathroom. Baths became more frequent.

Lately when he's sleeping the waking intervals are growng longer and longer. Body temperature becomes hard to regulate, so I had to constanly check to make he was covered, or turn the heater on in front of his cage. To entice eating I became like the Galloping Gourmet. A variety of foods were given and depending on appetite what he'd eat one day, would not eat the next. Dog food was out of the question except for an occasional container of Beneful wet food which seemed to tickel his fancy from time to time. Sometimes he'd favor Mcdonalds, other times Arby's then he'd move on to only Pizza. Whatever it took to stimulate his appetite I did it.

Schedules had to be arranged so that someone was usually home as there were a few times he was left alone and fell down and could not get back up and was stuck in that postion for hours until we arrived. Through it all he only had an occasional accident in the house and still went to the door faithfully to be carried outside to do his business. He had to be carried as he could no longer navigate the steps on his own. Many cold winter nights he'd fall in the snow or on the ice and I'd run outside in my pajamas,dakota32011 barefoot to lift him to safety. Like an elderly old man balance on some days was not so good, especially on a heavy seizure day.

Years ago Dakota was attacked by the neighbor's dog, a 100lb Akita. Not once but twice. In both cases I stayed with him and nursed him back to health. He's come to rely on me as the caretaker, the Alpha dog. The nurturer who in the past could always make him feel better and restore health and vitality. He looks at me now as if I've failed him. He'll stare at me as if to say "Why aren't I getting better?". He knows if anyone could fix him, it's me. But this time I can't. I have failed him and will fail him. I am not God and there's nothing I can do outside of trying to make him as comfortable as possible with the short amount of time he has left.

Has all of this been a lot of work? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Yes. I love my dog and cherish the time we've been spending together. No matter if he's just lying by my side curled up in a blanket sleeping or my holding his head trying to soothe him out of a seizure. He's my son and I love him. He would do the same for me if he could. For all his years of faithfulness, this is the least I can do for him.

He's taught me so much about strength and fighting over the past few months. Life lessons I could not learn from another human being, only from a dog. This dog.

1) Don't give up on things. It "aint over till it's over".

2 Tomorrow's another day. Today may be a bad day but tomorrow might be great.

3) Even when it's tough and it hurts, believe in yourself. You can do more then you think you can.

4) Loyalty is hard to find. When you find it, hold onto it and don't let it go.

5) Don't believe what others say. They may say you're doomed, but you only are if you accept that diagnosis and give up. Fight everyday.

6) Take care of those you love and they'll take care of you.

7)  Spend more time together- You never know when it will be your last.

8) Sometimes "natural" is better then medicine. Always do research to see if there are holistic ways to treat any condition or disease.

9) Before you leave the house kiss those you love goodbye.

Remember, dogs are considered seniors at the age of 7 and should have annual exams starting at that age to catch any disease progression early on. Something I didn't know. Now I wish I had.

Through it all people have had their "opinions" on what I'm doing for my dog. The one thing I hear the most is "Is he in pain?". Well, I'm not sure let me ask him. Most believe that as soon as a dog is diagnosed with a terminal illness they should be put down. Well, my grandfather has been in a nursing home for the past few years sticken with numerous medical and mental problems and no one considers putting him down. Why should a dog matter any less.

If your child were ill would you try to take care of him or her? or would you put them out of their "misery". Dakota is a member of my family and my responsibility to take care of.  I do not choose to take the easy way out.

Like a dog I will be faithful until the end. Humans could learn a lot from dogs and I'm lucky enough to have had one of the best teachers.


  1. Aww Merle you are lucky to have each other. In my next life I want to come back as one of your dogs :) Especially if you put all your pretty jewelry on me. Thinking about you guys xoxoxo

  2. Chris J11:21 AM

    Well said, Merle. My cats give unconditional love and companionship to me - how could I do any less for them? They have taught me more about love than any human being ever has.

    One of my favorite quotes:
    "Life is life - whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man's own advantage." ~Sri Aurobindo


Please leave your comments.