Anxiety Killed My Dog, Not Her Cancer

Pit bull eating whipped cream

It was a very cold winter when Babe was found wandering the icy streets. She was a petite pit bull with nervous, golden eyes, and nipples down to her ankles from overbreeding. Her pee was bloody from a raging urinary tract infection. She was a terrified little stray, cowering and shaking. We decided to keep the little bundle of anxiety until we could fix her up and find her a home.

Fixing Babe Up

What we thought would just be a UTI treatment and a spay ended up being a lot more. Babe needed to be on two rounds of antibiotics to clear up her infection, then she went into heat, so we had to wait to spay her. Then she tore her cruciate ligament by leaping off of the back of our couch. Then her pre-op bloodwork showed that her white blood cell count was too high to go under for sterilization. After a brief false pregnancy (brought on by the presence of a kitten we were fostering), finally Babe was spayed.

By the time we scheduled her surgery, we knew she wasn’t going anywhere. Babe was part of the family.

The Relocation Anxiety Begins

Around that time, we moved. That was Babe’s first relocation with us. That’s also when her anxiety really started to set in.

I still vividly remember scrubbing diarrhea off of our hallway walls in the middle of the night on the Fourth of July. The whistles and pops of nearby fireworks drove Babe mad. Her eyes were huge, her body stiff and alert. She barked for hours, bouncing on her front paws. When the shower of fireworks crackled overhead, she’d let loose a stream of gurgling barks, while the exertion sent diarrhea shooting out the other end.

Fireworks and storms were the worst.

Trying to Find Babe a Temporary Home

We moved again, but this time we moved out of the country for Ivan to attend medical school. The island has laws banning pit bulls, so Babe couldn’t come with us. A friend agreed to keep her while we were gone. So Babe was relocated a second time.

A few months later, we returned for summer vacation and found Babe in poor condition. I gave her a bath as soon as we picked her up and she melted in the soapy water as hundreds of fleas drowned. Patches of fur were missing from her constant scratching and biting. At the base of her tail, she had an oozing hot spot.

We vetted her, then moved in with my brother for the rest of summer. That was Babe’s third relocation. She was supposed to stay there for the rest of Ivan’s schooling.

We left the country again and within a week, Babe’s anxiety was too much for my sister-in-law to handle. Babe was hiding in baskets of clean clothes, digging in their flowerbeds, trembling in their bedroom at night. She peed in their son’s bed and that was the last straw.

We found friends who were willing to give Babe a home while we were living abroad. That was Babe’s fourth relocation.

Someone Who Loved Babe, Too

Finally we found someone who had the patience and compassion to make accommodations for Babe. They found her nervousness endearing and didn’t seem to mind when she tore a hole in their screen door to let herself back in after a potty break. When Babe broke out of her crate again and again, they reassembled it with more locks and zip-ties. They’d secured a Plexiglas panel at the base of their bedroom door to safeguard the door from Babe’s scratching if she managed to break out of her crate again.

One day when they were at work, Babe tore out of her crate, peed on their rug, ripped the Plexiglas panel down and shredded their door. Still, they didn’t complain. (Meanwhile, we paid for any damages and thanked them endlessly.)

More Relocating

We returned after Ivan’s final year and took Babe back. That was her fifth relocation. We spent a few months in one spot before moving again for Ivan to finish his medical school in Brooklyn, New York.

Babe moved with us for a sixth time. This was the worst for her. Brooklyn is a very noisy city and we moved next door to a large, loud bar.

For two years we lived in that apartment. During that time the benign growths started showing up on Babe. They were red lumps that popped up on her side, her legs, and her tummy. We had them checked, but nothing was worrisome. Yet.

Most nights the bar was open into the early hours of the morning. The music shook our apartment for hours. Babe trembled in bed with us as we tried our best to comfort a dog whose life had been filled with insecurity and volatility.

Treating Babe’s Anxiety

We gave her calming treats and wrapped her in a ThunderShirt, but neither of those helped. She wanted to be held all the time, but even then she couldn’t stop shaking and scratching us. Every moment was some new terror for her. Between the roaring of the street sweeper, the clanging of the garbage trucks, the swoosh of the city busses’ air brakes, the nonstop cars honking, it was too much negative stimulation for her. She was being tortured.

One time our smoke detector went off and Babe tried to jump out our third floor window. If the screen hadn’t been so secure, she would’ve died right then.

Babe’s vet put her on fluoxetine (Prozac) to help her anxiety. We had her on it for a year, but it had no effect and we ultimately stopped dosing her. Then Babe was prescribed alprazolam (Xanax)—as a way to sedate her when her anxiety reached a tipping point and she was in danger of hurting herself.

It wasn’t a cure by any means. It didn’t decrease her anxiety and the fear just kept growing.

The Final Move

Ivan secured a residency in Connecticut where we bought our first house. That was Babe’s seventh and final relocation.

Our 3-bedroom cape cod had a fully fenced yard and was located on a side street in a little residential area around the middle of the state. It was the perfect place to have a dog with high anxiety. Our new home checked all of the boxes: quiet, secure, roomy, fenced. Babe might have been happy there, had it been our first or second relocation.

After seven moves and multiple caregivers, the trauma was part of her personality. She was, at baseline, vibrating with anxiety. Trucks driving three blocks away sent her into a tailspin of terror. Delivery vans, loud music in passing vehicles, the distant rumble of thunder—all of it compounded.

A Rapid Decline of Health

Babe’s benign growths would flare up with her stress and she chewed them to the point of bleeding. Next came the malignant growths, clustering in bubbles that expanded rapidly. We were still treating her with Xanax as needed, as well as daily doses of Benadryl to keep her slightly sedated all the time. The vets prescribed more sedatives and we added Acepromazine to the mix.

Even with a cocktail of sedatives, Babe found the strength to work herself into a frenzy at least a couple times a week. She barked and shivered and ran circles around the house, panting frantically.

In the seven years that we had Babe, we relocated her seven times. She’d been overbred then discarded by her first owners, and in our hands, she found no stability. We failed her. It wasn’t for lack of trying that we couldn’t provide what she needed, but in the end, we traumatized her so much that she was an absolute wreck.

Anxiety Killed Babe

We used the cancerous growths as an excuse to visit the vet that last time, but candidly we spoke to her about Babe’s untreatable anxiety and uncontrollable fear. The doctor had been treating our squishy little girl for a while and she agreed with our sentiments: anxiety had destroyed Babe’s quality of life beyond remedy. It was time to take the final step and end her misery.

I blame myself for not being able to provide the stability and routine that Babe so desperately needed. She was a love bug and a snuggler. But she spent years in emotional agony. And in the wake of that fear and anxiety, she died.

Rescue pit bull

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