Archie lounging last year in San Diego

My best friend Clare’s dog, Archie, was just diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD): Doggie Dementia, or Canine Alzheimer’s.

Archie is nearly 15. According to the speakers at a recent Nestle Purina Companion Animal Nutrition Summit, an estimated one in four dogs over the age of 10 shows at least one sign of brain aging, with almost two in three dogs over the age of 15 showing signs.

Those are the cold facts, the ones that Clare was expected by many to take in stride. Several people told her that, because Archie is old, she shouldn’t be shocked or upset by the diagnosis.

Those people are idiots.

By the time Clare sent me an email to explain the impetus for the rather cryptic, slurred messages she’d left on my voice mail a few days earlier, she had decided that she ought be stoic. She had been “irrationally distraught” by the vet’s diagnosis, she wrote, and then,”I don’t know why I’m so heartbroken. It changes nothing.”

Bullcrap. It changes everything.

In addition to the vigilance required to keep a disoriented dog comfortable, the medications to administer — I’ll get to all that in another post —  there’s the awareness that Archie is not going to be cured. And that the end is approaching.

Archie is not physically ill, mind you. He’s a bit arthritic, a little deaf. His eyesight isn’t what it used to be. But, according to the vet, he has the constitution of a dog a quarter of his age. So there’s no question at this point of “putting him out of his misery.”

It’s Clare’s misery that is at issue.

When Frankie was first diagnosed with diabetes — another disease that can’t be cured — I lay down on the floor and wept. It was a hand-pounding, snot-producing, gasping-for-air tear fest. I was upset for Frankie, sure. But I was also upset for myself. The time that would be required, the expense, the constant worry…

Of course I coped. And Clare will too. Anyone who loves a dog does. And Frankie’s care has become routine. But I still wish for the days before the disease set in and sometimes I feel terribly sorry for myself. Then Frankie licks my face or does something goofy and I feel terribly lucky that he’s in my life.

Bottom line, for anyone who gets a feared diagnosis for a beloved pet: It’s perfectly natural to be upset. And anyone who tells you otherwise can… well, do what Jon Stewart has been telling Fox News and the group that made death threats against South Park’s creators to do.

35 thoughts on “Your Dog Can’t Be Cured? First, You Cry…”

  1. Your best column yet – gave me a lot of insight into pet owners (i.e. me: 3 dogs and a cat, Ellie the alpha female pack leader is now 11.). Thank you.

  2. Many years ago when my cat was diagnosed with feline diabetes it felt like a death sentence. Like everyone else, I went through the phases of crying, feeling hopeless and that life was unfair, and how could something so terrible happen to my little girl.

    I’m basically not one to just sit back and let things happen to me, so I turned my grief and shock into action and started to research the heck out of diabetes treatments for animals. I found out that diabetes is not a death sentence, that it can be managed and like humans, dogs/ cats can live happy, fulfilling lives.

    By working together to manage her diabetes, my “Mieux Mieux” was able to live to the ripe old age of 13…giving me the wonderful gift of years of memories that I still cherish. Life’s journey isn’t about how long we have, but what we do for whatever prescribed time that we are on this earth together.

    I know that Archie will enter this next phase of his life, as in the earlier phases, surrounded by the love and support of his mommy, friends, and family. What more could anyone ask for?

    1. You’re absolutely right. Frankie’s doing fine and Archie will be supported through his bad days and good as he always was. This being a guilt-free zone, I just wanted to give those who don’t feel they have the “right” to be upset the permission to have a quick breakdown before they settle in and do what needs to be done.

  3. Right on! Those people are idiots.

    I know that sinking feeling of “nothing’s changed, everything’s changed”. My heart goes out to Clare.

    And, thank you Edie, for writing this post. This is a message that can’t be conveyed too often.

    1. I’m glad this post resonated, Deborah. You never know when you put something like this out there. We — people who are immersed in the dog world where the depth of affection is a given, forget that there are people out there who don’t understand those feelings at all.

