Goodbye to Bel

On the afternoon of July 12th, Bel was bit by a rattlesnake, and we euthanized her later that day.  I have some other things to say about Bel, but this is the first post, about what happened to her.

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Grieving, I sometimes find myself saying the same words over and over, like a mantra, though it is not one that brings comfort.  And in this past week, I’ve been hearing these words run through my head:   I lost my little squirrely girl.  I let my girl go.  My little Bel is gone.  But she is not lost, and I didn’t “let her go.”  No, I made the decision to euthanize her.    I held her while my vet slipped the needle in, and held her as she suddenly slumped, soft as a sigh, into her death.  I did that, and we can rationalize it all the ways we need, but I did make the decision to kill her.  I know I did the right thing, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, and grief keeps up its oddly euphemistic chant in my head.  We lost our girl.

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My red girl loved the snow


I’d been agonizing over it for weeks.  Years, really, but in the last few weeks of her life, it was a constant weight.  It wasn’t a “should I?” it was a “when” and that was the difficulty.  I’ve had to euthanize other dogs, of course.  With Kai, my German Shepherd Dog, it was obvious.  The cancer had turned the bones in this back legs to lace, and he was not always able to get up.  But the final sign was when he got a fever he couldn’t shake, and it raged so high it was clear it was going to do damage to his brain if we couldn’t get it down.  And we couldn’t.  Not with aspirin, not with towels soaked in ice water.  It would subside a bit then spike up again, and he was clearly suffering.  So, after a bad weekend, we took him into the vet, and he sighed and wagged his tail when the vet asked him if he was ready to go.  I think he was.  It was the first time he’d wagged his tail in a week.

But with Bel, it wasn’t so easy at all.  it wasn’t one, terminal disease Bel had.  It was a myriad of other things.  Bel was epileptic, and often had small (petit mal) seizures that left her frightened and confused.  She was hypothyroid.  She had liver and kidney damage, and the kidneys were chronically a problem.  In May, we discovered she had two badly broken teeth, and one mildly chipped one.  She had luxating patella and had had surgery for it on one side, but in April, the other one went out too and then she tore the MCL, and so from April til her death in July, she got around mostly on three legs (and she mostly got around quite well on three legs).  We also noted, at a vet visit in May, that she was beginning to demonstrate some other neurological problems.  My vet noticed she was swaying more, and had more trouble recovering from a gentle nudge, not from her bad leg, but because her balance was off.  She was confused more often.   I had noticed a year or so before that one eye protruded slightly more than the other–this time, the vet noted it too, and felt it was more obvious than it had been just a few months before.  I have long thought Bel might have had a brain tumor; my vet disagrees, as her experience has been with fast growing tumors that kill quickly.  But I know there are dogs with slow growing tumors, too, and I believe, still, that Bel likely had one of these.  There were just too many symptoms.  But we’ll never know for sure.

The thing is, many of Bel’s health problems could have been fixed if I had more money to spend.  I could have had her broken teeth pulled, had the surgery done on her knee.  We couldn’t, likely, have fixed the neurological problems, but we could have done MRIs or CT scans to see if there really was a tumor.  We could have ordered a battery of tests to check her kidney function.

I did not.  There are times I felt guilty about this, but I have three other dogs, and limited resources, and I understood the hard truth:  I could spend thousands more dollars on Bel, and it would still not fix her.  It would not change the fact that she’d still be a fearful, sometimes aggressive dog who was often confused and frightened by the most ordinary aspects of her life.  No amount of money would make Bel a normal dog.

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Bel was often sick



I kept a journal of Bel’s health.  Since Dec. of 2012, it had been getting worse and worse.  She often wouldn’t eat, and would drink and drink and vomit up bile.  She had these episodes at least once a month at first, and then it got worse and was twice a month, sometimes more.  I could interrupt it with anti-emetics (and did, and sometimes had to give her injections when it was particularly bad), but it was stressful for us all.  When she was sick, she’d ghost around the house, tail and head down, clearly miserable. She’d become incontinent during these times too.   As the spring progressed, she was often sick and then agitated at the same time:  sometimes she would pace the house, and if I blocked off a place I didn’t want her to go (I was tired of her vomiting on the carpet upstairs, or sometimes peeing on our bed), she went nuts, and she broke down doggie gates trying to get upstairs or back downstairs.

