Thursday, June 10, 2010

Every Year I Get Older (and so do my Berners)

**Warning that this is slightly depressing**

Chris and I flew rather quickly into the world of dogs. Since we jumped in, we've brought three Berners into our family, two of which are show dogs who came to us as puppies and one who came to us as a rehome/rescue at three years old. Chris and I both had dogs growing up, but they were family dogs that were not our responsibility. We've fostered dogs and cats off and on for the past 7 years. I've spent more time and effort learning about Berners, dogs in general, training, feeding, general health, etc... than I even want to account for (time when I probably should have been I should be now!). So it is somewhat shocking (in a non-shocking sort of way) to reach this point and realize that we haven't actually come very far, and for some things, only time is a teacher.

Jackson is our first Berner, and he will be 4 in August. On one hand, my heart sinks when I think about him being 4 years old already. By the time I'm 30, Jack will be 9 and an old man. It is difficult to imagine Jackson as old... as anything other than our crazy, enthusiastic, energetic boy. The hope is he will still be healthy and crazy at 9! On the other hand, I feel surprised to realize we've only been in the breed for 4 years. Hilga was our second Berner. She joined the family at three years old when Jack was about 1 year old. She just turned six at the beginnning of May. And of course, Lemon is the baby at 18 months and our third Berner.

What I'm thinking about is that despite our experiences over the last 4 years, despite all the time I've spent researching allergies, supplements, different foods, ear treatments, name it and I've probably spent some time searching for the perfect answers for my dogs... in the next few years, there is going to be SO much more to learn.

I've never been responsible for a dog over the age of 6. More importantly, I've never had a Berner over the age of 6. In Berners, year 6 is when we start the "old dog" phase. It is a sad, sad truth in the breed that the average lifespan of a Berner is 7. Seven. Typically the cause of death is cancer. For the past 4 years I've learned everything I can regarding how to best care for my healthy, young dogs. I've just now started trying to wrap my head around the idea that within the next 4 years, I will most likely be forced to learn everything I can about caring for an older dog, caring for a dog with cancer, or making quality of life decisions.

Hilga is a picture of health right now (as in if you took her picture, she would look like a very healthy dog). Her allergies are the best they've ever been. Her ears are the best they've ever been. She is moving really well, barely can see any effects of her mild hip dsyplasia. However, in the past, Hilga has had a handful of mild seizures. She also has leg tremors. We've never been overly concerned about these things, attributing the seizures to her severe allergy problems (never seen them when she is healthy allergy wise). And the tremors don't really have any impact on her quality of life. But lately she has been waking up in the middle of the night, panting heavily, so heavily that even I (heaviest sleep in the world) wake up.

We went to the vet who checked her out and ran blood tests which came back perfectly fine. The vet thinks it all might be connected, and suggested we might see a neurologist if we want to pursue it further. So we have several options... xrays of her lungs, neurologist to find out about her brain, medication for her anxiety, or do nothing.

So what do we do? How far do you go to diagnose a healthy, happy dog for occasional heavy breathing? If we found something serious, how far would we go in treatments? Its an interesting question, and one that we're encountering for the first time, thankfully with time to sort it out and consider all the options. I'm sure in the years to come, we'll encounter it more often and in more difficult situations. Not looking forward to that aspect of ownership.

One of the crazy things about having a dog to begin with, is that people get into it knowing just how badly it is going to end. Of course there are some endings that are worse than others, but as opposed to our human relationships (or perhaps a relationship with a tortoise or a macaw), we start loving our dogs knowing our hearts will end up broken. I think that later in life, I will look back at myself as totally innocent about the pains of dog ownership during this period of my life. Right now, its been 4 years. Lets hope the innoncence phase lasts at least another couple of years (if only it would last forever!).

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