  4. I write about “clear/cleanse/build” in more detail in my book, but when my 18-year dog was diagnosed w/CDS, instead of giving her meds, I hunted down one of the possible causes: the organic barley she was eating tested at the lab with high levels of aluminum. After eliminating the barley from her diet (clear), I contacted Dr. Gloria Dodd who advised homeopathic nosodes to pull the aluminum from my dog’s brain (cleanse). Then following some research out of Italy, I mega-dosed her w ALA (build). Within a few weeks all but one of the CDS symptoms disappeared.

    1. Nadine, thanks so much for commenting here. I missed meeting you at BlogPaws (yeah, crazy to think about meeting in Ohio when we both live in Tucson)!

  5. First, I’m sorry to hear about Archie. I’d be super upset too.

    I just talked to Janet this morning, though, and some people have seen more calm, less confusion with elderly dogs that wear DAP collars. Not the spray on a bandanna, but the actual collars that last about a month. Something to try, at least.

    And, yes … I adored Jon Stewart’s song/dance this week.

    1. I’d like to try a DAP collar on Frankie to see if it calms him for car rides– one of the many things on my to do list. Thanks for the link, Roxanne. And there’s just something so wonderful about having a gospel choir in your head to answer all the idiots, isn’t there?

  6. One of my dogs is kind of prone to canine… stuff.

    On one occasion one side of her face swoll up. 20 mins later the other side. She started to pant and then her whole face puffed up until her eyes were just slits. And then these bumps appeared on the top of her head. They were big and hard and I had no idea what the hell was going on.

    She was scratching and wimpering- she was so clearly uncomfortable and it seemd like nothing I was doing was helping. It was such a helpless feeling- to know that you want *so very badly* to make things okay for this little being when all you can seem to do effectively is wring your hands. I didn’t want to freak her out so I was trying to be all calm and soothing around her but then I would go to the bathroom and freak out about how I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know what to do, and WHY AM I FREAKING OUT SO MUCH. And then I would go back and coo.

    As it turned out it was just an allergic reaction and some antihistamines cleared things up. I think I got about 45 mins sleep the night before we found out everything was going to be fine.

    I think it is perfectly normal to be rocked when something big happens with someone you love. It’s normal to feel scared and sad and confused and resentful and angry and at peace with the whole thing (and on occasion, all of those emotions all at the same time).

    I’m sorry you had to receive this news, Clare. My heart goes out to you. I’ll bet Archie is pleased as punch at the wicked life he has though- sounds like he has it pretty good 🙂

    Thanks for this post 🙂

    1. Nice to see you here, Shauna, and you made me laugh at your description. That’s exactly how I would describe the general coping process, in a capsule: Go out, be strong and calm for your dog, then hide and have a short freakout.

  7. Edie, you have the best commenters in the world! I’m crying all over again (Arch at my feet), but this time in gratitude for your great post and the responses it has received. Archie has never been much of a foodie (unlike his gourmand–as opposed to gourmet–mom) so I’m a little skeptical that the cleanse/restore program will work, but I’ll try almost anything. I so appreciate the validation from you and your cohort. And I’m appreciating every second with Archie–yes even the night terrors–knowing that I will really violate the guilt-free zone if I believe I haven’t shown him all the love he elicits in me.

    P.s. He’s 16ish (not 15)–can you believe it? Didn’t I just get him yesterday?

  8. While some people (including you) write about canine health issues, you’re at your best when you’re writing about how to cope with those issues. Another thing. When we were kids, I never heard about pets succumbing to human afflictions. Mostly, pets died of old age. Now its cancer, diabetes, dementia. Not to put you on the spot – but any explanation?

    1. First, thank you Rod for your nice words. As for pets dying of human afflictions, I think it’s just a question of better veterinary medicine/diagnoses and prolonged life span for pets. Humans used to die of old age too but now we know precisely what aspect of old age it is that’s doing the job.

  9. Thanks for all your comments. I was waiting for Clare to weigh in — glad you liked the post and if you send me a better picture of Arch (ha!) I’ll substitute it — and then I got a crazy allergy attack. Hope to be less fuzzy headed in the morning.

