by Colleen in Minnesota
Our beloved CJ was a 4-year-old AmStaff/Lab/Boxer/Hound mix who we rescued at 8 months of age. He had been returned to the shelter twice, so we were his third home. I vowed to give him the best life possible. He was itching constantly and had red ears, and I began researching grain-free foods in hopes that one might help stop the scratching and make him healthier. CJ was fed several different brands in the four years he was with us – Orijen, Acana, California Naturals, Pure Vita – and finally we settled on Zignature Venison, which CJ ate for almost two years.
In late February 2018, I noticed CJ was not his usual exuberant self. He had a poor appetite, was lagging behind on our walks, and had started coughing and vomiting up phlegm at times. I thought it was kennel cough, so I took him to the vet, who said he most likely had a virus and to bring him back in a few days if he hadn’t improved. On our follow-up visit, an x-ray was obtained. I wanted to crumple to the floor when I saw the x-ray. CJ’s poor heart was so enlarged it was impinging on his esophagus. He also had an ultrasound, which confirmed dilated cardiomyopathy. We asked if he was suffering and if we needed to let him go, but it was decided to give him a fighting chance. CJ was started on Vetmedin and Furosemide.
It was doubtful CJ would survive the weekend and if so, he had maybe two months at most to live. The heart meds started to work within a day or two, and he had stopped coughing. However, it was so stressful wondering if each day would be his last. We counted his respirations throughout the day and stayed close to him. I did not know what to do about CJ’s diet and foolishly kept feeding him Zignature, supplemented with cooked ground venison.
I obtained a second opinion from another vet and inquired about adding taurine and L-Carnitine, which we did. The vet also added Enalapril and suggested fish oil, but CJ never tolerated fish oil. He seemed to stabilize and had more energy for a while. In early fall of 2018, he started to cough again and had more labored breathing, and itching. A follow-up chest x-ray showed his heart was still enlarged. His Furosemide was increased, and it was decided to try a different food, so we started Royal Canin hydrolyzed protein and then Royal Canin Ultamino, but by this time, CJ’s condition was worsening. He had very little energy, his stomach was distended from fluid, his breathing was very labored, and his gums were pale. His paws and ears also felt cool to the touch because his heart wasn’t pumping blood efficiently. Because CJ was not enjoying life anymore, we made the hard decision to let our boy go and made an appointment to bring him in to the vet and say our final goodbye. However, I think CJ knew how hard this was going to be for us and he passed away in his sleep on November 30, 2018. Seeing his lifeless body on our bedroom floor was so hard, but I knew he was finally at peace.
I live with guilt, wondering if I had switched his food when he was first diagnosed that maybe he would still be alive today. We should have had many more years with our boy. Instead, all we have are his ashes and a necklace I wear next to my heart with his picture and an engraving that says, “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.” Rest in peace, my sweet CJ.