Magical Milestones & When Normal Hurts

SAVORING EACH MAGICAL DAY

My canine best friend, my buddy, my heart–Magical-Dawg–has been declining in recent weeks. No surprise there, since he will celebrate his 11th birthday in July. Because I work at home, it is my joy to spend nearly 24 hours a day with my baby-dawg, and his furry “siblings.” I get to make pets the focus of my life’s work.

That’s a blessing, but also a curse. After working as a vet tech and a certified animal behavior consultant, and having picked the brains of the most savvy veterinarian experts in the world, I know what the future holds for Magic.

No, I’m not a veterinarian, and I don’t have a crystal ball. But with each canine gray hair earned, and every missed doggy step-and-stumble, I see.

I worry.

And I mourn what will be.

He’s a senior German Shepherd. So what’s happening to him could be…this.

Or it might be …the other thing.

But please doG, don’t let it be…that.

MAGIC’S DECLINE…IS IT NORMAL?

Magic’s athletic prowess has amazed me from the beginning. He tackles life (and toys!) head on, and used to bang himself up by tearing dew claws or slicing paws during play. Our first dog (the one who launched my pet-writing life) didn’t know how to play, suffered horrendous allergies, and had hip dysplasia. So to have a robust, play-tastic over-the-top healthy German Shepherd has worn us out while offering plenty of laughs along the way.

For instance, balls and toys and especially Frisbees offer nonstop fetching delight. He’s been known to stack and retrieve as many as he can carry (10+ I think!). Here’s a video example from 2010:

MY SENSITIVE BOY

GSDs are known for their sensitivity. Magic tunes in on his family’s stress. I know I need a vacation from “life” when my baby-dawg insists on more petting/play time, and interrupts me until I pay attention. When I had to travel quite a bit, Magic began stress-licking his paws and developed acral lick granuloma sores. We’ve fought them ever since. You can read more about them (with an update) here.

The past couple of years have been incredibly stressful. I’ve had some work challenges, as has my husband. That’s one reason that I’m making several changes this year in my professional life–more about that in a future post–and Magic and the other fur-kids really helped us through.

Now it’s our turn to help Magic.

Our first dog lived to be 13 years 4 months, and passed away on Halloween night–he waited until my husband got home, and we were all together. Thirteen years were not enough.

Magic still has time to share with us. For I wish it to be so… I have to hang on to that. So today, we went to the veterinarian for Magic’s annual check up. There’s a special kind of hell when the vet listens to your concerns and says,

“We’re going to hope it’s just arthritis.”

Magic waits for his fav vet-buddy to come pet him.

WHEN “NORMAL” HURTS

Dogs can’t tell us when they’re in pain, or how much discomfort they feel. Oh, they can yelp when hurt, or snarl and warn away your touch with a growl. Many pets (cats especially) are stoic and do their best to hide discomfort. I think Magic may have hidden his pain for a long time, perhaps from stubbornness and determination to keep on keepin’ on. Or perhaps, living so closely with him, we too easily overlooked the small signals until only the obvious problems shouted loud enough for us to notice.

Magic loves car rides. He thinks it’s his car, and gets treats at Starbucks (a “puppy-whip” cream cup) and crunchies at the bank drive through. He used to bully his way into the front seat to drive, before we installed the barrier bars. But these days, he needs a running start to vault into the back seat. Could it be…arthritis? That’s a normal part of aging, right?

Frisbee-Fetch no longer goes on forever, and is limited to three or four tosses kept low to the ground so he’s not tempted to leap since I’m sure he does have arthritis. Because he’ll still try–and pay for the failure with a painful cry and hurt feelings. Maybe that’s why Magic no longer remembers the bring command. He simply stands over the Frisbees and wags, waiting for us to come to him, rather than prance and dance them back to us for another throw.

Magic has eaten a special food that also has made a marked change in his brain acuity. I wrote about that here. But now he forgets (or ignores) requests/commands he’s known forever. Even the treat-word doesn’t get the same response. And this past weekend, he began to howl, for no apparent reason. He’s suffered an appetite loss the past several days, and has been incredibly restless at night. He doesn’t want to play with his best friend Karma-Kat. Could it be…aging brain changes or *shudder* canine cognitive issues?

