Q -- I lost a 13-year-old Sheltie from kidney or adrenal failure. I had to have her euthanized. What a hard thing to do. Why can't veterinary medicine have better treatments for organ problems? It seems there is not much they can do for these problems.
A -- I am sorry to hear of the loss of your pet, and I understand how difficult your decision must have been.
As you know, the kidneys and adrenal glands are critical to the survival of our pets just as they are to people. Mild to moderate impairment of these organs can often be managed through medical therapy. As organ malfunction progresses in severity, a critical point is reached where the diseased organ can no longer function well enough to sustain life. In human medicine, organ transplantation becomes a consideration as this point is approached. Veterinary medicine is also making steady progress in the field of organ transplantation. One of the most successful examples is the limited use of kidney transplants for cats in renal failure.
Despite recent advances, we lag behind our human counterparts in this area. Expense of the surgery, availability of donated organs, and the lack of veterinarians trained in these highly complicated and specialized procedures are among the obstacles to our progress. With time, such extremely complex techniques as organ transplantation and kidney dialysis may be more readily available to animals. Keep in mind that many of these procedures are still very risky and fraught with failure in human medicine, as well as veterinary medicine. Both medical fields continue to try to learn more about the incredibly intricate functioning of organ systems. As research expands our understanding, we can hope to learn, not only how to deal with organ failure, but also how to slow or stop the process of organ deterioration. You have my sympathies that such technology was not available in time to help your beloved Sheltie.
Jan M. Freeman, DVM
A dog's sudden death
Q -- Last October, my best friend, Jim Bob (a Sheltie) died suddenly at the age of 8. He was in the back yard laying upright and I noticed he couldn't walk. I picked him up and brought him in the house and put him on the floor to see if he could stand. He kept falling over so I called the vet and she told me to bring him in. Before I could get him out of the house, he looked like he was having some type of heart attack. He died in my arms. He was in excellent health all of his life. I just don't know what went wrong. He was here one minute and the next he's gone. The vet said he had a stroke which brought on a heart attack. I don't understand it. If I would have had the money, I would have had an autopsy done to find out for sure. I miss him so.
A -- I wish I could tell you for sure what happened to your dog, but I cannot. Cases of sudden death in outwardly healthy appearing pets are among the most frustrating aspects of being a veterinarian. In addition to strokes and heart failure, other causes of sudden death include massive internal bleeding, gastric torsion, poisoning and heat stroke. Unfortunately, in some cases of sudden death, a cause cannot be conclusively determined even if an autopsy is performed. Microscopic examination of tissue samples by a pathologist may provide additional information to aid in a diagnosis. I think your veterinarian is correct in thinking that some sort of cardiovascular incident led to your dog's demise. Beyond that I can only extend my sympathies and reassure you that, if our best assumption is correct, there is nothing you could have done to prevent this problem.
Jan M. Freeman, DVM
Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 403, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052-0403. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.