Butch has been perkier in the last week than he's been in at least a year. He's been so stiff and arthritic that I can't recall the last time he was able to get up on the furniture, but I looked up the other day and was shocked to see him sitting comfortably on the futon in the den. I don't know what made him decide to give it a try on that particular day, but he's been up there several times since then, apparently happy that his attempt was successful. Here he is relaxing on the futon with Lucy:
Butch has also been more social lately, spending more time interacting with people and other dogs and less time off by himself sleeping in another room. He seems to be hearing better than he did for months previously, and if I so much as crack open the refrigerator, he is up and coming into the kitchen to investigate. I've used his interest in food as an indicator that he still finds something positive about life in spite of his blindness, near deafness, and painful joints.
All that sounds good, don't you think? But there's a problem. When I took him for a checkup early in November, the vet commented on one tooth that looked really bad, saying he wouldn't risk putting Butch under anesthesia to pull the tooth (because of his age). He said to watch for any swelling around Butch's mouth or any signs that he was having difficulty eating.
Last night Butch didn't want his supper. He accepted a treat I offered him later, but promptly dropped it on the floor and left it. I pulled his lips back to check the appearance of the bad tooth, and I couldn't even find it. Since that veterinary visit less than two months ago, Butch's upper gum tissue has grown and hangs down to obscure all of his upper back teeth.
I have looked on the Internet for pictures of dogs' mouths that look like Butch's, and I believe what he has is an epulis. An epulis is a non-malignant tumor that occurs fairly commonly in older dogs. Treatment consists of the surgical removal of the epulis. In Butch's case, however, surgery is not an option.
Butch needs to go to the vet, but riding in the car has become pure torture for him. He fights me when I try to get him into the car, and his whole body shakes until he is out of it again. I don't want to make him suffer more than necessary, and I am afraid he may not come home from his next trip to the vet.
I have taken a photo of the growth on his gums and will take it with me when I take Levi today to see if they will/can identify it from the picture.
If it is what I think it is, and if surgery is the only option that will enable him to eat, I have a decision to make. Should I have Butch put down now, while he's in a relatively happy state of mind, or should I wait until he's in so much pain that death is the only way to make him comfortable? I don't want to deprive him of a single happy minute, but this brave animal has already suffered so much in his lifetime. Is it fair to keep him alive when a long, hard winter may be all the future that lies ahead of him?
I'm praying for answers. What would you do?UPDATE December 28, 2011 - 4:26 PM The vet looked at the photo of Butch's gums and said the growth does appear to be an epulis of the non-malignant variety. Fortunately, there are some non-surgical treatments that might help, the first being antibiotics to eliminate any possible infection. She gave me a prescription to start him on tonight and said he should be eating better by tomorrow. If not, then infection isn't what's keeping him from eating, and I will have to take him in tomorrow afternoon so they can get a good look at what's going on. She said that without surgery these tumors sometimes grow so long that they completely encase the dog's teeth. Most dogs, when that happens, will simply chew off the surplus. That's gross, I know, but it's an alternative Butch and I can live with.
I'll keep you posted.
(Partial reprint of a post first published at Velvet Sacks on December 28, 2011.)