Saturday, October 4, 2014

There's no stopping a Tsunami

I know a lot of people probably have questions about what happened to Tanner as his end came so suddenly.  The thing about kidney disease though is that there are no early signs of it.  Most dogs show no symptoms whatsoever until they have irrevocably lost at least 75% of kidney function.  Tanner, who was a hyper-dedicated, overachieving Border Collie did not show signs until he had lost closer 95% of kidney function and was on the brink to total renal failure. 

While his end was sudden, in hindsight there were some subtle signs.  I took him to the vet last year and told her I thought something wasn't quite right.  His coat wasn't quite as beautifully soft and silky as it always had been, he tired faster.  This summer, I noticed signs that his vision was not what it had been.  No one but me ever noticed and given Tanner's extreme phobia of all things vet related, his vet and I both agreed that lots of test were not in his best interest. 

I can say now that Tanner had Chronic Kidney Disease.  It happens in about 10% of dogs and 20% of cats.  It can happen for a number of reasons, but in Tanner's case it was most likely either congenital or occurred secondary to a cancerous tumor.  We did not bother to figure out which as it was completely irrelevant.  The end would be the same regardless. 

Kidney disease is a bit like a Tsunami.  It starts like a little ripple out in the deep ocean that builds and grows slowly.  It gradually gets bigger, gathering momentum and speed as it moves relentlessly onward.  A boat traveling over it in deep water probably won't even know it's there, but when it finally reaches shore, it's path of destruction is unstoppable.

In Tanner's last couple of weeks, he started getting increasingly picky about food.  Then he began leaving meals unfinished.  Eventually he refused to eat altogether.  At first, I took no notice.  He has always been a somewhat fussy eater and it was not unusual for him to skip a meal.  He was never highly food motivated, he'd drop a steak dinner at the sight of a Frisbee. 

He began to have increasingly bad breath.  I thought he might be having trouble with a broken tooth or have something stuck in his throat - his habit of playing with sticks finally coming round to haunt him.   Last Friday, he was still playing with his brother, the picture of health.  By Sunday, he wouldn't eat and was showing signs of lethargy.  On Monday, I set out to find a new vet for him as his regular vet had retired.  After trying 4 different clinics, I finally lucked out on the 5th when the vet herself actually answered the phone.  She told me to bring him in that afternoon. 

I think she knew before she ever saw him.  If he was someone else's dog, I think I would have known too, but denial is a powerful thing.  I had managed to convince myself that we could fix this right up until the vet stepped out and showed me the test results.  His numbers were so bad that the blood analyzer kept throwing error messages, convinced that they couldn't be right.  But they were.

We tried.  We put tanner on intensive fluid therapy and fomotadine, hoping that he would respond, but the Tsunami had hit the shore.  He went downhill VERY fast. 

Once I knew, or accepted, that it was hopeless, I made arrangements with my horse vet to come out to the farm and put Tanner down, honoring a promise I made to him many years ago, that I would not let him suffer and I would not let him die in a vet clinic.  The night before, I gave Tanner a large dose of prednisone and lots of fluids, which fixes nothing, but made him feel better.  We played some Frisbee.  In the morning, more prednisone and FB and I took him and both of her dogs down to Tanner's favorite creek.  For a short time, he was once again the Lord of the Forrest, the fearless trailblazer, the steadfast companion, the protector.  He even went for a swim.  Afterward, one last car ride home and we sat on the lawn together.  He was very content, sitting with me, enjoying a massage as he surveyed his kingdom.  Eventually, he laid his head on my thigh and went to sleep.  The vet showed up shortly after and Tanner barely woke.  I held him in my arms as we all said goodbye. 

I know a lot of vets advocate yearly blood tests, lots of screenings.  Had I known of Tanner's hidden illness earlier I might have been able to start fluid therapy sooner, but he would have HATED that.  Some dogs respond well to a very low protein diet, then again, many don't.  Some advocate a diet of very high quality protein instead.  Tanner got nothing but best all his life.  They say fish oil can help.  I was already giving it to him for his joints.  There is some possibility that I could have bought him a couple of more months if I'd know earlier.  Then again, it may be that all the things I was already doing had already bought him an extra year.  Knowing would have been a blight on both our lives.  I'm glad I didn't put either of us through the trauma to find out.  There is no stopping a Tsunami anyway.

I made a pledge to Tanner when he was just a pup that I would give him the best life possible, that I would make every day his birthday.  When there were thunderstorms or gunshots and he had to hide in the bathtub, he probably thought they were lousy birthdays, but I know I always tried my best.  I have no regrets, but I miss him terribly. 


I'm going to take a little time off from the blog, from the computer.  I tried, but it's just too hard right now and I'm not good company anyway.  Thank you all for your caring and support, I can't tell you how much it means.  I'll be back in a little while, for now, I have to go hug a donkey. 


