Natural Paws

Losing Sight of her World

Anyone who knows us, knows that our Cocker Spaniel, Sweet Pea has lead a privileged life when it comes to love and attention.  She’s our oldest child; our human kids refer to her as their big sister.  So when she was diagnosed with acute glaucoma around 4 years ago, we as a family were on top of her care from the start.

Let me back up a touch.  It all started when I was newly pregnant with our second (human) child.  Sweet Pea woke me up by climbing up onto my chest with her front paws, and literally leaned deliberately close up to my face with her right eye, as if to say, “Mom, I need help with THIS RIGHT HERE.”  We were off to the vet in a flash, and at the eye specialist soon thereafter.  That’s where we received the diagnosis: glaucoma.

We knew nothing about glaucoma.  Not a thing.  Couldn’t this have been a skin issue?  We knew tons about skin, paws…we could get a grip on that.  Nope, it’s a giant pile of eye troubles.  Great.  We realized that we were about to become experts on eyes.

Sweet Pea started out on an eye-drop regimen carefully selected by her ophthamologist, and as her symptoms changed and progressed, the regimen evolved into a cocktail for the eye.  The disease was steadfast, and took her sight, and then her eye within 6 months of diagnosis.

We opted to have the eye removed, because once she lost her vision, it had become a pressure & pain management dance, which anyone who has been there knows, one can only manage pressure spikes for so long.  So, one month before our second human child was born, our first canine child underwent major surgery and had her right eye removed.

Sweet Pea recovered well; she’s a quick healer and a great patient.  She told us when she was itchy, and we gently patted the itch to remove her desire to scratch.  Once the surgical wound healed, she wanted to get back to her normally scheduled activities, ASAP.  Sweet Pea and I went back to running, which has been our activity together since she was a pup.  She was able to get back into the swing of things relatively well, with the occasional misstep or slightly “off” judgement of depth.  But her confidence wasn’t great.  She stuck by my side more than before, relying on me to guide her in new areas.

At the same time, the ophthamologist put her left eye on a preventative regimen of drops, explaining that typically, once the first affected eye goes, it’s usually about 2 years before the other eye follows suit.  We decided to live in denial of that.  Besides, optimism is a powerful thing.  We were vigilant about the drops, assuring ourselves that there was no reason to believe that she would have the same problem in her remaining, healthy eye.

To help with Sweet Pea’s confidence, I enrolled us in agility classes.  I’m still patting myself on the back for that one.  Not only was it fun and challenging (for both of us!), but it really gave her the confidence to trust herself and her new view of the world.  Things were looking up.  Sweet Pea was set to be the poster child for overcoming the odds with glaucoma.

One Saturday, we ran out of one of Sweet Pea’s eye meds.  We called in the refill, and planned to pick it up first thing Monday morning.  The next day, Sweet Pea was lethargic, and didn’t seem right.  We looked at her eye, and when I touched her head to look at her eye, she cried out a little bitty yelp.


We immediately went with her emergency plan: called the eye doc, fed her the glycerine with yogurt, removed all food and water dishes, and went to her emergency (since it was Sunday) appointment.

She’d had a glaucoma attack.  Her pressure was up, and they did a procedure to remove the extra fluids to relieve her pressure.  We learned a big lesson that day; Sweet Pea’s “healthy eye” was absolutely dependent on the eye drops, on schedule, every day.

After beating ourselves up mentally for a while, we moved forward.  Never again would we miss her meds, and we now had to remember that it was a matter of time before this progressed further.  How long was the big question.

Fast-forward another year and a half later, Sweet Pea’s vision was still intact (yay!) and while she showed some minor signs of becoming a senior dog, she was getting along pretty fabulously.  A long, hot summer came and went, and she had her usual cutbacks on the runs, switching to our summer regimen of early-morning or late-evening walks, and playing with her best friend “Dottie”, the red laser beam.  We did notice that she lost track of where Dottie was if we moved too quickly, and sometimes she’d stop and look around for Dottie for a few seconds before locking in on her target.  Ok, we were expecting that.  Take it in stride.

We also noticed that in the evenings, she stayed in lit rooms.  She had become a little more cautious in unfamiliar environments, and in retrospect, she was a little more cautious in general.  We started to spray the edges of the furniture and the angles of the house with essential oils so that she could smell them coming if they were on her dark side.

Then, one dreadfully early late-November morning, I found myself standing in my bedroom, awake at 4:30am for no good reason.  I went to go back to bed, and noticed Sweet Pea wasn’t in her usual spots in our bed.  I turned around, and Jason, my husband, was now standing up too, awake for no reason.

“What’s going on?” I asked, “…and where’s Sweet Pea?”

Jason dashed to the bathroom window.  “SHE’S IN THE POOL!  Towels, quick!!”  He was outside before the words had left his mouth.  Sweet Pea was on the pool love-seat, whimpering for help.  Jason had her out in a flash, and then we started the emergency-room-like action as though we had been practicing for months.  Towels and blankets were rotating through the dryer at amazing speeds.  The hair dryer was on, the space heater was cranked, and hot water bottles were filled.  We took her temperature after quickly Googling what temperature would mean hypothermia, panic, and the emergency vet.  (below 98, for those keeping track.)  She was at exactly 98 degrees.  We kept the cycle going, drying and warming her into the morning.  Sweet Pea was fine in the morning; a bit more tired than usual, but certainly happy to cuddle with the family and receive the outpouring of love and appreciation she was receiving for simply being alive.

I don’t know what force of nature got us out of bed that night, but we learned some very important lessons.  We learned that we should always heed our instincts.  We learned that Sweet Pea has some really amazing angels.  We also learned that doing everything right – providing great medical care, giving drops at the correct time, using outside-the-box tools like essential oils and agility classes – doesn’t mean squat if we’re not planning for what the next challenge will be.  And we can’t always foresee the next challenge, but we sure as heck better be keeping an eye out for it when it comes.

And of course, the fence to the pool-side of the yard is now closed and locked at all times when we’re not out there.  Sorry, Sweet Pea, no more free reign to potty at will in the grassy area.

4 thoughts on “Losing Sight of her World”

  1. Top Dog Eileen Proctor

    Sweet Pea is very lucky to have such a loving, devoted family. And you are lucky to have such a wonderful furry family member upon which to bestow your love & devotion!

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