      1. Archie’s fans have spoken, Clare. But Archie, though dapper and outgoing, is oddly camera shy, so no pictures are likely to be forthcoming, with or without hat.

  10. I am so sorry to hear what Clare’s going through with Archie. It is heartbreaking, and I hope you allow yourself to feel all of it, in all the messy reality that Edie so beautifully described. While you will keep it together for your Arch, when your heart is too full of awareness of life’s limits, let the tears fall and don’t care what others think.

    If I read it right and the Vet said you were irrationally distraught, he may be a wonderful Vet, but just because he’s uncomfortable with others emotions does not give him a right to say such thing and try to make you swallow your emotions. Whole-heartedly agree with Edie that the gospel choir of the Jon Stewart Show should have a visit with that guy!

    1. No, it wasn’t the vet who told Clare that she was “irrationally distraught,” Mary,, it was Clare in a note to me after several people told her that dementia was only to be expected. Maybe that’s an idea for a new phone app, one that plays the gospel choir music whenever you indicate someone is saying something that warrants the Jon Stewart response.

  11. Your caption to the Archie picture at the top of this post neglected to refer to your previous post regarding Frankie’s 11-pound dominance: this is Archie, completely nonchalant in the face of ferocious (ha!) dominating onslaughts from Frankie. Archie is no one’s bitch!!

    1. Ha, I knew you’d notice that! The thing that’s amusing about Frankie’s attempts to make others bend to his will is that they’re received with so much apathy. At least Frankie didn’t try to hump Archie.

  12. Dementia is a difficult diagnosis – I live with it as well. Casey (Briarpatch Dash of Cayenne CD NA RAE) is 15 1/2. He has one cataract, but his vision is okay in medium light or darkness, but bright sunlight or switching into/out of it disorients him. He can’t hear much more than some high-pitched whistle tones. He is easily confused by new places, new situations and changes in his routines.

    Casey has been showing signs of worsening dementia for about a year now, but it’s become especially pronounced in the last six months. When I leave him alone in the kennel (because I’m showing his younger buddy Madison), the kennel girls tell me that he’s no longer coping well. When they’re kenneld together, Casey just sleeps the day away, but without M. as his security blanket, he frets every little thing. Taking him on the road while showing M. risks putting him into the equally disorienting show situation, but so far I’m finding ways to help him cope and minimize the problems. Not sure how much longer I’ll be able to help him cope, though.

    Archie sounds overall healthier than Casey at this point – he’s losing weight, and there’s no hiding that he’s an old dog. But on the days when he engages during a walk – rediscovers heel position, or stumbles over his tennis ball and joyously plays retrieve for a few minutes – I know that helping him stay engaged is worth every second of effort. Other times, when he’s had a bad night waking up next to me and not knowing where he is, or spending the day in a complete fog, I’m not so sure that I’m doing the right thing at all. If something happened to me, he would be at risk. If there was an emergency in the house (a fire, or a flood), he’d be at greater risk than M., who’d find her way to people and safety.

    In this guilt-free zone, Edie, I hope it’s also okay to recognize when the burden of care for a dog with an incurable and progressive illness is too great for the human to bear any longer.

    Hugging my boy, treasuring each moment, but sometimes wishing he was still the dog he was even a year ago. Be well.

    1. Thank you, Pat, for further defining/refining the issues. You’re right of course — there’s the question of safety to consider.

      As for recognizing the burden of care being too great — absolutely it’s okay to consider. Keeping animals — and people — alive beyond the point where the interaction is nothing but a burden does neither any benefit. I would hate for anyone’s recollection of me to be of a phase when I had nothing to offer another but stress. As we walk our dogs together, a friend and I often have this conversation about her mother, who is suffering from dementia. My friend, who spends half her days nagging the nursing home to provide her mother with proper care, wishes for a swift illness to take her away, knowing her mother would not want to live this way. At the same time, she can’t NOT treat her for minor ailments to keep her comfortable.

      Old age *is* a bitch, isn’t it?