  1. Scout, Kelsey, and I miss Tanner very much, and we will think of him every single day for the rest of our lives.

  2. I'm sorry you both had to go through that. I have experienced two of my cats having renal failure in my life. It's hard. Very hard.

    I think you gave Tanner the most wonderful life he could have had. I'm glad you were able to make his last day a good one for him. He was able to enjoy himself being with you and others he loved. You loved him and he knew it.


  3. So sorry, Kris but he will always be in your heart.

  4. Tanner was one lucky pup, to have you as his Best Friend.

  5. This must have been a difficult post to write. I've said goodbye to five dogs and three rabbits over the last 20 years and I've always wondered what more I could have done. I've never doubted your excellent stewardship of your animals Kris. It was generous of you to share Tanner's last days with us, but I didn't need an explanation and I'll never tire of reading how much you miss him. xo

  6. Tanner had a wonderful, long life because of you. You did everything right including minimizing his stress near the end and preventing suffering. When the end is absolutely unstoppable you must make that hardest of judgements and ease their passing. Grief knows no timetable. Take time for yourself without the stress of blogging. We'll be thinking of you until you come back.

  7. You have been so loving and caring and gave Tanner a wonderful life. He would tell you if he could. Excellent job Mom. Take all the time you need. Thank you for sharing so much. I learned a lot and will be a better dog /cat Mom because of your in depth explanation of his illness. He had such a beautiful last day on this earth with his favorite friends and you. Bless you. Hugging a donkey has got to be good medicine for healing.

  8. Beautiful post. I type this with tears in my eyes, because I know how deep the hurt is...I truly hope you'll take the time you need for yourself. Not to get over it, because we never do - but to reflect and know that we did the best we could out of love. Our dogs have been laid to rest similarly. The small animal vets I've entrusted our animals care with, offer home visits with sincere kindness. I am very thankful, as it's so much easier on our beloved dogs. We know we too will be faced with the toughest of decisions once again sometime soon, and it weighs sooooo heavy on ones mind...take care.

  9. Our hearts our with you Kris in your grieving of your best friend. Tanner was one lucky boy to have you for a mom. Take all the time you need -- we'll be here when you decide to rejoin us. Wrap your arms around those beautiful donkeys -- they'll help ease some of the heartache. ♥♥♥

  10. I have not had time to be on the blogs much since I babysit our grandson during the school year - - - but just happened to see this. Soooooo sorry for your heartbreak. We have gone through it too many times at our house, too with all the pets we have had. You did the right thing with not going overboard with vets and treatment. Your dog sounded like it was happy right close to the end. We, too, have chosen not to let them suffer at the end when what they have is irreversible. We have had three cats lost to failing kidneys over 38 years. (We have probably had about 20+ cats.)
    When and if you feel like it, do a couple of scrapbook pages of happy memories so you will always have those to remember. It will help the recent pain to heal, too. Again - - so sorry.

  11. P.S. I just went back to read some of your previous posts. I love the one you did with Tanner's pictures. They are beautiful - - as are the huge stones you put on his grave.

  12. I'm so sorry you are doing it so tough. Don't feel bad about not picking up the kidney disease sooner. I had a vet phobic (and fear biter) dog and we made the same decision that extensive testing would not be done on her. When her heart went wonky, we could have put her through lots of testing at a big uni vet school and maybe found that a particular med might have given her another year at most, but it might have made her feel awful with side effects too. We decided to let her go instead and I don't regret it though I still miss her every day. Not every dog is cut out for lots of veterinary intervention. Anyway dogs want quality not quantity, and you gave Tanner plenty of quality in his life and you helped him go in a way we all wish we could go. You are a good dog mum. Big hugs. Tina

  13. An American in TokyoOctober 6, 2014 at 12:45 AM

    Enjoy your time off and don't feel that you have to hurry back!
    We'll be waiting for you regardless, so take all the time you need. =)

  14. Thank you for sharing this with us. You had such great respect for this sweet boy, making his life and last day just right.

  15. All of us that have animals understand. Take the time you need and it will get better and there will be ups and downs. You DID provide him the very best clear thru the end. Doesn't make it any easier. Just know we love you and understand (unfortunately all too well).

  16. I made the same promise with Iris and really, being border collies, neither of them would have been happy being less than what they wanted to be even if it bought them/us a couple extra months. Tilly? She'd have been pretty darn happy sitting on the couch ;-).

    We'll be here when you get back.

  17. Tsunami's suck! I think you did everything right and completely understand the need to take some time off to grieve. Peace and kindness for your heart.

  18. So sorry. We went through that with a hound dog and the vet wanted us to hospitalize her and put her on IV's and such.
    We let her go with dignity which is what you did with Tanner.
    I'll be here...