You might remember that Brogan came into our house after we lost Sloan. We were all very sad. We had lost 3 dogs in 3 years and weren’t sure we should get him. He ended up being exactly what we needed. He was a bundle of joy, and provided comic relief at every turn. The guy is a big clown. Well I think he may have taken our broken hearts on as his own because the big guy is in heart failure now.
Brogan started collapsing and losing consciousness in the summer of 2016, he would come back quickly, but it was still very scary. So off to the vet we went. They recommended an echocardiogram to get a better idea what was going on with him. At that visit they determined that he had a leaky tricuspid valve, but has probably always had it, and that wouldn’t explain his symptoms. So they chalked it up to vasovagal syncope. A condition that is very common in people, but not very common in dogs. Basically in stressful or high excitement moments his body tells his heart rate to slow down and his blood pressure to decrease instead of the opposite. Well we could live with that…not ideal, but much better than some of the other things that could be going on. So we carried on with our normal summer and my heart skipped a beat each time he turfed it, but I had narrowed it down to only really happening in the mornings, so we kept our exciting off leash walks for in the afternoon.
That fall I was working on the road and I stopped at the end of the day to let the dogs run around off leash and both dogs charged out of the truck excitedly, then Brogan collapsed, but this time it was different, he didn’t just collapse, he had a seizure and lost control of his bladder, he took a bit longer to recover and wasn’t quite himself for that walk. That was strange, but I was out of town for work, so I figured we would just keep him on a leash and see how the rest of the week went. Unfortunately it didn’t go well, it was like he had aged 100 years overnight, walked like an old man and could barely keep up on the shortest walks, no energy, and most concerning was his lack of appetite, but apparent growing belly. The Vet Tech in me knew this wasn’t good. So as soon as we got home we got him in to our regular Vet clinic. His usual Vet wasn’t working that evening, but the vet that was was very thorough and was in communication with our regular Vet. She confirmed that he did have fluid in his belly (which probably pointed to heart failure) and he had a crazy arrhythmia and tachycardia (his heart was racing at 3-4 times what it should be). She sent him home with some medications and warned me that any excitement may kill him. So we had to make sure we kept him very calm. She also booked him in for a repeat echocardiogram. So much for our weekend enjoying lake life. Our life for the next 3 weeks would be focused on keeping Brogan’s life as calm and boring as possible.
We went in for his echocardiogram on September 27th (the same day Sloan had died 5 years prior). So needless to say I was a wreck. However I was doing my best to keep it together for Brogan. We had to keep him calm at all costs. They promised to get us the results back as soon as possible, but from what the vet who did the echocardiogram said they were sure it was heart failure and started him on more medication to help him out. They also drained 4 litres of fluid off his abdomen. He still wasn’t eating well, so we kicked into dog cooking mode. Made him his own batch of stew, which he decided was worth eating. And made him raw meatballs to serve his pills in. And we waited.
The following week we got the results. He was in right sided heart failure (what is called congestive heart failure in people). Its not the typical heart issue for a dog his size or breed, but that didn’t surprise me. None of my dogs have followed the normal “rules” with diseases. I asked what his prognosis was, and the vet told me what I already knew, it wasn’t good. But she then proceeded to tell me that I had beat the odds with my other 3 that had health issues and she was sure I would with him as well. The researcher in me wanted to know a time line…what were we up against. Everything I read said the mean survival rate was 19 weeks (so that means the average of dogs that have his diagnosis live for 19 weeks). Well that wouldn’t be near enough time…so we definitely had to beat that.
I’m happy to say that overall he stayed stable and was doing fantastic until this summer (well past the 19 weeks) when he started collapsing again when we allowed him off leash. So we did another echocardiogram to see if his heart condition was deteriorating. Surprisingly it wasn’t. It actually looked better. The medication was helping. That still didn’t explain the collapses. A lot more research from both my Vet and myself and we both concluded that he has 2 issues, 1 causing his heart failure and the other one from whatever was initially causing his fainting. But there was no guarantee that that wouldn’t result in him dying after one of his collapses. His heart might not figure out it needed to pick up the pace and start beating again before it was too late. So the hard decision was made to restrict his off leash time. No more chasing squirrels, no more off leash dog parks, and hardest for me, no dog friends (other than his brother). I felt so guilty and selfish about that decision. Would that be what he would want if he could make the decision on his own, or would he rather go out in a blaze of glory chasing a squirrel or playing with a dog friend. I decided that no matter what he would rather, I needed him. He had healed my heart when I needed him most and now I was going to do my best to protect his from further damage.
That decision stopped the collapses and we enjoyed our summer fairly stress free. Then this fall/early winter he started collapsing again. Without being allowed off leash, without anything overly exciting happening. Now what. Is this the beginning of the end? I can’t bubble wrap the guy. He still needs to to be a dog. And enjoy himself himself and whatever time he has left with us. I would do anything to heal his heart the way he healed ours. But I am realistic enough to know that this probably means he is getting worse. He is booked in on Monday to have a repeat echocardiogram so that we can see what might be going on. And fingers and toes crossed be able to treat or manage it for many more years to come.
We all know that when we get dogs (or any pets really) that they are going to break our hearts. We just always hope that it won’t be for many many years. So we are hoping for many more years with him.