The worst was in May.  I was supposed to go to graduation, to celebrate the very wonderful graduate students I had been working with.  Bel was having one of her episodes, and had been vomiting, but she also became very anxious and was pacing.  I realized, later, she probably had had a seizure I hadn’t seen.  But she would not settle.   She broke down the doggie gate to come upstairs, and she hid in the closet in my bedroom.  Then came back out.  Then climbed on the bed.  The jumped off, bad leg and all.  Then she wanted to go back downstairs, but the gate was still in place.  I was trying to dress to go to graduation.  Suddenly, Oskar, the Akita, began to bark, and I discovered Bel had crept in between the railings on the stairs and was going to jump downstairs, a jump of six feet or so.  I caught her  and put her in the big crate, where she went crazy, flinging herself at the side of the crate and screaming and biting the metal.

I left anyway.  I had to go; it was graduation.  I got in the car. I could hear her barking and crying outside the house.  I drove away.  I could only drive a few miles, though, before I stopped and turned around.  I worried she’d hurt herself in the crate.  I went home and sedated her, and after an hour, when the acepromazine had finally worked and I was able to leave (ace, while not ideal, was the only thing we could use that would actually have a sedative effect on her by then–we’d already worked our way through valium and xanax and prozac, all of which made her hyperactive and aggressive).

It was terrible.  I was worried about her, but I was also frustrated, and exhausted.  She was not an easy dog to live with in the best of times, but her behavior had become so erratic, her health so unpredictable, that sometimes I simply couldn’t take it.  I’m not happy to admit I did not always feel kindly toward Bel.  When she refused to take her pills, I became frustrated with her, and one day, when she refused liverwurst or cheese, I finally just opened her mouth and shoved the pills down.  She had to take them:  without the phenobarbital she’d have more seizures, and be even worse.  She had to have the meds for her injured leg, the antibiotics to keep her broken teeth from becoming painfully infected.  I didn’t hurt her, but I scared her, and she ran away from me tail down, and hid, and I felt so horrible and so guilty. It haunted me.   I did the best I could, but seeing her fear was terrible.

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Leo comforting Bel while she was sick



In early June, I took her to the vet.  We were supposed to have her teeth pulled, but I finally realized that maybe that didn’t make sense.  I wasn’t sure putting her under general anesthesia and putting her through the recovery of the pulled teeth was a good idea.  I handed my vet the list of Bel’s illnesses since December (most of which, of course, they’d seen).  I told them about her behavior, how some days she didn’t know how us.  How many nights I couldn’t get her inside at all, and how finally, I’d given up, and let her sleep outside at night, though I never slept well, listening, fearfully, for her, worried a coyote would get her.   My vet weighed her.  She’d lost 15 % of her body weight in 3 weeks.  She wasn’t eating anymore, or barely enough to sustain herself. Some days she would eat nothing. Some days,  she’d eat a half a stick of string cheese.  She’d eat a quarter cup of Stella and Chewy’s Duck Duck Goose, the only food she’d tolerate in those last months.  She’d eat a spoonful of ice cream or liverwurst.  And no more.   There was a real worry, my vet said, was that Bel would simply starve to death, a particularly unpleasant way to die.

And so we had to have the talk.  My vet has known me through all these years of struggle with Bel.  She was there to put Toby back together after Bel nearly killed him, and she listened to me think about euthanizing her then, all those years ago.   She even helped me try to find another home for Bel, though in the end, I kept her.   She did the surgery on her knee; she’s stitched her back together after the coyote attack that caused head injuries, and after the stray dogs bit her a year or so ago.  She or her husband attached Bel to IVs for failing kidneys, and she helped us sort out the thyroid levels and the right dose of phenobarbital for her epilepsy.   She’s seen it all.  And my vet said that she thought it might be time, and that I’d done all I could do for this little dog.  But I think what really got me was this:  she told me that if I wanted, we could order tests.  We could do a full panel of blood work to try and figure out what was wrong with her kidneys.  We could do a MRI or a CT scan.   I could spend several thousand dollars, or more, but in the end, we’d still be where we were, and she’d still have to recommend putting the dog down.

And I knew.  I knew that before I’d come in.  I needed to hear someone else say it.  But I also couldn’t do it right then; the thought of losing Bel was too hard, and also, I knew my husband who loved Bel deeply, but was also in deep denial about her health, would never agree to it.  In the weeks to come, though, what to do about Bel, about euthanizing her, became the constant question.  Not if.  But when.

And in those weeks, while she still managed to race through the yard on three legs, while she refused food and refused to come in, but then had moments of unaccountable sweetness, I mourned my little Jezebel, though she was still there, a flame-bright presence in our lives.  I saw a dog bed I thought she’d like at the thrift store, then started crying when I realized it made no sense to get it for her.  I watched Leo lay snuggled up against her and got teary thinking of how much he’d miss her.