      1. Hi Edie,

        I just stumbled on your site today while researching my 11 year old dachshund, Sadie’s, recent strange behavior and I must say, YOU ROCK! I think she might have symptoms of CCD because she has started freaking out when I make her go outside to do her business, and yes I do have to MAKE her go out! Then she proceeds to stand at the door and whine constantly until my husband yells at her or I let her in. She has also been panting at night and seems restless…but otherwise normal. My husband, who is not an animal in the house person, yet married a girl with a doxie and 2 pugs, thinks she has gone crazy! I was sorry to read about Archie and wish him and Clare the best!

        Also, my Grandma is in a nursing home with dementia and COPD and we are currently dealing with her being constantly drugged because they “need” to in order to keep her calm. We visit her every Sunday but who knows what happens the other 6 days of the week. My Grandma was so strong and amazing and my most favorite person in the world and now I have to watch her like this….she would hate it if she understood what was happening to her.

        And now my sweet little Sadie could possibly have dog-dementia?!?! Really???? What the hell???!!!!

        Old age is a bitch!!!! And I will find a way to beat it!!!!! (I’m 32!!!)

        Shawna M

    2. “If something happened to me, he would be at risk. If there was an emergency in the house (a fire, or a flood), he’d be at greater risk than M., who’d find her way to people and safety.”

      You know your pet is more than just a pet when you have thoughts like these. I’ve had dogs and cats all my life, but it wasn’t until Penny that I’ve started to think the same way. I guess it’s because of my changing perspective on life as I age, but I don’t worry about the aspect of dying…just what will happen to my little girl should something happen to both my wife and I. Call me an emotional sap, but I don’t even like Penny to be sad, let alone what she’d feel if her mommy and daddy were no longer around.

      Regarding the burden of care:

      I think that we are so in-tune with our pets that when the time comes, both you and your pet will know it. I’ve had the joy of sharing my life with many dogs and cats, and when the time came at the end of their lives, they actually were the ones who told me that they were ready. It was almost like they were trying to let me know that it was ok. Each time it was a heart wrenching decision, but it all comes down to quality of life and if all other options have been considered and ruled out.

      Pat, that’s horrible about the woman who lost her job because her boss didn’t understand her grief over losing her cat. It’s shocking, but there are a lot of people out there that do not “get” that special bond between an owner and their pet. I have a good manager friend that I work with who always rolls her eyes whenever I refer to Penny as my “daughter”.

      “Old age *is* a bitch, isn’t it?” – You can say that again Sister! 😀

  13. Having recently lost one of my dogs to leukemia, I want to thank you for writing this post. You’ve conveyed an important message. I am fortunate in that I’ve received tremendous compassion from my friends and family. There are those without such support. I attended a pet loss support group and heard a horror story of a woman who was fired from her job because her boss didn’t understand the loss of her beloved cat.

    After some time passed, I honored my dog in my own way. I wrote “Laughter Through Tears” and helped ease the sorrow:

    Thank you, again for your touching post.

  14. My heart goes out to Clare and her dog Archie. Some people do not and can not understand what it feels like to love a pet, not just as a pet but as a companion and a friend. Those usually are the people that tell you not to be upset over it, because they just don’t understand. I lost my kitty Gucci about 5 years back. He was my best buddy and I still miss him dearly. He died young unfortunately, and I remember rushing to the vet with him thinking, as long as I get him to the vet he will be fine, only to find out that wouldn’t be the case. Just like losing a close friend, or a family member, there is a pain that stings whenever you realize you can’t make things better. But you can enjoy the good times, which I am sure with Archie there are still plenty left, despite his illness. Best of luck Clare and Archie 🙂 <3

    1. Thanks, Jenn. I agree, it’s the feeling of not being able to control things and make them better — especially strong with a pet since we *do* control their lives so much of the time — that makes an already difficult situation even more difficult.

      1. Very well said, Edie. This post and all of the comments are totally pulling at my heart strings…but at the same time it is great to see others with such strong bonds to their 4 legged companions and similar experiences from which to comfort each other from. You are a very talented writer, because it is one thing to write something well, but another to get such a type of response from so many. 🙂

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