Bean came to live with Dr. Jameson our two children and myself in September 2016. We were her second family. Her first family was moving to a residence where dogs were not allowed. What a bundle of unbridled, untrained energy. She had so much energy we literally had to walk her for an hour. If we walked 3km she did 15km, before she could focus enough for us to work on training. If we did not have a stick or ball to throw for her she would find a tree and hang from a branch and shake until it broke then bring it to us to play fetch. It took about 6 months for us to figure each other. She gradually became a well-trained dog and found her groove as one of our family members. Laying between our children while they colored in the morning, spending the day in my office at work and getting a good run on the way home.
If any being ever lived every moment to the fullest that is The Bean. She leads face first into any task with every ounce of her energy. We have to be careful what we ask her to do. If we ask her to jump up on a round bale she doesn’t size up the jump and see if she needs to run at it she just jumps. If you point at a snow bank and ask her “what’s in there?” she stuffs her head in the snow bank to check.
A few weeks ago, Bean was due for her annual wellness exam and vaccines. She is two and a half and 50 lbs of lean mean goofy energy. We asked Dr. Mattson to do the exam. He found that she had a funny high-pitched heart murmur. We followed the advice we would give to any pet owner with a heart murmur: to take chest x-rays to see if the heart was enlarged. When we measure the heart, we compare it to the size of the bones in the spine to get a number that will be consistent regardless of the size of the dog. Normal is less than 10.7. Bean’s heart measured 12.5. It was a large heart. The next step was to have an ultrasound of her heart performed by a cardiologist to see what was going on. So off we went to Calgary, to visit the cardiologist.
The diagnosis we received was probably one of the worst that we could have expected. She has a condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. It is a degenerative disease of the heart where it enlarges to the point that it becomes non-functional. Kind of like a balloon that is all stretched out and has lost its elasticity. If she was a human, they would be planning a heart transplant. With medications the expected survival is 6-24 months once diagnosed. Hopefully we will get some extra time because we diagnosed her before she had any clinical signs of heart failure. We will get a better idea of how fast things are progressing when she visits the cardiologist again in 6 months.
The cardiologist recommended two medications to try and ease the workload the heart has to do so hopefully we can extend the quality and length of life she has remaining. He recommended to avoid excessive activity. For Bean that could include going for a walk. The next day we went tobogganing with the kids and I tried to hold Bean back from running up and down the hill 3 times for every time the children went up and down. She just sat there watching, vibrating and whining. It wasn’t fair so we let her go and from her standpoint it was the best day ever. That didn’t work, so I guess she will have a lot of fun until her heart fails.
I guess the moral of the story is the importance of yearly examinations. I believe we have bought her some more time with the early diagnosis and getting her on the medications to help her heart function. She also has health insurance. I know that might sound weird a vet getting medical insurance for their own dog but I don’t fix broken bones… or interpret heart ultrasounds. As it turns out, she has already managed to break two bones since joining our family. Her jaw and a bone in her tail. We have no idea how she broke either, but she did. Luckily, surgery was not required in either case. The jaw was soft food and a muzzle so she could not play with toys and the bone in her tail just required rest. This venture with dialated cardiomyopathy, the cardiologist and the medications was not inexpensive, but without insurance we would have done the exact same thing. We just might not have gone on holidays this summer.
It is a hard thing to wrap my head around having a 2 ½ year old dog with a terminal illness that will get her in her prime. Somehow I think this might make me a better and more empathetic veterinarian. We have all shed a tear except the Bean and telling our children was not fun. We have made her a bucket list! I only hope we will have as much fun crossing the things off the list as she does.
Dr. Andrew Hodges