On the summer solstice, some dear friends came over and we sat outside under a tree, the other dogs happily gathered around us.   Bel was like a phantom already, a red presence who ghosted through the yard like a shadow.  She’d been unaccountably friendly for a few moments, then she disappeared, moving like a wild animal through the trees, too spooked to do more than glance at us.  She had a favorite place in the yard she liked to sit, and from that place, she’d stare out to the woods beyond the fence, the woods the coyotes often called from, and I had the sudden sense that she was already only half in this world anyway, that she was already looking out into whatever comes after for dogs.  She seemed utterly indifferent to us, like a wild creature who had stumbled into the yard and stayed, but was not really part of our lives.  She was like this for weeks, a feral presence in our little half acre.

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My vets are often in and out of town, and what I knew was that I did not want to have to euthanize Bel at a strange clinic.  I wanted, instead, for our vet to come to our home.  Bel had always been a little homebody, a dog who could be lively and charming at home, but who did not enjoy going to strange places.  So I made an appointment.  My vets could only come out on Weds or Saturdays, so I picked the last Saturday they would be in town in June.  June 29.  It was also her eighth birthday.  It was terribly difficult:  my husband didn’t agree with me and I wasn’t even sure the time was right, though I had one illuminating moment when a friend asked me what I would do if I wasn’t arguing with my husband about the “when” and I said I’d put Bel down.  And she said, well, there’s your answer.  And it was true.  I knew it was the right thing to do.  Though she didn’t act like it, I knew Bel was in pain–from her teeth, from her leg, from the chronic kidney issues.  I also was aware that I was giving her more and more meds:  for pain, to sedate her when she was crazily anxious, and it just didn’t seem right.

Then, unpredictable as always, Bel began to eat again.  The week before I’d planned to put her down, she rallied.  She ate.  She started to come in at night, happily.  She was affectionate again, and she played with the other dogs.  She was lively. Our little girl was back!  I wasn’t fooled–I knew she was not going to get better.  But I also decided to give her a bit more time.  The night before her birthday, my friends and I went to see Patty Griffin, and she sang a heartbreaking song (Wild Old Dog) about a dog she’d seen on the highway, and I cried through the song, and was so thankful that I had called the vet that day and cancelled the appointment, and that the next day was not the day I was going to put my little girl to sleep.

It wasn’t that everything was better.  Bel’s problems remained.  And in the final week of her life, I noted more confusion.  Once, when my husband came home, she ran out to greet him, then got confused, and she backed away from him so fast and so fearfully that she tumbled into me and fell, stricken and scared.  A few minutes later, she came out of it, and showed her regular delight to see him.  That happened more than once.

I knew we were just biding time, but we had that time, those few extra weeks, and in that time, Bel seemed happier than she’d been.  I thought vaguely of making an appointment before we left for Germany, as I was worried about leaving the responsibility of her to my friends who were housesitting.  I just tried to be present with her in those days, to watch her, to be with her, though often I was in tears as I stroked her soft fur.

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Leo and Bel in the yard

Her final day was unexpected, and I think, in someways, as awful as it was, that it was also a great gift.  Because I couldn’t seem to decide. I couldn’t figure out what the right thing to do was, and I talked to friends about it endlessly, needing advice, but more than that, probably, just an ear.  I scoured the web for articles about euthanasia, about when to make the decision.  I found  a good article  from a hospice vet that included a quiz to help decide if it was time.  Bel’s score was 11; they recommended euthanasia at 8.  But it was still a decision I couldn’t seem to make, though I knew Bel would not live out this summer.  (Some other good links about making this hard decision are here and here)

Friday, July 12.  Bel was out in the yard, in the early afternoon, and I heard, suddenly, her shrill alarm bark.  I let Oskar out after her, and then I heard him bark, and a dog scream, and I ran out into the yard yelling “no!” before I even knew what was happening.  A part of me registered that the scream I’d heard was not one of my dogs, but I ran out to find all three, Leo, Bel and Oskar, packed around a small, strange dog, which was on its back, screaming.  It was a Shih Tzu or Maltese, a small white dog in a blue, untagged harness, and even as I was screaming “leave it”  and Oskar was backing away, I saw Bel move in to bite it.  She’s always ignored the signs of surrender, the dog turning on its back, always took that as an opportunity to do damage, and all I was trying to do was to stop her from killing this dog that had somehow appeared inside our fenced yard.  Then some miracle–the little dog pushed itself back and fell through the fence (it was so small it fit through the squares of the wire of our fence), and then it was on its feet and running away.  I wanted to make sure it was ok, so I ran after it, but I had to run around to the gate to get out, and by the time I made it to the street, the dog was very far away, running. And then, forgotten, because of what happened next. I hope that little dog was ok; I hate to think of someone else losing their dog that day.

