The rain was coming down in sheets as the next emergency case arrived at the front desk. It was an elderly Labrador retriever that the owners reported was unable to walk. They had let him out in the backyard that morning like usual but he never returned to eat his breakfast and the male owner found him struggling to stand at the edge of their property. He had a history of back problems, at one time so severe that he required surgery to alleviate the pressure on his spinal cord from a herniated disc. The owners were very concerned and just wanted to see if there was anything we could do to help him, although they knew he was in the twilight of his time with them.
I knelt down to examine Buck, as he was lying sternal along the floor of our triage room. He had deep chocolate eyes that matched the color of his fur, although that fur was now turning white along his muzzle and around his eyes. He had a very hard time standing and he needed us to support his hind limbs in order to remain upright for me to assess his mobility. I felt his legs and noticed how much muscle he had lost and detected the thickening of his joints that signaled the presence of arthritis. I knew it must be uncomfortable for him to allow me to manipulate his body, but Buck just wagged his tail weakly and kept trying to lick my face.
Our examination determined that Buck had developed degenerative joint disease that was now so serious he couldn’t walk without assistance. We also suggested testing Buck’s blood to determine if he was experiencing any other medical issues. Buck’s family asked us to keep him for the night in order to monitor him and start some new medication that might help him get around a little better. His blood work was returned soon after they left and unfortunately indicated that Buck was now having kidney problems. We talked this over with his owners and in light of everything else, they chose to take Buck home the next day without pursuing further workup of his kidneys, knowing that this problem would most likely worsen even though Buck didn’t feel sick yet.
I walked Buck up to his owners when they arrived the next afternoon. He was moving a little more swiftly after starting on his new regimen, but he was still quite slow. We made the trip from our triage room up to the lobby of the hospital and I handed him over to his family. Buck practically smiled when he saw them and I could see that for him and for his owners the long walk was completely worth it. Buck was able to enjoy a few more weeks at home and get around pretty well until his kidneys finally gave out. The owners were thankful for the extra time with him and I remain thankful to have met him.
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)