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Old 10-23-2012, 11:24 AM
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I had a 12 year old Maltese. I noticed my dog was suddenly coughing a lot more than usual and struggling to breath. She was in very bad shape and did not even want to walk or eat. I did not know that she had heart failure. We took her to the emergency vet because it was Sunday. The Doc told us she was in critical condition. He said we could spend around $1500-2400 to get her stabilized and maybe she would live around 6 months. We decided on euthanasia.

Soon after I got home I had terrible anxiety and guilt. I felt like maybe I was just trying to save money. Now I think it would be worth all of the money to give her more time. We have enough money in our emergency fund for things like this. Our 2 toddlers were there at the clinic screaming and having fits. I also think that made us feel rushed to make a decision.

I always expected a dog to go deaf and blind and unable to eat or walk before euthanasia would be considered. Our dog was eating well and still able to go on walks. She was very lethargic and was coughing a lot for the past year though.

I just can't stop thinking that I made the wrong decision for my dog. I needed more time to research this disease and make a decision. I went in to the clinic knowing absolutely nothing about congestive heart failure. I felt so rushed to make a decision.

Does anyone have any experience with congestive heat failure like this? Everyone is telling me I made the right decision but I don't think I did.
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Old 10-23-2012, 02:13 PM
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Garm, first let me say I am so very sorry for your loss.

Now, let me say I had a situation very similar. A 15-year old shih tzu who had mitral valve disease for years but was not in heart failure. He was on medicine for years for this.

At the start of this year, he started coughing and I took him to his cardiologist, who put him on a number of other heart medicines. However, on June 29 and 30, he went into acute heart failure, and on that Sunday morning the emergency vet at the vet specialists told me that I could put him down or put him in the oxygen cage for 24+ hours and IF he made it through he would have days to weeks left with me. At the outside, two months.

She made it clear that I would simply be buying time, and the cost would be between 1500-2000 dollars.

After much deliberation, I asked her what she would do if it were her dog, and she told me she would try the oxygen cage with the knowledge that when the dog went into acute heart failure again, she would have to put the dog down.

I went with that second option. Now I'm going to tell you the truth about how that worked, the good and the bad.

It was wonderful. He lived for 31 perfect more days for which I am so grateful. I would have paid double, triple that amount to have his perfect soul with me for those days.

But that time was also very, very hard.

1. The oxygen cage was hard for him. Very thin bedding in a hard cage for an old dog with two ruptured discs left him having muscle spasms in his neck every day when he came out. I gave him pain meds for this, put him under a heating pad, and gave him daily massages, but that's a tough thing for an old man.

2. Prior to this, we didn't spend much time apart. A couple of hours here and there, so just the fact of being parted for 32 hours was HARD. The vet specialist provided visiting hours, but he barked like a maniac when I left him. And when I heard that, it almost did me in to just walk out and leave him there. But it had to be done.

3. I asked him not to put his meds in his food because he was wicked smart about things like that. But they did because he was a dog in crisis, and they took the fastest route to fix him. This left me with a dog needing 15 medicines a day, and no easy way to get him to take them, where previously he would take them in pill pockets. So, for 31 days, I had to force feed him 15 meds daily. In the end, this is what got him. He started absolutely refusing to take the meds, locking his jaw tighter than a safe, and I couldn't get them into him anymore.

4. When he came out, he was on Lasix, and I have never cleaned up so much pee and poop in my life. This was a dog who had been fastidious about his potty habits and would NEVER pee in the house, but he just could not hold it.

5. He also, and I'm sorry to be so explicit, but occasionally at the very end I would find bloody foam on the floor and bed where he had been laying, which I learned was associated with pulmonary edema.

6. Dogs with this condition also can't be outside in the heat, and we had record-breaking heat this August. Well, my little guy wanted to be outside ALL THE TIME. So I rented a golf cart to ride him around, which I have to admit was pretty fun.

7. And eating. He didn't really have an appetite. Making sure he ate became my part-time job. There is not a recommended food for ill dogs that I didn't try to feed him, plus I gave him his old standby favorites, plus my human food that I thought he would like and wouldn't kill him on the spot.

Having said all this, it's probably hard to imagine, but he was happy in this 31 days. He wanted to walk and visit his friends. He kept to his normal routine, wagged that beautiful tail, and barked his crazy head off talking to me. And I was thrilled, every time he opened his eyes from a nap, I was THRILLED to see him.

