My dog may have a kidney problem, and I have to come to terms with it

Rosie, pure terrier

Rosie, pure terrier

The backstory

In August of 2009, my terrier Rosie vomited several times over a few days, so I took her to the vet.

Over the next week or so, a series of tests and phone calls revealed increasingly bad news.

There was something really wrong.

Then: cancer.

Then: liver cancer.

Then: a particularly virulent kind of liver cancer.

Six weeks later, Rosie died at home, surrounded by her family. She was only four years old.

You will see very little written in this blog about Rosie’s death.

Losing her crushed me.

For more than a year after she died, I navigated through a fog of intense grief — even as I adopted puppies Lilah and Jasper. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write about that loss.

Seven years later, and it’s still raw.


Excuse me for a moment while I wipe the tears off my keyboard.


Tucker and a friend

Tucker and a friend

Tucker’s results

Last Wednesday, I took Jasper and Tucker in for their check-ups and dropped off a bag of Lilah’s poo. (When you have three dogs and four cats, you learn to bring your pets to the vet in pairs, staging the visits.)

On Thursday, the office left me a voicemail telling me that Lilah’s poop is normal; she’s cleared for grooming by the marvelous Kate. Lilah is overdue to have her way-too-hot-for-summer black fur attended to.

Later that day, Dr. Levinston called to tell me that Jasper’s bloodwork came back normal, and he could be scheduled for a teeth cleaning.

Looking back on it, I believe there was a part of me that wondered why it was that Dr. Levinston himself called me, and not one of the techs.

He began by making sure I knew that Lilah’s results were perfect. Then he told me that Jasper’s were great too. Another part of me thought, “He didn’t say everyone was fine.” Followed quickly by a mental rebuke: “Susan, stop imagining bad news hidden in between the words. He knows you, knows your blog, and is probably just being thorough.”

But then he said “Tucker’s results came back with creatinine levels at 1.7.” Creatinine levels indicate kidney function. “They say normal is .5 to 1.6. But we don’t like to see it get past 1.4.”

Tucker has a kidney problem.

“Kidney disease.” “Early stage kidney failure.” These are some of the words Dr. Levinston used. I’m not sure how much I heard.

All I know is I went right back to 2009, when I received the first of those terrible phone calls about Rosie.

Time travel.

In the worst possible way.

Not. Again.


Tucker is a terrier just like Rosie. Though at 5 years old, he's already outlived her.

Tucker is a terrier just like Rosie. Though at 5 years old, he’s already outlived her.


First steps

Dr. Levinston and I talked about what the results meant, and what could be causing kidney issues. Maybe Tucker consumed some kind of toxin. Or he has a congenital problem. Or an infection. It may even be nothing more than an anomaly. More tests are needed to help us figure it out.

The first step is to collect a urine sample, to test for, among other things, the amount of protein it contains. Best would be morning’s first urine, and taken to the lab that day. Dr. Levinston suggested I collect Tucker’s pee on Monday.

My daughter and her fiance were home doing wedding things this weekend; this kept me occupied. I told everyone what was going on with Tucker; explaining that a test number came back higher than it should be, that it meant something might be wrong with the dog’s kidney function, and that we won’t know any more until we do more tests. No need to worry… yet.

At least that’s what I told everyone else. As for myself? I worried. On a trip to the dressmaker, I worried. After trying on my dress, I worried. After we discussed wedding timing and who we still needed a reply from, I worried.

I made it through the weekend, distracted but with scattered clouds of concern. When I took the dogs out for their first backyard potty trip this morning, letting Jasper and Lilah off their leashes, and keeping Tucker attached — I opened up a fresh can of worry.

I thought about how much time Tucker had left, and what his quality of life might eventually be like, and how wrong it would be for my constantly-in-motion and food-obsessed dog to be tired and nauseous and not want to eat — all symptoms of advanced kidney disease. Which, mind you, my dog did not have — at least not yet.

Leash in one hand, a washed and rinsed clear plastic organic spinach container in the other, I followed my sad terrier around the yard. He couldn’t understand why his brother and sister roamed free, chasing birds and squirrels and chipmunks, while he was stuck connected to me, unable to run.

Tucker doesn’t like to pee when he’s leashed, so we walked the backyard for nearly a half hour while I waited for him to do his thing. A couple times he sniffed a few specific blades of grass with a focus that would normally indicate a pee was imminent — and then something would distract him, he’d look up, forget the business at hand (paw?) and we’d continue our perambulation around the yard.

Finally, he stopped, assumed the position, and I slid the spinach container into the yellow stream. Success.

I let Tucker off the leash, and he trotted away, tail wagging. Happy. Free to run and explore and sniff and roll in something stinky. Which he did.

