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Adopted at 15, Dachshund Now 20!

2010 November 30

Grey white clown faced long haired red 20-year-old miniature dachshund dog

Smiling Penny


Loss of a Faithful Companion Can Tear Your World Apart

Shara lost her 12-year-old mini Dachshund to Bufo Toad toxicity.  Mimi had been a lusty red-headed long haired Dachshund, and she did what Dachshunds do: Mimi got into everything, preferably teeth first.  The Bufo toad sat in wait in the leaves at the edge of the patio, and when Mimi lunged for the toad, her tongue barely touched the poisonous skin.

She immediately started foaming at the mouth and tremors and seizures followed within two minutes.  Even though Shara washed out Mimi’s mouth with hose water and rushed to the animal hospital, Mimi could not be revived out of her seizures, even with continuous general anesthesia.  She eventually lapsed into a coma and passed away later that same night.

“If your dog licks a Bufo Toad, or, if your dog was in the yard in Florida, and you suddenly notice severe drooling and tremors, rinse the mouth well, and get to the vet’s,” saus Doc Truli.

Shara was devastated.  If you’ve ever lived with a dog, or especially a Mini Dachshund, especially since you were a teenager and your dog has been your only constant companion through school, and moves, roommates, and love affairs, and even the passing of your father at only 55, you feel the pain Shara felt when Mimi passed away at only 12 years old, and so suddenly.

We would all understand if Shara felt depressed or withdrawn or pessimistic.

We were all surprised when Shara returned to the animal hospital the very next week with a “new” companion!

Love Springs Eternal…At the Animal Rescue Shelter

Enter Penny.  Long red fur, long royal nose, stubby chubby paws pointing out, feathery long tail waving a friendly welcome to everyone she met!  Shara found a new companion at the local rescue league.  But Penny was no puppy.  She wasn’t even young.  She wasn’t even middle-aged!  Penny’s face had a grew laughing clown-like pattern around her eyes and muzzle.  She looked benevolent and smiling all the time.  And she was already 15 years old.

“I figured she needed a good home and I fell in love with her the minute I saw her,” said Shara.

Shara never thought twice about how much time she and Penny might have together.  She only thought about this loving, beautiful, peaceful, friendly Dachshund and Shara knew they were meant for each other.

Through the years, they weathered tremendous ups and downs, but mostly “ups.”

First, Horrible Festering Dental Disease at 15

Penny’s previous family relinquished her to the animal shelter at the ripe age of 15.  They stated that their grandmother had passed away, and as Penny had been her dog, no one in the family had the space or time to care for her.  Imagine!

Shara brought Penny for her fist post-adoption physical examination.  Penny was sway-backed like an old horse, and she had incomplete cataracts, so she could see okay, but not perfect.  Her biggest health issue, beside some arthritis, was her dental health.  Penny’s incisors were loose and many of her molars were rotten and infected.

They stated that their grandmother had passed away, and as Penny had been her dog, no one in the family had the space or time to care for her.  Imagine!

After dire warnings about older pets and anesthesia, Shara eagerly signed the dotted line for Penny to undergo oral surgery.

“She deserves to be comfortable,” Shara said.

Doc removed 15 teeth that afternoon.  Cleaned everything, gave Penny some relaxing painkillers.  This amazing little dog was awake and begging for food within 20 minutes of her surgery!  She recovered fully in hours – not days!

Penny Faces Adrenal Carcinoma

sagging belly from weak muscles damaged by extra endogenous cortisol from adrenal gland carcinoma in a dachshund

Penny's belly sagged from the Cushing's disease making the muscles floppy

Fast forward a year.  Penny and Shara have been constant companions.  Shara noticed Penny was drinking a lot of water, urinating in the house, and her belly looked large.

“These are non-specific symptoms of over 40 diseases,” warned Doc Truli, “We’ll start with a diagnostic database of CBC, Chemistries, and Urinalysis and go from there.”

After the basics, an ACTH stimulation test, and abdominal ultrasound, we found an adrenal tumor inside Penny’s abdomen in between her kidney and her aorta.  This tumor was making natural cortisone steroid hormones.  Even though her body was making the natural hormone, the effect of too much in this runaway tumor was the same as if someone fed Penny prednisone or steroid pills like candy for months.