So, to sum up what I'm saying here: Those 31 days were some of the best of my life... but they were also really tough. Every moment of every day and night was focused on Barnaby. I don't regret a single moment or the decision that launched me in that direction. I wouldn't change a thing.

But, all told, if someone -- like you -- had made or needed to make the opposite decision for themselves, I don't think they would be wrong.
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Old 10-23-2012, 02:19 PM
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Oh, and to add one more thing, I did have to put Barnaby down on July 31. He went back into acute heart failure. Doing that almost killed me. Even though I KNOW I did the right thing and had no other choice, my heart still tells me it was wrong.
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Old 10-23-2012, 03:29 PM
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Thanks barndog for sharing that. I have another Maltese dog who is 7 years old. If he develops CHF, I will know what symptoms to look for and try the meds.
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Old 10-23-2012, 03:44 PM
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
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Heartbreaking story and I'm sorry for your loss. This is one reason why I have started with the regular senior workup for my 10 year old Bichon this year. I figure a few hundred dollars a year which might give me headsup on catching a condition early enough to be treated is better than thousands at the last minute like you were facing. Did you dog get regular checkups and just suddenly get sick or did you just figure nothing was wrong until he got sick?
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Old 10-23-2012, 05:10 PM
Location: Manhattan, Ks
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Hi Garm,

I've worked as a veterinary technician for a cardiologist for 4 years and am now working in the ICU. Sadly, I've seen a few cases like you describe. We've been able to pull a few back from the brink with aggressive treatment but many didn't make it despite our best efforts. I would never judge an owner for choosing euthanasia in these circumstances. In fact, knowing what I know, I would probably choose euthanasia sooner rather than later for my own pets if they suffered from acute heart failure.
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:12 PM
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Thanks no_kudzu and kansas sky. I have to admit that we have been skipping check-ups for our dogs. We've been getting the rabies shots from a clinic that travels around and does them cheaper. I will definitely start taking our other dog to the vet to get regular check-ups. Maybe we could have caught this sooner and started treating the CHF before the emergency happened. We do take care of our dogs though. They get regular groomings that are expensive. They get three walks a day, and I stay at home with them and the kids every day.

kansas sky, thanks for the opinion from someone who works in that profession. The Doc or the Techs we saw didn't try to push us either way on our decision. The Doc just laid out the facts.

What bothers me the most is that she was still eating well, and she could see and hear well. She was not losing weight and was doing well with bowel movements. I just thought she was slowing down and coughing a lot from old age the past year. Her symptoms got so much worse so suddenly.
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Old 10-23-2012, 10:57 PM
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I am sorry for your loss, but don't beat yourself up about it. Even IF (and they may have not been able to save it) they could have saved your dog, it would not change the fact that it had congestive heart failure. The dog would have progressivly gone downhill and probably gotten to the point where it would be terribly lethargic and not want to eat. You did the right thing. Your Maltese would have suffered needlessly and think about how awful it would have been for you and your family to watch her deteriorate.
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Old 10-24-2012, 07:58 AM
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Garm, I am so sorry for your loss, I know the pain all too well.

I would like to echo kansas sky in saying I would have probably chosen euthanasia myself. I work for an elite boarding kennel and having been there for 10 years, I see a lot.

I had to put my sweet Cleo down on July 31st this year. She had been in for annual exam in late May/early June and was doing great for an almost 16 year old Border Collie mix. Fast forward to mid July, I had her brother in for a dental exam and she went along as always, well her vet was listening to her heart just a tad longer than what I was comfortable with... I asked and yes she heard a hear murmur that was not evident just a few weeks before! Knowing what I do through experience I knew we were heading for xray to look for congestive heart failure. Amazingly her lungs were clear and heart not enlarged. She graded her murmur a 2 on a scale up to 6. Turns out to have been a progressive murmur that had to have most likely been 4 if not 5 the day we put her to sleep a few weeks later.

Sadly heart conditions can come quickly, even with my girl seeing her vet in a few visits just weeks apart!

Please do follow your heart in visiting your vet on a regular basis, they will know your dog's history.
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Old 10-24-2012, 08:04 AM
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I had a tiny yorkie who had a heart murmur and went into heart failure. He swoll up with fluid and I spend a lot on meds and draining the fluid but it got to the point that he was having to go in every few weeks. He was not getting better and there was nothing else that would make him better.

You did what was best for your dog and while we always second guess ourselves in reality you did what you thought was best for her.
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