I poured the pee into a leak-proof bottle, formerly containing an anti-hot-flash menopause supplement. I tucked the bottle into a poo bag, and set it on the roof of my husband’s Acura, as he had agreed to deliver the sample to the vet on his way to work. Brian’s good that way.

Tucker has a unique and amusing personality.

Tucker has a unique and amusing personality.



About a half-hour later, the dogs and I left for our morning walk. We took the shorter route, the one that takes us into the woods, on a rarely-used almost-non-existent road between our house and the park. It’s one of our favorite walks, as there’s always something different to hear or see or smell or experience among the trees.

But this morning I went into mental cruise control; I found myself walking down the graveled road without remembering how I actually got there.

I hadn’t talked to my dogs or — to be perfectly honest with myself — even noticed them for the past several minutes.

I had forgotten about my dogs because I was too preoccupied with my dog. My mind had been spinning with horrible possibilities and what ifs. None of which are certain at this point. Not. A. One.

I stopped walking, and looked down at Tucker. And Jasper. And Lilah.

They stopped and looked up at me, like I’ve trained them to. Then sat, like they’ve been trained.

“It’s about now, isn’t it?” I said to them. “Being in the moment, and appreciating what we have now.”

Three furry faces stared at me. Why aren’t we walking?

“Let’s  go,” I said.

We continued, a little slower paced than usual. On the way home, we stopped several times to investigate interesting sniffs. We were back in the groove.

Tucker, Jasper, and Lilah sharing a good sniff.

Tucker, Jasper, and Lilah sharing a good sniff on our walk this morning.



I’ve done some research. Read up on creatinine levels and kidney disease in dogs. Once we get a few more test results, I’ll be reaching out to my veterinarian brother in California. When I know what’s going on, I’ll make appropriate decisions.

The thing is, I don’t know what will happen with Tucker.

But that’s true of my other dogs. And cats. And family or friends for that matter. We don’t know.

What I do know is that I will love them. Now.

And I’ll figure out a way to deal with what comes next.

We'll find a way...

We’ll find a way…

How much is too much worry? Do you worry about your pets?

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12 Comments on "My dog may have a kidney problem, and I have to come to terms with it"

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  1. Susan, I’m so sorry to hear this. Please don’t focus on all of the bad “what ifs” though. I know, easier said than done, right? You said it best – Tucker needs you to be in the now. Try to relax and enjoy Tucker and the rest of your furry gang. Sending love to you and Tucker (and everyone). Keep me updated <3

  2. We’re sorry to hear this. Those of us on the cat community have lots of experience with kidney disease, and even though it’s not the same across species, we all know that sinking sense of fear and dread, especially until you have all the information from the vet. We are sending you lots of empathy and love.

  3. We’re sorry to hear this and know the “not knowing” is the toughest part. I’m not one to tell you to close the worry can because my heart goes to my stomach immediately when one of the girls even sneezes. I advise you like I try to tell myself – enjoy the now and don’t worry until you truly have something to worry about. Sending purrs and hugs.

    • Thanks for the purrs and hugs. I know what you mean about your heart going straight to to stomach. The hard part for me is to figure out a way to not keep it there all the time, and to stay in the moment.

  4. We’ve always thought that the best way to deal with issues like this is to make sure you have all the facts and educate yourself. And it sounds like you’re doing that. Of course, that doesn’t stop the worrying…we know. We send lots of purrs to Tucker and you, too.

  5. Sandy Weinstein says:

    i am so sorry to hear abt Rose, she was a cutie. i would get upset all of the time. i get upset now just thinking abt my oldest dog who is in the twilight of her life. she may not live another year if that long. i cry every day. i pray all of the time. Tucker is another cutie. so sorry to hear abt Tucker. i know how it is when you go to the vet. i take my 3 gals in together. it has gotten harder b/c my oldest does not travel well at all now. i tried crating her and that was a disaster, she got so upset she went to the bathroom over herself and the crate. she had to have a bath when we got to the vet. when i took my oldest to the vet school abt 2 yrs ago, for another reason, they said she had kidney disease. my vet disagreed. she was having a ct on her brain, back, etc. she had vestibular disease twice. i had used the seresto collar on her and since then tons of problems, when the collar was on, her blood levels showed she had kidney disease, 5 days later without the collar and ct scans, nothing. my vet did more tests to prove that she did not have kidney disease. i hope that Tucker does not have kidney disease and your brother can give you some anwers and help. best wishes. it is so hard not to worry abt our kids.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. And good luck with your sweet doggies. I’ll have an update on my Tucker posted soon, but in the meantime, all the test results we’ve had so far still provide hope.

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