The condition is called hyperadrenalcorticism (Pronounced high-per-ah-dree-null-core-ti-sizum), also known as Cushing’s disease after the doctor that discovered it in humans.  Furthermore, there are two main sub-types.  One type is driven by the pituitary gland in the brain.  This pituitary dependent hyperadrenalcorticism accounts for 85% of cases in dogs.  Penny had the rarer, vicious kind of Cushing’s caused by an actual adrenal gland carcinoma, a nasty, usually metastatic spreading cancer.

This pituitary dependent hyperadrenalcorticism accounts for 85% of cases in dogs.

Risks of Adrenal Gland Surgery

The adrenal tumor responds poorly, if at all, to the medication that works for the pituitary Cushing’s.  Surgery is the best option for many patients.  However, adrenal surgery of this type is extra dangerous.  First of all, the location of the tumor is tricky.  Deep in the abdomen, directly nestled between blood vessels that supply the kidney and the pipeline to the body, the massive aorta running under the spine down the back.  One wrong move and the patient dies.  If the tumor has spread invisibly and weakened the structures around the adrenal, the patient dies.

Adrenalectomy is also dangerous because the disease and the extra steroids in the body have made the body functions deteriorate.  The vital signs – like blood pressure, and heart rate- may not maintain well under anesthesia and a long surgery.

Shara understood.  She also understood that, with a 16-year-old dog, we had no idea how much longer she had to live anyway.  But here’s the thing that made us decide: Penny had a vibrant glow, a calm acceptance, a peaceful love that felt strong.  She just felt like she wanted to live a long time.  So Shara requested surgery as soon as possible.

Again, Penny cane through with no complications.

“Shara, even though the adrenal gland has been removed, research shows us that almost all the time, an adrenal carcinoma has already spread around the body by the time we diagnose it and remove it,” said Doc Truli.

“What does that mean?” said Shara.

“It means the cancer is likely still in her and will still be the thing that kills her sooner or later,” said the Doc.

“I understand.”

Maxillary fibromatous epulis at 19 requiring hemi mandibulectomy

Penny felt good for 3 more years!  At 19, she was feeling good and going strong.  Doc Truli noticed, at her semi-annual physical, that her breath was beginning to smell bad again.  Plus, there was a suspicious pink firm swelling on the upper right side of her gumline just behind the right canine tooth.

“Penny needs a dental cleaning and that lump need to be removed and sent for histopathology to tell us what it is,” said Doc Truli.

“Do you think it’s cancer?” Penny’s mom asked.

“Actually, no,” said Doc Truli,”But there are these growths that can happen in the mouth called Epulis (epulidides for plural.)  They technically are not cancer, but the fibromatous kind invade the jawbone and can make the bone weak enough to break in the future if the epulis is not completely removed.

Plus, epulis are difficult to remove.  They come from the cells lining the tooth socket, deep in the bone, and they infiltrate along the bony highways called trabeculae.  They can be really far away from the lump, and you can’t tell.

Let’s clean her teeth, x-ray the bone, and biopsy the lump.  If the results come back fibromatous, Penny will need more surgery to help her.  But there are two other types of epulis that are removable and that will be that.”

There was a suspicious pink firm swelling on the upper right side of her gumline just behind the right canine tooth.

Penny underwent deep cleaning, x-rays, and biopsy.  The x-rays were clean.  The bone was strong-looking.  The biopsy said it was a fibromatous-type lump.  The bad kind.

Penny Needs Meni Mandibulectomy Surgery

“Penny really should see the oral surgeon, but I don’t know if you want to put her through that at 19 years old, especially because we know these growths usually are not completely removable, no matter how goods the surgeon is,” said Doc Truli.

Penny’s mom said, “She deserves a chance.  Call the surgeon.”

About 6 inches of Penny’s upper right jaw were removed.  The gum tissue was sewn smooth over the spot.  Some jawbone was left for strength.  Again, now 19-year-old Penny the wonder Dachshund woke up from surgery and wanted to eat within hours, not days!

20-year-old grey-faced long haired red mini dachshund looks nervous at the vet office

Beautiful Penny looks nervous about the electric lift table ("doggy elevator")

The second biopsy came back “incomplete excision.”  Yet, somehow, 1 year later, there was no signs of a lump on Penny’s jaw, no signs of Cushing’s disease, and she was going strong at 20!

Consider the Love an Older Pet Can Share!

Next time you think you must have a puppy, think of Penny.  She’s the most loving, sweet, patient being Doc Truli has ever met.  If Shara rested her decision purely on age, we would never have known Penny.  Not Shara, not Doc, and not you through this story.  Think about it.

VirtuaVet provides food for thought regarding the ethics and morality of advanced, invasive medical for older pets.

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