I went back to get the car, and I called the dogs in, and when Bel came in, I noticed she was pawing at her face. It looked like there was a little knot on the side of her muzzle, and it looked like a bite, though  a very small one, but I figure that tiny little dog probably had tiny teeth.  Still, I’ve been through enough dog fights to know that it is best to always treat even the seemingly minor bites, so I called the vet, and as I was calling I saw the knot was swelling rapidly….and I think I knew then it was not a dog bite.

We’ve been through the rattlesnake bites before, of course, with Leo, and he’d swelled up like that too.  He’d been uncoordinated and confused, though, within minutes, and Bel was not.  I got her in the car, and she leapt into the front seat as if she were fine, ignoring the bite, the injured leg, and she leaned against me in her favorite place to ride.   I knew.  And in the brief drive to the vet  I talked to her.  “Girly,” I said, “if this is a rattlesnake bite, I think this might be it.  It might be time for you to go.”  I was crying, and she leaned against me harder, as if she were trying to comfort me.

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Pretty girl



I still wasn’t sure when we got to the vet’s office.  She wasn’t disoriented.  She didn’t seem dizzy.  By this time her muzzle, though, was horribly swollen, though she didn’t even act as if she were in pain.  I told the vet  that I didn’t think it was a snake bite, but I saw his face darken as he glanced at her when we walked in the door, and I knew I was wrong.  We went into the exam room right away, and even before he examined her, he talked about our options, about using antivenin or not (we had with Leo), about possible treatments and the difficulties we faced because of her particular health issues.  And he said what I’d been thinking–did I want to try to get her through this?  In the meantime, Bel acted like her usual self, pacing a bit, trying to jump up onto the chair in the room.   On the exam table, she was calm, and didn’t seem disoriented, even when he shaved her muzzle and we saw not one, but two set of puncture marks.  She was calm even when we saw that her muzzle was already turning black where it was swollen, and the wounds were seeping black beads of blood.

I knew.  I knew when we’d gotten in the car.  My vet reminded me, gently, of Bel’s failing kidneys, and the damage that snake bites can do to kidneys even in a healthy dog.  Could he get her through this?  Maybe, maybe not.  In any case, she’d be on an IV, left in the vet clinic overnight, and I knew I couldn’t do it.  It was too much–the snake bite and everything else, the litany of health issues that never seemed to end, and I knew how scared my little girl would be there at the vet, overnight, and what if she died anyway and I wasn’t there with her?  I couldn’t bear it.  And so I made the decision then.  It was not the way I’d wanted Bel’s death to be.  I’d imagined she’d be at home, and my husband would be there and my best friend, M., who had driven with me, almost eight years before, to a place in Nebraska I wasn’t then educated enough to understand was a commericial breeder, a puppy mill, where I’d payed $300 for a 4 month old puppy who I had named Jade Jezebel Foxglove, and called Bel.  I wanted us all there.  I wanted the other dogs there.  I wanted her on her favorite sheepskin, surrounded by those who loved her.

But Bel had always had a mind of her own.  And as I told the vet as he prepared the injection, I couldn’t help but think Bel had had a good day for her.  She’d loved to fight, and she’d gotten in a fight.  She liked to hunt, and obviously, she’d been after a snake.  She’d gone for a ride.  She was calm, and seemed happy and pleased with herself, and I think, if she could have chosen, she’d have chosen to go out after such an eventful day.  At least, that’s what happened.  I held her, and kissed her between the ears on her fur bright as a fox’s pelt, avoiding that still swelling muzzle, and she had that final dose of phenobarbital, the one let her slip away from us forever.

In the end, her death seemed so sudden.  But I suppose that was the gift,  in the midst of grief.  There was no more agonizing over what was right to do–there was just that moment, and the knowledge that I couldn’t let her go on in pain.   It was time, and it almost seemed as if she’d chosen the way she wanted to go–to go out fighting.

