A veterinary cardiologist today diagnosed my dog, Frankie, with degenerative mitral valve disease. In lay terms, this means one of his heart valves is not closing properly and so he has a leaky heart. It's a degenerative condition, and genetic, so it will get worse over time.
Unlike when humans get this condition, surgical treatment is not an option (experimental at best) for dogs, and there are no drugs that have been developed to slow down or reverse the degeneration process. This leaves our course forward as ... wait for it to get worse, at which point they will be able to treat the symptons that will occur (shortness of breath, wheezing etc..) to make him comfortable for whatever is left of his life.
This process of degeneration is, aparently, unknowable. Frankie is in the very mild stages at this point but could progress in months, years, or just remain in this stage for the rest of (what we would assume would be) his 'natural' life. A lady at the vets who came in after me has two King Charles Spaniels with similar conditions, one of which is 3 years old, the other which is 9 years old. The 9 year-old dog was diagnosed 2 years ago the same way as Frankie (via the vet noticing a slight heart murmur) but otherwise had no symptons of ill health. Two years later and she is wheezing and her heartbeat is so irregular you can feel it upon touch. The diuretics they are treating her with mean she has become incontinent.
With all the progress we have made in human heart conditions, it seems so unacceptable to me that there is nothing we can do but sit and wait for him to show symptons and, eventually, die. I'm still having problems not thinking of him as a puppy (even though he is 8 years old) and now all of a sudden I'm faced with considering his death without the option of doing anything to stop it.
Frankie has been everywhere with me since I was 24 years old. When I was going through my divorce, when I missed home, every time I moved... he's always been there for me as my family, my little man. When there was nobody else, there was always Frankie. When I thought about going back to England many a time, I always thought: I couldn't leave Frankie. I know I have the new puppy now but I just can't imagine having the kind of connection with another dog that I have with him. He's such a good boy, such a personality, and the best thing I have in my life (obviously excluding my husband.) I can't imagine my home without him in it.