Earlier this month I wrote about our beagle Cricket going back to the vet because her cough, which is caused by an enlarged heart, had gotten worse (“Looking on the Bright Side”). Our vet decided to put her on a new medication and I was of course worried about how she would tolerate the new medicine and whether or not it would help.
I’m happy to report that, thankfully, she is tolerating the new medicine (Enalapril) well – we’ve seen no sign of side effects – and her cough has eased up a lot. While she does still cough, she no longer coughs when playing or when she gets a little excited, which had been the new symptom she had developed with the cough recently, and why we headed to the vet with her. Her cough will never go away completely.
When we visited the vet for her follow-up appointment, she heard no crackling in Cricket’s lungs, meaning the fluid was gone – great news! She also noted that Cricket’s heart murmur had lessened as well!
That’s the good news. The bad news is that her heart is larger than it was when we had x-rays done back in the fall, so her disease is progressing (not unexpectedly). While at the vet, I wanted to discuss her long-term prognosis (her heart will never get better, the best we can do is slow things down), whether there would be any more we could do when she does worsen, and whether or not it was really wise to let her continue to play fetch (her favorite activity). Could a dog die of a heart attack when overexerting, like a human could?
The short answer to the final question is “not likely” for Cricket, however, over-exertion could lead to life-threatening breathing difficulties, so we do need to be careful. We discussed keeping her play times shorter, not throwing the ball as far, and generally trying to get her to slow down (this beagle does not have a slow speed, except for when you’re waiting for her!). Hubby and I had already discussed this when she was first diagnosed; taking ball playing away from her completely is not something we want to do. We want her to be happy for as long as possible.
Chances are that in time she’ll tolerate exercising less and less anyway, so if she still feels like it we want to let her. At times she will stop herself, but we’re going to try to keep play sessions shorter. When the weather cooperates, we should be able to walk more and get out a couple of times per day for short sessions too.
If/when Cricket worsens, there will not be a lot more we can do. She’s pretty much at maximum dosage of two of her meds, though it could be possible to increase the newest one after some tests to be sure she could tolerate that.
The life expectancy for dogs with her condition is from 6 months – 2 years, depending on where you read. Our vet originally said she thought a year for Cricket, though didn’t want to commit to that, and said 6 months – a year (from now). It’s already been close to 6 months since she was first diagnosed, but it seems promising to me that she hasn’t shown other symptoms such as exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, or fainting. There have been occasions that her appetite isn’t great, and there is the weight loss she had. I’ve weighed her here at home now and I think she’s put a little bit back on (though I don’t know for sure how our scale compares to the vet’s).
We know the drill, just as everyone who has senior pets does. Whether they have a chronic illness like Cricket, or the cancer that Sheba had, or they’re just aging; it’s all about living each day to the fullest. We will enjoy every day that Cricket is feeling well and hope those days last for a long time.
We want to balance her happiness with having her with us for as long as possible and feeling well for that time. Obviously quality of life is the goal, and for Cricket that includes playing ball. It’s always been her passion. She’s had times before when she was hurt that we couldn’t play, and we always tried to make up for that with a little bit of other types of play if we could. The other day, we stopped the game before she was ready to, and she just came in the house, laid down on her bed and chewed on her ball for a while. She knows how to find balance too.