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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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE

Monday Mentions: Aging Pets, Sorkinisms & Indie CrowdFunding

BlogPaws.com is a community of bloggers with a special interest in pets–and August has been named Senior Pet Month. Isn’t that a PAW-some infographic? Those who read this blog know that my Seren-Kitty is a senior citizen at 16-years-young, and Magical-Dawg on the cusp at age 7. Do you have a senior pet? I’ll confess, I don’t know what age is considered “senior” for other critters–ferrets and suchlike–although when I was a kid my most ancient hamster lived to about age 3.

For those needing additional help for your aging dogs and cats, I hope you’ll check out one of my books. I spent lots of time updating them, and they’re available in print, Ebook and audio now. Here’s the amazon links for Complete Care for Your Aging Dog  and Complete Care for Your Aging Cat.

Monday Mentions is the mash-up-day of all the neato-torpedo writer links and videos, pet schtuff and bling and writer-icity crappiocca collected over the past week. Check out the SQUEEE! cute pet-astic videos at the bottom, too. It’s fascinating to think how dolphins communicate–and compare it to they parakeet chatter. I’ve also included another Thrillerfest video from the past–and a fun video that may get authors re-thinking the latest catch-phrases. For new followers to the blog, welcome! and you can expect more cat and dog specific schtuff later in the week on Wednesday and Friday.

WRITER-ICITY SCHTUFF

Internet Techno-Crats Helping Print Media? what do you think?

Crowd-Sourcing to Fund Indie Bookstores

27 Reasons Books Make No $$$

WattPad Launches Crowdfunding for Authors

Using Google+ in Book Promos

How Back-Of-Book-Covers Promote Ebooks, Too

 5 GoodReads Must-Do’s for Authors

Eureka Springs “Writing From The Soul” Workshop September 7 with the awesome Linda Apple

 A Dozen+ Reasons Books Are Rejected

Innovations in Publishing Conference Sept 13-14 in Amarillo

PET-CENTRIC SCHTUFF

 Field Sport for the Family Dog seminar with CEUs schedule Sept 14 & 15

Pet Health Insurance Survey (you don’t have to have a policy to offer your insight)

Cat DNA Catches Criminals (I’ll be using this in the next thriller!)

Amazon Parrot Blog awesome photos and fun videos

Could Your Cat Be A Therapy Cat?  Seren couldn’t…she doesn’t like handling or strangers, but YOURS could be a wonder-cat!

Join Pup-Scouts, Earn Badges a fun feature from Fidose of Reality (you HAVE to at lease see the cute uniforms!)

From the 2012 Thrillerfest Panels

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Aging Dog Care & Top Dog Breeds

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Is your “top dog” a senior citizen canine?

Join the crowd! Fifty percent of owners share their hearts with pets age 7 or older. Modern veterinary care helps many dogs stay healthy a decade or more, and small dogs sometimes double that and age gracefully well into their twenties.

A longer life increases the odds dogs develop “old fogy” problems, though. Medical help is important, but you can keep your old-timer happy and healthy with simple and/or inexpensive tips for dealing with eight common aging dog issues.

The fine folks including Gina Misiroglu of Red Room care about aging pets, too, and gave me a canine connection with Paw Nation (a great help to bring attention to Red Room and its authors). Please click over to read aging dog home care tips for arthritis, incontinence, senility and more at Paw Nation.

Some breeds are more prone to specific health issues whether they’re an old fogy or youngster. Some of that has to do with breed popularity. Recently the American Kennel Club announced its Top Ten most popular dog breed list.

German Shepherd came in second. WHAT? At my house, the Magical-dawg believes all GSD (and him in particular) should be top dog! But for the second year in a row the top three spots remain the same, with Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, and Yorkshire Terrier securely in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. (Magic still thinks it’s fixed).

The AKC says this year the Beagle swiped the 4th spot from the Golden Retriever, now ranked 5th, and the Bulldog took the 6th spot away from the Boxer. The remaining top ten breeds are Dachshund in 8th place, Poodle in 9th and Shih Tzu 10th.

The French Bulldog made a surprising leap for a little doggy with such short legs—and jumped from 50th to 21st. That’s the largest jump in popularity in the last decade! Don’t get me wrong, this is a great breed—but I suspect a recent popular moving featuring the little guy might have had something to do with it.

Other dog breeds have had similar rise in popularity when media made them famous. Remember the Taco Bell Chihuahua, celebrity “pocket pooches” and Beverly Hills Chihuahua? It was like a giant piñatas filled with the little dogs broke open and people just had to have the prize inside–rescue organizations still deal with the aftermath.

Similarly, 101 Dalmatians and to a lesser extent Snow Dogs (sled dogs) brought focus to these breeds, while the TV show Frazier helped popularize the Jack Russell (now called Parson’s) Terrier.  When a dog breed becomes overly popular, unscrupulous people become tempted to cash in, and start breeding simply to satisfy perceived demand. The attention to health and sound temperament, the hallmark of responsible breeders, falls by the wayside with these show-me-the-money folks.

While I want everyone to admire Magic and love the German shepherd as a breed, I’m the first to say that this is not a breed for everyone! There is no “universal” one-size-fits-all dog breed (or cat breed, for that matter).

The “top dog” in your life is the canine who makes your heart sing, fits your lifestyle, and becomes part of your family—whether he has a mile-long pedigree or an unknown history. And if you want to make a purebred dog your best friend, don’t let popularity sway you from doing your research. The Westminster Kennel Club Show will air February 14-15 and provide a great snapshot history and look at over a hundred breeds.

I’ll be watching with Magic beside me, on the sofa, and rooting for the German Shepherd. But then again, maybe coming in second isn’t such a bad thing.

Woofs & wags,

amy