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Veterinary Forum February 2009 (Vol 26, No 2)

Editor's Note — Measuring quality of life

by Marie Rosenthal

    Bogart is a thinker. When my other dog, Jane Eyre, sits in his "space" on the couch, Bo goes to the door to be let out because he knows Jane will get up and follow. She can't miss a chance to run outside. Then Bo quickly changes his mind and reclaims his position on the couch. It's been 6 years, and Jane falls for that ruse every time. Bo even tries the strategy when Tom, my husband, sits in Bo's "space." Of course, the "Big Dog" in the house makes Bo get down, but you can't fault a dog for trying.

    Since he was a pup, Bo has repeatedly demonstrated thought and reason, and he's stubborn. So when Bo stopped eating, I knew we were in for a hard time.

    Bogart, our 10½ year-old neutered Weimaraner, was diagnosed with prostate cancer about 2 months ago, and we opted for chemotherapy to give him a little more time. He did pretty well with the first two doses, but after the third, he had problems. When we got home after the treatment, he ate normally but then threw up all night. So Bo stopped eating: no kibble, no chicken, no eggs, no beef, no peanut butter — all he would do was drink a little water, which he was able to keep down.

    I coaxed a little chicken and rice into him, but not much. The vomiting occurred on Monday. By Thursday, the night before I left for the NAVC Conference, I didn't think he would make it. Tom said he would take Bo to the vet on Friday and promised to keep him alive until I got back so I could be with him when he dies.

    His primary care veterinarian gave Bo some fluids, tinkered with the antiemetic dose, added an antacid and sent him home with the warning: If Bo doesn't eat by Monday, take him back to the oncologist. On Saturday, Tom put dry kibble in Bo's mouth and held it shut until he swallowed. Bo ate about a cup of food this way. "He has to be convinced it's okay to eat," I told Tom. "Once he realizes that he can keep it down, he'll eat again."

    The next day, Tom hand-fed him about a cup of kibble smeared with peanut butter and Bo took it without force. He went for a walk, ate some snow and actually barked at a stranger who walked by the house. The following day, he ate some kibble, peanut butter and chicken — probably enough for a full meal. He's not recovered, but he seems on the mend.

    I knew when we embarked on this journey of cancer care that we were in for good and bad days, but this past week was the most heartrending I have ever known as a pet owner. It has made us think long and hard about Bo's quality of life because if he's not up for the fight, there's no point in going on.

    NEXT: FDA expands peanut butter recall to include pet food products