The next morning, I walked around the yard, looking to see if I’d find a dead snake.  I wondered if she’d killed the one that bit her.  I didn’t find anything, but I found a slight hole in the fence, and grabbed a big log to block it.  Under the log, there in the middle of the yard, was a rattlesnake.  I don’t know if it was the same one that bit Bel, but I hope it was.  It didn’t move, and I went into the garage and got an axe and killed it.  I think Bel would have approved of that.

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A past snake encounter she won



The next week, all the other dogs got the rattlesnake vaccine, which will help lessen the effects should they be bit.

There’s more to say about Bel of course, about her life from the days I got her at the puppy mill til the day she left us.  I learned so much from her.  Some of it I suppose I wish I didn’t know, but because of Bel I know how to flush drains in wounds.  I know how to give dogs injections.  I know about luxating patella and torn ligaments, about canine epilepsy.  I’ve learned a lot about fearful dogs, and fear-based aggression, and dogs that haven’t been socialized.  I’ve learned, too, that many dogs are dealt a bad hand by the people who breed them, who don’t care enough about animals to be more careful, and I’ve learned that many dogs who come from puppy mills are not actually ever able to overcome that initial bad hand.  Bel was one of those dogs.  She didn’t even come from the worst of the mills.  But she was never able to really be a normal dog.  Toby paid for that.  I paid for that.  Our entire family did, physically, emotionally and financially.  The last count I had of Bel’s costs, we were up to around $12000, and I’m sure it was closer to $14,000 or $15,000 by the time she died.  She was a hard dog to live with.

And yet, I loved her.  And that day when I took her home, I committed myself to her, became responsible for her life.  I gave her the best life I could. I also gave her a good death.  And in between, she lived her life on her terms.

Goodbye, squirrely girl. We miss you.

(More about Bel’s story is here and here.)

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No More Yearly Vaccinations!

I’m hoping that this year, I’ll be able to keep up with the blog a bit more regularly, so I’ve decided to keep myself motivated by writing some posts on general topics related to canine health and behavior.

I’ll start this with yet another story of why I love my vets.  I went in with Toby to run some tests to see if he had Cushings syndrome (the answer?  Probably yes.  But that will be another post).  As we were there, my vet said in passing, “I notice that Toby has not been vaccinated for almost 2 years.  Toby is almost 9.  I see no reason to vaccinate this dog again, except for his rabies vaccination which is required by law, but I wanted to tell you that if you need to board him, you will not be in compliance, so this is just so you’re aware of his status.”   I was delighted not to have argue about my decision not to continue to vaccinate my adult dogs.  I thanked her, and we went on with the exam.   My vets, in case anyone wonders, are old-school in the extreme.  They don’t even use computers.   They are hardly out there on the fringe.  But they’ve been practicing for over 30 years, and they’ve seen and learned a lot.  They do not feel that animals need to be vaccinated every year.

A few days later, I came across a great link on vaccinations on the Shiba Inu forum, posted by an alert forumite.   This is a great video about vaccinations, over-vaccinating, and immunology.   It is an interview with Dr. Ronald Schultz, of the University of Wisconsin, whose speciality is immunology.  Dr. Schultz is not “out there” or part of the fringe of veterinary medicine; he is a doctor, teacher and scientist who has been working in this field for 29 years.   And he firmly believes that we are hurting our animals by over-vaccinating them.  (Coincidentally, my vets both went to vet school at UW.  They may well have worked with Dr. Schultz at some point!)

You can watch the whole interview, which is excellent, below.  It runs about an hour.

If you’d like to read parts of the interview and watch it in shorter chunks, this link has the interview broken up and has important points summarized as well:   link to interview with Dr. Schultz.

There are several important points to this, and it’s worth your time to watch the video, but I’ll try and summarize some of the things I found most important (and note, I’m simplifying this, and any mistakes below are mine):

  • There are core vaccinations that every animal should have.  For dogs, these are the so-called “puppy shots” of distemper, parvo, rabies and adenovirus.   (There is a lot more in the video about how and when to give these shots, but no one argues that these are important).
  • After the puppy shots, one adult booster is useful.
  • Beyond that, most dogs do NOT need more vaccinations, but one year after the adult booster, it would be good to titer test the dog to see how much immunity they still have.  If it is low, you may revaccinate (see below), but if it is not, you do not need to revaccinate.  (Note the video goes into much more detail on how titering works).
  • According to Dr. Schultz, the MOST anyone should vaccinate their dogs is every three years.  To do more is not to make them any “more” immune (as that is not possible) but it is possible to compromise the dog’s health with over vaccination.
  • Both vets agreed that any dog who has had a reaction to a vaccination should NOT be revaccinated using the same vaccine, and probably should not be revaccinated at all (watch for more details on what to do in cases where the titer test suggests an animal may not have full immunity).  This is especially the case if the animal gets a lump at the vaccine site.
  • Both vets believe that over-vaccination is hurting our animals, and it may be one contributing factor to a rise in autoimmune disorders in animals (there’s more to it than just vaccinations, but this is one component they believe), as well as other problems.

