Monday, April 9, 2012
Life with Senior Dogs
I've always said that I've been lucky with having medically healthy dogs. Sure, we've had some vet visits - I had Zipper's thyroid tested due to his thin hair coat (actually tested twice, but both times medically totally normal!), Gaci's pulled muscle in her back last year, etc.....but generally we see the vet pretty much only when they are due for their annual exam. I do attribute this to a healthy diet (raw diet, and when feeding a commercial food it is soy-, gluten-, and corn-free, and where possible entirely grain-free), minimal vaccines (I am not anti-vaccine, but I do not vaccinate yearly, and some vaccines I do not give at all), and lots of healthy exercise while keeping them at a healthy weight.
But even so, as dogs age, some things start to change, even if just a little bit.
We had a scare on the eve before Good Friday long weekend. I had gotten home just a little bit late from teaching classes. As usual, I got in, dropped my bags on the counter, let the dogs out to have a pee, took off my coat and shoes, and then let them back in to feed them. All was normal. As I was getting their supper ready, I noticed that Zipper was not present. I called him, then went to look for him, and found him vomiting in his dog bed. No big deal, at first. Dogs throw up sometimes. But then he went to another bed, laid down. Then to another one. It looked like he couldn't get comfortable. Finally, he went into the office, and collapsed.
Fast forward to the vet visit, he took an allergic reaction to....something. What, I have no idea. My yard is extremely "dog-proofed", with no flower beds, the lawn is not treated, there is no access to any chemicals.....but as it turns out, I can't keep all the bugs and grasses away, and the vet said it was likely something as simple as eating a bug (apparently caterpillars can be quite toxic, and stink bugs can be caustic, which I did not kow!) - this time of year they are crawling out of the woodwork on the warm days. He said we'll probably never know. Anyhow, Zipper did have to stay the night at the vet's, but he pulled through. We were scared for a while, though - his heart rate had dropped to a mere 27 beats per minute (normal range should be about 70 for him), and his temperature was over two degrees lower than normal, his extremities so cold to the touch. His body was, in essence, shutting down. It is likely that the slow speed at which his heart rate came back up is in part due to his age (almost 9 years old).
I am extremely lucky that I was home when this happened. While I know it was just a fluke in the timing, as if it had have been mid-day and I was just letting them out for the last-minute pee that pretty much everyone does, and left right after, he would not have survived. It's scary to think that way, but I do tend to overthink these things after the fact. But I did learn a lesson from this:
Never again will I do the "send-you-out-to-pee-then-dash-out-the-door" routine that I, and many, do. I will always make sure my dogs are out, AND back in, at least 15 minutes before I actually leave the house for any period of time.
It's awful how these things can make us a little more anxious (or anal?) about our habits, but it's easy enough to do and I know I'll leave the house reassured that they are all healthy and safe.
Zipper was due back for his bloodwork today, as well as a urinalysis. As "luck" would have, didn't Gaci, out of the blue, urinate while she was sleeping last night, and apparently did not awake when she did so, so we all awoke this morning to a soaked Gaci and a soaked bedspread. And when I mean she peed, she PEED. Not leaked, downright peed. So off she came to the vet with us, with this sudden turn of events!
Zipper's bloodwork is all normal except for one liver value (his ALT). It was outside normal ranges, but was not dangerously high. Scheduled to recheck in one month to make sure they go back down, and that there is no long-term problem from the event.
Gaci's urinalysis showed totally clean urine. No blood, no bacteria, no crystals, glucose normal (no diabetes). The only part of it that was off was that it was a little to alkaline (pH of 8), where it should sit at about a pH of about 6. Anyhow, since there is no sign of trouble, in fact her urine was really healthy other than the pH, basically we'll just be taking the "wait and see" approach to see if anything happens again. I've been discussing starting Gaci on cranberry supplements for some time now, to help with some of her hind-end issues she has experienced over the years. This confirms that it is indeed a good idea for her, one which I will be starting for her this week. The cranberry extract will ideally bring her urine pH back into normal levels. Although she's never had a true "problem" with her urinary system, she did have a tucked vulva that was corrected surgically, which left her with some discomfort issues as well as *possible* incontinence (I say possible because up until this time, we'd never seen any evidence of her leaking urine).
I felt most badly, though, because Gaci had a particularly stressful experience this time around at the vet. She's made huge strides in her vet visits, in which vet staff have even complimented her behaviour improvements, but I will admit that this visit was a bit out there, even for her. No reactivity - there was no barking or anything of the sort. In fact, it was totally the opposite - a desperate attempt at escape from the counter and climbing up me for safety. This is totally -not- Gaci's way in doing things. The only thing I can think is that she did just recently have a single-tooth extraction due to a bad tooth (from chewing a bone or playing tug? She had great teeth for her age, has never had a dental - another benefit of her raw diet), which did require a sedative, and she had a really tough time with the sedation. It really made her anxious - very anxious, while sedated - she would whine if I left her sight, howled in her crate (she generally loves her crate!...I ended up not crating her at all, but instead resting with her), and she felt really defensive at the other dogs approaching her, until the next morning. I think that experience, only being within the last two weeks, has made this current visit stressful for her. I'll be taking care to let her body de-stress over the next 72 hours, with low-key interactions and some calm exercise, but I'll have to keep it in mind for next time. I think next visit we have, I will use her Thundershirt and some Rescue Remedy to see if it'll help her stress levels a bit, as I don't want to see her that stressed about vet visits, especially after we've come SO far. Time will tell.....
So thankfully, I continue to have medically healthy dogs. But as it goes, seniors tend to bring us just a little more concern at times, and begin to require slightly different things as they age. I'll knock on wood for no more vet visits for the year (after Zipper's bloodwork re-check, that is), and appreciate that even with the scare, my old dogs are still aging gracefully and heathily along the way!