One of my Mom’s shelties had such severe hip dysplasia by five months of age that he “bunny hopped” when he ran. My first shepherd had hip dysplasia, too, and never jumped. Magic jumped so high in his youth, he’d nearly levitate. But last week, Magical-Dawg adopted the bunny-hop gait when running. More alarming, though, he’s also noticeably weak on his left rear flank, and can no longer “pose” to leg-lift. That leg and foot toes inward when he walks, and he frequently loses his balance. Could it be . . . dysplasia? Or something worse?

MAGIC’S CHECK UP

Last year, Magic got a senior blood panel screening to establish a baseline, so we repeated that. He also received a heartworm check, fecal exam, and vaccines for lepto, distemper and kennel cough (the others he received last year). I waited, trying my best to be hopeful, while the tests were run and Magic was examined for neurological signs. *gulp*

You see, old German Shepherds can suffer from a progressive disease called degenerative myelopathy (DM), for which there is no treatment. It’s thought to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the spinal cord, resulting in progressive paralysis. DM is not painful, but affected dogs eventually stop walking as the paralysis ascends from their flanks upward.

There is a holistic modality developed by Dr. Roger Clemmons, a neurosurgeon at the University of Florida, that seems to help some dogs. A combination of herbs, amino acids and antioxidants appear to help reduce the inflammation and protect the nerves to help slow the progress of the disease. You can ask your veterinarian about the protocol, and share this information. Most dogs succumb within a year of diagnosis, however.

Did I mention I’ve not slept well lately? I held my breath when Dr. Clay came back into the room.

In the drive-thru at Starbucks to celebrate the good news exam!

WHEN THE VETERINARIAN SMILES…

Good news! Positioning Magic’s rear paws toe-under prompted him to immediately correct. The veterinarian said most dogs with DM don’t correct. In fact, the claws on the rear feet of DM-afflicted dogs often become rounded with wear from dragging. Magic’s claws had no tell-tale rounding.

Magic’s blood panel came back great, too. All values were pronounced not just good, but VERY good. That means he’s a good candidate for a canine arthritis drug, Rimadyl.

I’m breathing again.

And I didn’t cry (not very much anyway). Magic was given a prescription of Carprofen, the generic form of Rimadyl, to use as needed, beginning with twice daily. I was told not to get my hopes up (TOO LATE!) but that the meds can make a dramatic difference.

After all, pain muddles brain acuity–how well do you think when you hurt? And how do you play when you hurt? And how do you eat when you hurt? I bet you’d howl if you hurt.

But through the hurt, you still love. Magic always loves.

The meds WILL make a dramatic difference. For I wish it to be so.

My canine best friend, my buddy, my furry muse–Magical-Dawg–hasn’t finished with us yet. He still has work to do, races to win, more thrillers to inspire with his antics, games of kitty-tag to play with Karma. And keeping me sane.

No time for mourning. We’ve got Frisbees to chase!
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Comments

Magical Milestones & When Normal Hurts — 41 Comments

  1. How much of a difference did the new food make in his brain activity? What specific changes did you see?

    I have a 14 1/2-year-old golden retriever. I am trying to decide whether to change her food. At this point she is on a high-quality dry food and I add a tablespoon of coconut oil daily.

    • The MCT oil is helpful but I don’t know what the therapeutic dosage would be for a dog. With Magic, I noticed much more attentiveness and responsiveness. I’d thought he might be going deaf, but after about 6 weeks on the food, it’s like someone turned up the volume. *s* He “heard” me again and responded.

  2. Amy I am keeping Magic in my thoughts and prayers…and….I am with you when you said “The meds WILL make a dramatic difference. For I wish it to be so.” (I wish it to be so too and it WILL BE!!) xoxo

  3. I cried all the way through this. It breaks my heart to hear of the pain Magic has been in, not wanting to eat, etc. and Amy I know this has been heart wrenching for you as well. I am so glad to hear Magic’s blood work came back great and that he’s a good candidate for Rimadyl. Glad his kidneys are still doing great. I believe and feel like this is going to help him. Thank you for sharing about your furry pets over the years. I share the love you have for them.