There’s a lot more to the interview, but those were the important points I took away.

I should note that Dr. Schultz is not the only one who believes we are over vaccinating our dogs; so do many vets, and finally some bigger organizations are following suit.  From this article (scroll down to the postscript, though the whole article is interesting), I discovered that “World Small Animal Veterinary Association now advocates a minimal 3-year interval between core ‘booster’ vaccinations.”  (Note three years is the “minimal” interval, and note that the producers of the vaccines do not agree with that.  Now I wonder why that would be? Could it have something to do with money?)

I wanted to start with Dr. Schultz, because as far as I can see, no one much argues with his conclusions, which are drawn from years of research.  (He started recommending in the late 70’s that we stop vaccinating animals every year, noting that the vaccinations are supposed to create life long immunity, as many vaccinations do in humans).

I’ve long also been a fan of Dr. Jean Dodds, who is a specialist in canine health (especially thyroid issues) and who has long recommended a minimal vaccine protocol.  Some people do see Dr. Dodds as being a bit more on the fringe, and some conservative vets get up in arms even at the mention of her name.  (My vets are a husband/wife team, and the husband is not a fan of Dr. Dodds, even though I note that his thoughts on vaccinations are almost exactly the same as hers!)

Still, she’s the go-to doctor for information on a more minimal vaccination protocol.  This page includes Dr. Dodds vaccine protocol.

In addition, here is a link to an article by Dr. Dodds on vaccinations (it’s pretty technical, but has a lot of useful information):

I got interested in this because Toby had a bad reaction a vaccination about 5 years ago.  He seemed very ill immediately afterwards, and was lethargic and off his food for a couple of days afterwards (which you all know is NOT like Toby at all!).  I’d already heard of many people recommending less vaccinations, so I started reading.

While I didn’t find any information about Shibas, I did find that Akitas are a breed that is considered predisposed to vaccine reactions, so I was very careful with vaccinating Oskar.  I also suspect that ALL the Japanese breeds may have this problem–it’s only that Akitas are popular enough in the US to have this been taken note of.  (This is just a theory of mine, but there is much overlap in conditions in the Japanese breeds, hence my supposition).

Here is a link to breeds predisposed to problems, and what those problems can be, and it includes a discussion of Akitas.

Dr. Dodds notes the small orignal gene pool of the Akita as a possible reason for predisposition to problems (as well as other inheritable conditions) and I think that would also be true of other Japanese breeds.

This next page includes many links on problems with vaccinations, particularly rabies, and it discusses adverse reactions to the rabies vaccine.   It cites many sources, something I particularly appreciate.

So I will continue to follow Dr. Dodds protocol and be conservative in vaccinating my dogs.  I wish I had learned this a lot earlier, but at least Oskar and Leo will have the benefit of my new knowledge, and Toby and Bel will not get any more vaccinations, except for the rabies, which is required by law.

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Toby says “I’ve had enough!”

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

The human contingent of the House of the Fox Dogs has been on vacation, visiting U’s family in Germany. It actually looked like I wouldn’t be able to go at first, because we had an unexpected canine health issue: One month after his neutering, Oskar suddenly developed a rather large hematoma in his scrotum. It was, well, rather noticeable, since I took a look at him and thought wow, he looks like he was never neutered. The scrotum had filled up with blood.

So off the vet we went, where it was aspirated, but unfortunately, it filled right back up again with blood. This meant Oskar needed a procedure I am unfortunately all too familiar with from various dog injuries: the vet had to put in drains, and a pressure bandage. Obviously, this is not the easiest place to bandage, so as usual, my vets got creative, and Oskar ended up with a very interesting outfit:

Oskar's outfit

Granted, that wasn’t all the vet’s doing.  Oskar’s bandages wouldn’t stay up so we sacrificed a pair of U’s boxers and put them on Oskar.  It did help to keep everything in place, but as you can see from his dropped tail, he wasn’t happy.  He had to wear that ensemble for about a week, and his drains had to be flushed at least once a day, a procedure that I simply could not do by myself (imagine trying to hold down a 110 pound dog and squirt betadine into his nether regions.  Not a one-person job, and U. had already left for Germany), so Oskar went to the vet daily.

