Friday, August 19, 2011

Disney's Dilemma

A few years ago a very nice woman came into the clinic with her not very nice dog Disney. Disney was all black, about 40 pounds, and had a long fluffy full coat. She was always overweight even though she always tried to hide it all under a big full jet black coat. I tried many, many, times to convince Mrs. Nicks that Disney was overweight and needed a strict diet, (i.e. no more table scraps), but I knew that she lived with her elderly mother, who she cared for, and between the loneliness of caring for a mom with dementia, and the mom with dementia not ever remembering not to feed Disney table scraps, it was pretty much a lost cause.
The first two years of knowing Ms. Nicks and Disney we had the routine examinations, vaccinations, repetitive pleading of trying to get some weight off Disney, etc. etc. then one day Ms. Nicks called me to tell me that Disney was going outside trying to pee but only a few drops were coming out. And she kept going to the door, and Ms. Nicks kept taking her out, but all Disney could produce were a few drops of urine. I told her to bring Disney in right away. I was expecting to find that Disney had cystitis, (inflammation of the urinary bladder). So all I needed was a few drops of urine, and all Disney needed was an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic and we were on the mend.
When Disney arrived I gave her an examination. I cannot ever express to the new vets out there how absolutely imperative it is to always give a full complete comprehensive examination.  Instead of finding an empty flaccid small sensitive bladder low in the pelvis, I found a very large full distended painful bladder that took up almost the entire caudal (back half of the) abdomen.  I took a gasp and swallowed the horrified look in my heart. We next went to x-ray. I was hoping to not find anything obstructing her ability to urinate, like a tumor, stones lodged in the neck of the bladder, etc. I was afraid to try to manually express her bladder by pushing too hard on it. You see at this point the bladder has been so distended for so long that often it is a thin weak balloon, and any amount of pressure can cause it to rupture. If the bladder ruptures it will spill the urine into the abdomen and the urine acts like caustic acid to the sensitive peritoneum (the lining of the inside of your abdominal wall). My next plan was to try to sedate Disney to place a urinary catheter. My first priority was to relieve her bladder distension and then try to figure out why this was happening to her. We placed an i.v. catheter collected our blood work and then gave some i.v. sedation. Within minutes there was a flood of dark pungent urine everywhere. I took a deep sigh of relief for Disney. We sutured the catheter in place and started her on the aggressive i.v. fluids I knew she needed to start correcting all of her kidney and electrolyte abnormalities. The next few days Disney seemed to feel more and more like herself. Which in Disneys terms meant she was less and less of a cooperative patient. When she was feeling well enough to not be able to be handled at all I called her mom and sent her home.
During her time in the hospital we ruled out everything except a neurogenic cause to her problem. This meant that the root of her inability to empty her bladder was because she either couldn’t squeeze the muscle of her bladder wall down tight enough to empty, or she couldn’t open the valves that keep the bladder shut. So I started her on all of the medications I could to try to tell her nerves and muscles to work the way they were supposed to. This plan worked for a few months.
Over the next year there were many interrupted evenings of meeting Disney at the clinic to try to repeat the procedures we had tried so successfully the first time. Each time it became harder and harder to get her relief. Until finally one evening I told Ms. Nicks that I would have to open up her abdomen and try to empty her bladder from the inside. I remember crying with her in the surgery room. I knew that Ms. Nicks knew that I was having as much of a difficult time making the decision as I was. I knew that my only hope of getting Disney off of the surgery table alive was with a urinary catheter being placed from inside the balloon instead of my usually threading it through the urogenital opening.  I looked into Ms. Nicks eyes, both of us sobbing, and she said to me, “I know you want to know why she can’t urinate, and I know you want to try to help her again, but I can’t put her through any more”. It was a hard painful decision for all of us. Ms. Nicks had lost her mom a few months ago, and she was losing her last companion. I knew that putting Disney under general anesthesia and exploring her abdomen and bladder might fill in some of the answers I had not been able to get before. But I also knew that we were at the end of her or her mom’s ability to treat her. I lowered my head and told her mom that I was so sorry. I then said goodbye to Disney and injected the pink syrup into her i.v. catheter. I turned off her monitors and I cried over her as she died.
I have talked to Ms. Nicks many times since that day. She still comes to our Christmas parties, and she still drops in to say hello every so often. I have even called her to see if she would be interested in helping us by fostering a dog. But she always tells me that she still isn’t ready for another dog yet. And I understand, and tell her that we miss Disney too. Even though I am pretty sure Disney never liked me back.
If you would like tolearn more about neurogenic anuria and cystitis please see the link below;


  1. That has to be one of the hardest parts of being a vet.