  4. Very emotional and well written. I feel all the love you have for Magic and the fears about his health and future. I’m so happy that the vet had good news for you and I wish you and Magic many happy, healthy years ahead.

  5. I’m happy to hear that Magic is getting excellent care, and a relatively good prognosis. Aging with grace for dogs (and humans) can be challenging – you are in the best position to notice all of the changes. Our little Spike has an immune related neurological disorder – and it’s hard to see, but each day, we help him out!

  6. Thank goodness it wasn’t DM! I know exactly what you mean about the rear paws toe-under. Our senior dog (who is now at least 14), experienced paralysis in both back legs due to a herniated disc. Three surgeries later, we know to flip his foot to see how he reacts. Thankfully, he has fully recovered from each herniated disc surgery! Paws crossed you have many more happy and play-filled days with Magic (love the name, too!).

  7. What a heartwarming story Amy, and I hear you. I haven’t had the pleasure of spending a dog’s entire life with them, since I adopt them when they’re old but I cherish every minute I spend with them. There were times the last couple of years when I was sure I was going to have to say goodbye to Red because she wasn’t doing well, but she bounced back and is good. Your pup may be slowing down but you’re still together and I sincerely hope you can look forward to many more happy years together.

    • It’s a very special thing to adopted a senior dog. So glad Red is continuing to do well. I hope that Magic can tell me when he’s had enough…and that I’ll be willing to listen to him.

  8. It’s so hard to know when our furry friends are in pain. Your story is so touching and I am praying that the meds work wonders for Magic. It sounds like Magic had many more memories she wants to make with you! 🙂

  9. It’s always hard when our fur babies grow older. And it’s so easy to fear the worst. Glad to hear that Magic’s results were good and that he is a candidate for the arthritis drug! It WILL make a big difference, for we all hope it to be so!

  10. Loved reading this post, Amy. Magic sounds like a very special boy and the video was fun to watch. I remember when Hollywood, the love of my life cat, began to decline at 18. Hoping good things for Magic and his new meds.

  11. Contending with the hurdles that come with a dog who is aging is incredibly difficult. I’m glad you were able to visit the vet to gain a better understanding of your dog’s health. I appreciate the honesty in your post and the raw emotion of sharing the “unknown.”

  12. So glad you got good news! I never liked taking my seniors to the vet, but hated it more so they got older. It seems the tiniest things can turn out to be something major. Enjoy your seniors! Every day with our pets is precious, but when they become seniors, the days become priceless.

  13. Your post is beautiful and brought back memories of when my Lucy cat started to decline. We’re now going through a similar process with our senior dog. He needs medication for his eyes, liver, and bones. But he still loves agility and playtime. Every year, we hope for him to see yet another birthday. Bless you for all the care you give Magic. I’m glad medication is helping his health.

  14. I’m glad that Magic had a good check up and that he’s feeling better. It must be a big relief to you. I hope that the medicine gives him relief. Just something to think about, my sister’s senior Pug seemed to be suffering from dementia. It turned out that it was actually the pain medication she was on.

  15. I am happy that Magic had a great check up, your vet sounds awesome and praying with you. Layla hops with her back left leg in the air, checked in with a vet about a month ago and she said she could not see anything and that she is in great health for a 10 year old plus I showed her the food that I am adding to her home cooked meat and she said wow, it has all the super foods like tumeric, hemp hearts etc. I have another check up next month and praying that I will once again get another clean bill of health

  16. Kilo the Pug has helped me through work and life challenges the last 24 months. Our previous dogs live till nearly 14 and nearly 16/17 (rescue so not entirely sure), so be optimistic with Magic. I have horrendous arthritis so I feel the pain. Hopefully the treatments will work.

  17. Oh My Dog, I’m cheering for Magic!! Had my heart in my mouth reading this, but I’m so relieved & happy for you! Hey, 11 is the new 6 in dog years! God Bless.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  18. Pingback: Have You Howled Today? Why Dogs Howl & What it Means

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