Poor Oskar!

Luckily for me, the drains came out two days before I left, and there were no more complications, so I was able to leave Oskar and the Shibas with our lovely housesitters, and go to Germany.

(I should add that the complications with Oskar’s neutering are rare.  This kind of swelling does sometimes happen in dogs that are too active immediately after the surgery, but it is rare indeed for it to occur a month later.  My vet said he had not seen it happen so long after the surgery in his 30 years in practice.  We’re not sure what caused it, and it was probably just a fluke, but given that Oskar has had a few other odd issues with bleeding–a broken toenail that bled on and off for two weeks–I’m going to have him tested for von Willebrand’s Disease, which is a hereditary clotting disorder.  While it seems unlikely that he has it, as he did not bleed excessively during surgery, we decided that it would be good to know for sure, so he’ll be tested for this soon.)

German Dogs!

I spent a lot of time in Germany looking at dogs.  Of course,  I am terribly interested in all things canine, anyway, but there was another reason:  I don’t speak German.  So during gatherings of family and friends, I was often left to my own devices.  I like to imagine that my understanding of German is something like the way dogs understand any human language.  This is what I understood:   Blah, blah, blah, dog!  Blah, blah, blah chocolate!  Blah, blah, blah beer!  Of course, like a dog, I perked up noticeably when I understood those key words.  I also perked up when I heard my name.  I imagine if I had ears that pricked forward they would have done so, and if I had a tail, it would have wagged.  Other than that, I spent a lot of time observing dogs.

First, there was Gina, who belongs to my brother-in-law.  Gina was the first German dog I met:

She was good-natured, and I was never able to figure out what breed she is, or if she is a mix, but she does slightly resemble a Gordon Setter, and is even more like a black and tan Hovawart, a breed that originated in Germany. (Gina looks a lot like this dog).  We took her on quite long walks, including to an outdoor museum, and she was always well-behaved.  Until we saw other dogs, when Gina turned into a maniac, jumping at the end of her leash, snarling and barking.  Clearly Gina is a reactive dog!

Gina in repose

Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere in Germany it seems.  Gina was welcome at restaurants, though we only ate at outdoor beirgartens with her, where she laid under the table quite happily.  We did not take her with us when we went to the retirement home to visit my husband’s 95-year-old grandmother, but there was another dog there, also laying calmly under the table while the family had coffee.  We also saw a young pup there that looked–and acted!–like a Shiba puppy; it was leaping about and biting anything that came within reach, a crazed little ball of fur.   It was not a Shiba, but the owners told us it was an “island dog” whatever that means.  I would have asked more questions if I could have spoken German.

I am fairly certain Gina has food allergies.  Her stomach is almost completely hairless and freckled and she was almost constantly scratching and licking at either her belly or her paws.  I suppose my brother-in-law’s family was spared a long talk on diet and food allergies because of the lack of a common language.

On the first day in Germany, with a bit of translation, I was made to understand that the neighbors had a Shiba.  Except that it was a big Shiba. But it was a puppy.   I immediately suspected that the “big Shiba puppy” was a Japanese Akita.  The neighbor was invited to stop by on his walk for us to meet the “big Shiba puppy” and one morning the doorbell rang, and we met this dog, who is almost a year old:

Japanese Akita

While he may have seemed a bit cautious in this picture, it only took a few moments for him to become a typical, young Akita.  He jumped up to try to lick our faces.  He mouthed our arms and hands.  He grabbed onto U’s shirt and started tugging.  While his looks are quite different from an American Akita–in much of the world the Akita is split into two breeds, American and Japanese–his mannerisms were very similar to Oskar’s.  We enjoyed having a visit with him, and I was delighted to have met my first Japanese Akita.

The next canine we met was in the small town where my mother-in-law is from.  We went to see her brother and the farmhouse she grew up in.  When the family came outside to greet us, they brought a little dog with them that at first I thought was a pug, but then I recognized those bat ears; it was a little French Bulldog.   I’m not a fan of the flat-faced breeds, usually, but in the 20 minutes or so we spent there, this little dog thoroughly endeared herself to me.  She was clearly not interested in everyone there–she barked at my mother-in-law–but she came up to me immediately, and tilted her head and looked at me as if she was trying to decide if I was worth her attention or not.  Apparently I was, because she licked my hand, then set to sniffing me with a great deal of interest.

