The existential worry of living with and loving dogs

These are pictures taken of Nell a month before she first got sick – she looks like she is in great shape and health, or at least I had thought I had every reason to assume she was. The Saturday before her vet appointment on a Wednesday she’d done an energetic 2h walk including lots swims.

So imagine how surreal that moment at the vets was – I could barely believe what I was being told. Only a week after that 2h walk she had lifesaving surgery to remove her spleen that, according to the surgeon, fell apart like a sponge when it was taken out.

I couldn’t help but wonder what signs had I missed – how could I not have seen anything if her spleen was in that poor condition? There was maybe a little hesitation when jumping into water, but I put that down to being older and contextual reasons.

Ever since that first visit when I thought she is perfectly healthy and instead heard she has lymphoma, I’ve gotten more worried about everything in case it’s an early sign of something I am missing because one day it might be another seemingly routine or innocent vet visit and I hear something else devastating.

That worry about missing signs only got stronger due to the last two months of Nell’s life when I realised she had had gastric reflux during chemo and didn’t know to look out for it so I wasn’t able to help her, and then over time it got worse.

So now, whenever something doesn’t seem quite right with Grace I worry – perhaps disproportionately so, maybe even look a bit paranoid to others because I can’t explain how traumatic that moment at the vets was. I had tried so hard to do my best for my dogs – learning about nutrition, fitness, movement, behaviour and many other things, watching them closely and trying to optimise their wellbeing.

And yet… underneath that seemingly very healthy exterior she was very sick indeed. That day left me with a deep anxiety about how any day I might lose my best friends and the signs could have been so subtle that I dismissed them without realising it.

This week I found myself anxious about taking Grace to the vet and realised I now have an underlying fear that any vet visit could break my world into tiny peaces – after all, I didn’t expect it to be a stressful visit on that sunny day in August either.

Unfortunately, this is the reality with dogs: they can’t tell us how they are feeling and typically hide their ill health for a long time. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a dog might be sick even if they are eating, drinking and moving perfectly normally – Nell was too, and she was fitter than the average dog of her age.

That makes this a difficult thing for me to process because it is a realisation of a fact of life with dogs – the prospect of losing them is always present, and could be hiding in plain sight. Although I’d known it before, that day in August made it more real – and now I can’t unsee it.

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