She continued to distance herself from me, and she began to fall asleep on her feet. It was funny, but it wasn't. She would start to sway, her eyelids would get heavy, and occasionally she would fall over. Sometimes I would hear a thump in the other room, would run into the room forgetting the "problem" and there would be Ayn Chee, standing already and shaking herself, and I would know the thump was because she had hit the floor.
I did a Google search on "my dog falls asleep standing up" and got about 10,000 hits in the first few seconds. As Ina would say, "Who knew?" I thought it might be Addison's disease, and made an appointment to take her in for testing. That is an easy test, one quick blood test, and it came back negative. The vet, Dr. Hoeffler (my hero, the best vet in northern Indiana) of Parrett Animal Clinic in Plymouth, suggested doing an abdominal ultrasound. He also wanted to do an EKG while she was sedated, since there is a heart problem called syncopy that causes the blood pressure to drop, lowering oxygen, which could cause her to faint.
When I picked her up after the tests were complete, I learned that her heart was fine, but there was a mass in her liver. All tests pointed to cancer, but without a biopsy, that is just an educated guess. They also found a tumor in her brain stem. He said that tumor, malignant or not, would not explain the fainting or her withdrawal. The EKG was normal, so by means of elimination, that leaves dementia as the probable cause of the odd behavior, the way she has distanced herself from me, no longer sleeping with me but spending the night on the sofa downstairs by herself, occasionally standing halfway down the stairs staring at the wall. And she has become very sensitive to any kind of stimulation, whether it be a gentle petting on her back, a light pat on the head, or talking to her. Noise in particular bothers her. But she still loves to take her walks. I forget that there is anything wrong while she is tugging on the leash, tail wagging, smelling a little bit here, a little there, and squatting to leave her mark.
I have been doing a lot of research while waiting for a last test on her elevated calcium levels. If it was ionized calcium, it could be causing her odd behavior, including the fainting. It can be controlled in some cases with a shot of prednisone. I was so hoping! It wasn't going to make the liver problem go away, but it could make her more comfortable and give me back my cuddling pup.
Due to the holiday, the lab was a week late with the test results. While I waited, I learned that a low carb diet is helpful for cancer in dogs, just as it is with us humans. So Ayn Chee is getting a diet of Hiatt's turkey - broth and meat - in several small meals each day to prevent the vomiting that had begun. Her mood seems to be better, and I took a selfie a couple of nights ago with her actually lying against me on the sofa - first time in a month! She stayed there for more than 40 minutes, a real gift. The change in diet seems to be agreeing with her.
I have started doing healing touch on her at least twice a day. It can't hurt. At first she squirmed away, but now she lets me hold my hands over her liver and neck for a minute or two. Who knows what good it might do, even if it is just good for me. I continued to hold out hope that there might be something that would make it all better. I think that is called denial.
Last of the tests came in for Ayn Chee today. It wasn't good news. In a nutshell, the calcium isn't an issue, and there is no treatment short of chemotherapy that will do anything for her. If I want to go that route, it would first require a biopsy to confirm that it is indeed cancer. The chemo would make her very ill. Liver cancer is one of the least treatable, and the most it might give her is a few more months. Quality of life would not be good.
And so we are just riding it out, Ayn Chee and I. Dr. Hoeffler agrees with me that she is in no pain. She wags her tail when we go for a walk, and she loves each bowl of broth and turkey. Occasionally she blesses me with some snuggling.
Given the comparative life spans of humans and our pets, I know I am going to have to face this again and again. And yet I don't regret it, not even now when the pain is so intense. I love her, I love them all, and I will deal with it when I need to. Now Ayn Chee, Tashi and I are going to take a walk to the end of the block and back. There will be much tail wagging and sniffing, and if I'm lucky there will be some cuddling before we all go to sleep.