D. E. Larsen, DVM
“I just don’t know what is wrong with her, David,” Violet said. “She won’t jump up on the bed, and she cries if I try to pick her up.”
Violet was one of my older clients. She was a tiny lady with snow-white hair, in her nineties, she was still very spry. She still lived by herself, and her sole companion was a Shih Tzu with a dirty white hair coat. Daisy was at the center of her activities.
I had noticed that Daisy was walking very carefully this morning. She was usually bouncing around when Violet would come into the clinic. Daisy tensed when I reached down to pick her up. She whimpered as I placed her on the exam table.
“She is really sore, Violet,” I said. “How long has this been going on?”
“I noticed her moving slowly yesterday, and then she would not jump up on the bed last night,” Violet said. “She didn’t say anything when I put her on the bed last night, but this morning she cried when I lifted her down.”
Daisy tensed under my slightest touch. I ran my hands over her body, looking for a sore spot. I started with some gentle palpation of her abdomen first, then down her spinal column. She cried out as I came to the middle of her spinal column. I repeated the procedure, and she cried out again.
“Violet, she has hurt her back,” I said. “Most likely she has a herniated disk, right in the middle of her back. That is a common location for a middle-aged Shih Tzu.”
“Is she going to be alright?” Violet asked. “I just don’t know what I will do if I lose her.”
“Usually, there is little or no progression of signs as long as we get some anti-inflammatory medication on board,” I explained. “But I should get a set of pictures, just to make sure there isn’t anything else.”
“David, I just can’t afford to spend a lot of money today,” Violet said. “You know, Social Security just doesn’t pay an old lady much these days. And I have just about outlived my savings account.”
“I’ll get a set of x-rays,” I said. “And I will worry about how to pay for them. We keep a little slush fund for just such an occasion. But you have to understand, x-rays often don’t show a lot on a case like this where there is no nerve disfunction.”
“Then why do you want to take them?” Violet asked.
“I just want you to know what we can expect tomorrow and next month,” I said. “It really doesn’t matter what the x-rays show us. Daisy is not a candidate for surgery, and she will have to have some lifestyle changes.”
“Lifestyle changes!” Violet says. “Now really, David, she lives with this old lady, we don’t have much of a lifestyle.”
“Little changes,” I said with a chuckle. “Things like no jumping and no stairs, keeping four feet on the ground. Making her a bed on the floor and maybe losing a little weight.”
“We don’t have any stairs. Keeping four feet on the ground might be a challenge as Daisy likes to stand up for treats,” Violet said. “Making her a bed on the floor will be difficult for both of us.”
“The bed on the floor might be the most important,” I said. “We will see what her back looks like on x-rays, but just one jump off the bed, and she could end up paralyzed.”
The x-rays didn’t show much. That is often the case with middle-aged Shih Tzus. There was just some narrowing of one intervertebral disk space in the middle of her back.
“This is just what I expected,” I said as I reviewed the x-rays with Violet. “Daisy is going to do well. We will put her on some anti-inflammatory medication for a few days and provide her with some cage rest while on medication. We can keep her here for the cage rest if you would like.”
“I most certainly would not like, David!” Violet said with a stern voice. “I could not live without her for those 3 days. My daughter has a kennel, and if she doesn’t, I am sure my neighbor does.”
So Daisy went home with Violet. I would have felt better if she had some help at home, as we loaned her a kennel for the trip to her house.
“You need to call your neighbor and have her help you get Daisy into the house,” I said.
“Yes, David, I will give her a call as soon as I get home,” Violet said. “I will have a lot to talk to her about, with all of Daisy’s problems.”
Violet’s neighbor was most helpful, indeed. She got Daisy into the house for Violet and loaned her a large kennel. Then she bought the small kennel we had loaned Violet back to the clinic. We made sure that she knew everything that was to be done over the next few days.
We expected things to be uneventful for Violet as Daisy mended her back. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The following morning Violet made an early morning call to her neighbor. Violet complained about not sleeping with Daisy on the floor, and Daisy whined all night because she was not on the bed with Violet.
Then the unexpected happened. Violet passed out in the middle of the conversation, her neighbor heard her hit the floor, and she hung up and dialed 911. Then she rushed over to Violet’s house to find Violet completely unresponsive on the kitchen floor.
The EMT’s were there within minutes. Violet was in cardiac arrest. A couple shocks with the paddles, and she was revived. The neighbor took Daisy to her house, and Violet spent several days in the hospital. But she did return home where she lived several more years.
Numerous studies show pet ownership is a big plus for older people. People with pets tend to have fewer medical problems themselves and, in general, live longer than their non-pet owning peers.
In Violet’s case, it was undeniable that Daisy was instrumental in her living longer. Had Violet not been on the telephone to her neighbor that morning, they would have found her dead on the kitchen floor.