I have a secret: My dog, Jones, is incontinent. And his incontinence rules our lives.
It started happening about six months ago, and initially, we blamed it on poor Kona. She was from Hawaii, she’d never been an indoor dog, she’s weird, etc. It never occurred to us that the culprit could be Jones. But then we started putting it together:
- A year ago, the week before Christmas 2014, Jones ate three stuffed animals. We were totally gobsmacked. Jones loves to eat broccoli and salmon and anything else that drops on the floor, but prior to that incident, had never shown an iota of interest in anything that wasn’t food. We hoped it was a one-time deal and moved on.
- Also about a year ago, our inexhaustible ball dog became noticeably slower, and stiffer. We’re not entirely sure of his age, but we assumed it was arthritis, which an expensive trip to the vet confirmed. We put him on daily pain medication.
- Over the last six months, we’ve noticed Jones pacing in circles, and sort of … staring. You can’t do cognitive tests on a dog, but we assume it’s mild dementia. And dementia is often accompanied by incontinence.
This past Christmas, during dinner, Jones unleashed a torrent of urine right in front of our guests. It was mortifying, but not totally unexpected, since his inside accidents had increased to the point where we were having him wear a diaper. In fact, we now own five diapers, the washing machine is always going, and my laundry room smells like pee.
The day after Christmas, I took Jones to a new vet. What if there was something neurological going on? Or what if Jones’ stiffness was making it hard for him to make it outside in time to do his business? As we were making our way from the waiting room to the exam room, Jones pooped all over the floor.
The vet did a thorough examination and reviewed the voluminous records I’d had sent from our other vet. Jones’ blood work is perfect, with no sign of cancer. His vitals are great. His x-rays confirmed arthritis, but no other masses. We opted to do an ultrasound, to rule out an abdominal mass, and we consulted with a neurologist.
There’s nothing in Jones’ stomach that would be causing the incontinence. We don’t know if he has a brain tumor without an MRI, and both the vet and our neurologist steered us away from that. It’s expensive, and even if there is a tumor, there’s not much we can do about it. It’d be more for confirmation purposes. So at the moment, we have no definitive diagnosis for Jones.
The neurologist recommended a course of steroids, to reduce any inflammation in his spine that could be preventing his brain from communicating with his hindquarters. We started those a week ago, and while Jones’ mobility is slightly improved, the steroids make him drink more water, and hence, pee more.
On Friday, I was answering e-mail when I heard his nails going tap, tap, tap, tap on the hardwoods. By the time I got downstairs to find his soaking wet diaper, he’d tracked droplets of urine all over the downstairs — in the playroom, on the hardwoods, on the area rugs. I was supposed to go to a training to be a health room volunteer at Bini’s school, but instead, I scrubbed carpets and washed dog diapers.
“I give up,” I texted Steve during the clean-up. (Which, by the way, I’m very efficient at.) But that’s not true. I can’t give up on him.
I’ve had well-meaning friends talk to me about Jones’ quality of life, and I get it. Sophie, my beautiful German Shepherd, died of blood cancer three years ago, and it was an awful death. We kept her alive too long, because we just couldn’t bear to let her go. It’s a fine line most pet owners will have to walk at some point. I wish vets handed out a decision tree to help make this horrible choice easier (If incontinent + healthy –> keep alive. If incontinent + immobile + confused –> let go). Our vets aren’t advising anything, though. I suspect they don’t want the liability of a bereaved, deranged pet owner.
Is Jones ready to go? His lab tests indicate that he’s healthy and cancer-free. His appetite is great, and he gets around fine, albeit slower than he used to. He doesn’t bound and play like he once did, and he wears a diaper, but he’s old. We don’t kill our grandmothers when they get old, so I’m not going to put my dog to sleep because he’s an inconvenience. I’ll grit my teeth and wash soiled linens and come to terms with the fact that I will need to rip up the carpets in my nearly new house at some point. Because what else can I do?
What would you do?