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.
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.”
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 arthritis from 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.
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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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!