What the kool kids call the TL;DR…
Last month, Maxwell suffered congestive heart failure. We obtained emergency care and he is recuperating. While the condition is incurable, a life expectancy of up to 2 years is possible. So far, he has made good progress in his recovery. His prognosis is favorable within the constraints of the disease. Meanwhile, he’s just as sweet tempered as always and a joy for us to have. However, he’s not amused by his new low salt diet.
Below is the long version of the story because some of you guys always want the details. But, really, you already know all the important stuff.
It was on a Friday at about midday when we first noticed that Max was having problems walking. His rear end was just sort of floppy and he had a pronounced limp. He was not showing any signs of pain or distress and his legs and hips were not sensitive to touch or manipulation.
We decided simply to monitor him for awhile. In the past he has twisted his leg or stubbed his doggy toe on the stairs and he recovered quickly without intervention. But as the day wore on his gait continued to deteriorate.
About 5PM Max’s respiration changed. He began to breathe very fast, contracting his stomach with each breath. A slight wheezing was heard and he had no interest in any activity or food. When the Furbeast declines his snacks, there is something very wrong.
I called his regular veterinarian office which maintains services until 8PM every day. That’s when I first discovered that vet offices across Southern California, and probably across the country, have been overwhelmed by demand for several months, largely because of people adding pets to their families during the lockdown days of the pandemic. The vet office said it was at capacity and could not see Max even on an emergency basis.
“At capacity” was a phrase we would hear a lot in the next few hours.
At first we pondered whether we could wait on treatment and see if Max recovered spontaneously but by then he had started shivering and shaking so we started a search for an emergency veterinary office that could accept our pup.
I called three or four nearby places but the response was a carbon copy of our vet’s answer: “at capacity.” This wasn’t working, so we opted to grab Max, jump in the car and present ourselves in person at the next possible vet office on theory that it is always harder to refuse someone when he is standing in front of you.
After two more flat-out rejections, a very kind Vet Tech at a VCA Animal Hospital agreed to at least come outside and give Max a quick look-over. Her assessment was that the Pupster did indeed need immediate care and although the VCA Hospital was at capacity she knew of a small emergency clinic in the unlikely named town of Diamond Bar that might be able to accommodate him. By then it was past 8PM but that clinic operates 24 hours on weekends so we quickly drove the 20 miles.
Success! The clinic welcomed Max, the techs carried him into the back rooms and soon we were talking to the Veterinarian on Duty who said Max was reasonably stable and would have to wait his turn in triage before a more thorough examination could be performed. That’s because the clinic was – you got it – at capacity, and Max was the cow’s tail, the last one in the door.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions and the dearth of nearby alternative venues for waiting, the Alpha Japanese Female and I sat in the car for the next three hours. Then the Veterinarian called and presented his plan for diagnosis. Not treatment mind you, just the diagnosis. In other words, it was near midnight and they were just getting started on Max.
The diagnosis plan included a full body examination, complete blood work-up, pulmonary tests, EKG/ECG, and a series of radiographs followed by a telemedicine consult with a canine radiographer. I could hear my VISA card screaming in torment at the news. But, of course as doting dog parents, we just said, “Do everything you can.”
After (probably) ordering a new Mercedes, the Vet got to work and by 2AM had completed all but the online consult. He recommended at that point that we leave Max at the office until morning so that the Dogger could have oxygen therapy too. We were exhausted and went home to wait for the Vet’s phone call which he promised by 6AM.
It was a short and not very restful sleep and my phone rang just after 5AM. The consult was complete, the test results and examinations done and Max was resting quietly. So, what was the problem?
The Vet said that all of Max’s symptoms traced to a rapid manifestation of congestive heart failure. His heart had difficulty pumping sufficient quantity of blood and as a result there was a build-up of fluid in his lungs. That, in turn, triggered the labored breathing, the weakness in his hindquarters and his overall weakness and malaise. After oxygen and a dose of a diuretic to start draining the fluids Max was discharged and we were told to get him to his regular Vet tout suite (or “toot sweet” if you speak American.)
We collected Max , his meds, a sheaf of medical reports and a CD of his digital images and returned home at about 8AM, the same time that his regular veterinarian’s office opens. Can you guess who was first in the queue? Thanks to my charm (or BS abilities) I got past the gatekeepers at the front desk and was able to talk directly to Max’s regular Vet, the lovely Dr. C, who cleared a spot on her schedule so that she could look Max over that afternoon.
After reviewing the material we brought from the emergency clinic, giving the Malt another exam and running some tests, Dr. C agreed with the earlier diagnosis of CHF – congestive heart failure and prescribed a few additional medicines for Max to take to strengthen him to withstand a further battery of tests including ultrasound studies, fluid collection and other stuff I don’t remember.
A few days later we sat with Dr. C to talk about the results and what it all meant for our Hero.
Congestive heart disease is a common affliction, especially among older, small dogs. Max will be 14 next month. We knew for some time that Max had a mild heart murmur and Dr. C confirmed that the chief problem was Max’s mitral valve which was leaking and reducing his heart’s pumping capability. The disease is not curable but pharmacological intervention and lifestyle changes can extend the life expectancy of a dog in these circumstances.
With congestive heart disease the possible outcomes all lead to the same place; it’s just a matter of time. The arc of survival ranges from sudden death to as long as 24 months if things go exceptionally well. Dr. C couldn’t be much more precise because there are so many other factors involved but noted that both she and the consulting doggie cardiologist felt Max’s condition was milder than other cases. She prescribed a series of drugs that Max takes three times a day. To maximize his life expectancy, he is to live quietly and avoid stresses (tell the squirrels), no running in the park or other physical exertion, a low salt diet and frequent check-ups.
So, how is he doing right now? His respiration rate has returned to normal and he can walk normally with just an occasional “hitch in his giddy-yap” as the cowboys would say. He’s pretty low energy right now and spends much of his time sleeping. He has an appetite again and is parlaying his affliction masterfully so as to obtain more (low salt) treats from the Alpha Japanese Female. He gets his pills hidden in hot dogs and that’s a story for another day.
Throughout it all Max remained the world’s most gentle dog and never exhibited irritation or aggression to anyone even when in distress. He still snuggles against my leg when he sleeps although his diuretic regimen means he and I are outside on the back lawn at 3AM like clockwork. He pees, I watch out for coyotes, we discuss prostate issues and then it’s back in the sack for us both while the AJF snores quietly throughout.
We’ve been spending more time together in the infamous pleather recliner, swapping political views, solving world problems and talking sports and I think I see signs of growing vitality. He’s a pretty tuff little guy and we hope we will have him for a long time to come. So far, so good.
So that’s the whole story. From time to time I’ll update you with progress reports on his health as well as relating other stories about Max. Keep your fingers crossed and never bet against the Malt!
Categories: The Dog From Rancho Cucaracha