French Bulldog

She was, apparently, visiting while her family was on vacation.   She was quite a self-possessed little dog, who followed conversations by watching everyone with a grave, and slightly affronted look, as if she wasn’t sure approved of the conversation.  I found her quite charming!

On Sunday, we ventured into nearby Bavaria for a trip to Germany’s most iconic castle, Neuschwanstein, pictured below.

Neuschwanstein, Aug. 2011

After our visit, we had coffee with one of U’s school friends, who had accompanied us on our tourist jaunt.  He and his wife have a lovely house they had designed themselves (she is an architect), a lovely daughter, and of course, a dog.  I thought the dog was a greyhound, so I asked (they both spoke some English), but as it turns out he is not, though he does resemble one:

Delgado, a "windhund"

I was told that Delgado is a “windhund,” which I understood to be a category of dog.  With the help of a dog book, I was able to say that, yes, the equivelent of “windhund” is probably “sighthound.”   This still did not explain Delgado’s breed, however, and the book that included his breed was only in German.  I understood that his type of dog came from Spain, and his breed is related to greyhounds.  I thought that perhaps he was an Ibizan Hound, only because it was the only Spanish sighthound I could remember, but once I looked in the book, I saw this was clearly not the case.  When I got home, I was able to figure out that Delgado is a Galgo Espanol, a type of Spanish Greyhound that is not closely related to the English Greyhound.

Delgado is a Galgo Espanol

Delgado was quite sweet, and content to lay on his bed, until the cakes were brought out, and then he quickly positioned himself where he could not-so-surreptiously put his head on the table and sneak a treat.  When he was shooed away, he settled his head on my lap for a bit, but I was not fooled….it was not me he was interested in but my cake!  I learned that Delgado does not like having his picture taken (and he turned away as soon as the camera came out!), that he is quite a thief, and that he loves to sleep on the sofa, but will only do it if no one is in the room with him.  Our hosts admitted that they struggled with teaching him to stay off the sofa, then finally decided that the battle wasn’t worth it, and Delgado has apparently slept on the sofa ever since.  I’ve always been fond of sighthounds, especially greyhounds, and this Spanish greyhound was no exception.

What else did I learn about German dogs?  I learned that they are welcome many more places than dogs are in the US, and while the vast majority of the dogs I saw walked politely on leashes and were content to lay under tables while their humans socialized, I also noted that there were plenty of spats between dogs who were not so pleased to see other dogs.  In a way, this was reassuring:  I was not seeing a nation of perfect dogs!  I also noted that I never once saw a dog walked with just a collar:  every dog I saw was wearing a harness, which I know is better for the health of the dog, as it does not put pressure on the trachea and neck.  And while I saw a number of types of dogs, I never once saw a German Shepherd Dog, called Schaferhund in German.  I did, however, see a German TV documentary that bemoaned the failing popularity of this national breed, noting that their numbers were consistently falling in Germany, though the channel was changed before I could find out why that was.

All in all, it was a good trip, but of course, I was delighted to come home and find my three hounds healthy, happy and well-cared for.  I learned that they all had new nicknames:  Bel was Bella Loca, a nickname so good it will stick; Oskar was Baby Beluga; and I suppose Toby’s new nickname says something about how he must have behaved when we were gone, because he was just “the little asshole.”  Oh Toby.

Bel’s Birthday: the Bitter and the Sweet

Today is Bel’s birthday.  She’s 6 years old.  Forgive me if I have a hard time mustering up some enthusiasm for this event, but I might as well admit it, as much as I love Bel, she’s often a hard dog to like.

Bel:  A Retrospective

It seems an apt time for a review of Bel’s life so far.  I got her when she was nearly four months old from a place I now recognize as a puppy mill.  I’ve talked about this in other posts, so we won’t go over her early life, but besides being not particularly well-bred, Bel was not socialized much as a pup.  I didn’t help things much when I got her:  she was fearful and I was busy, and I didn’t even take her to the puppy classes that I took the other dogs to.  I thought her being with my dogs and my friend’s dogs was enough.  It wasn’t.

Bel as a puppy

It might not have made a great deal of difference in her behavior:  she has a number of health problems and a fearful temperament.  Maybe I could have made things better with more socialization–certainly I know now it would have been worth the effort.  But I doubt it would have fixed her.

In 2008, when she was not quite three, she had a series of minor squabbles with Toby which ended in her suddenly attacking him at the door.  I couldn’t get her off him.  When I did, finally, manage to separate them, Toby was seriously injured.  He nearly died, and was at the vet for 6 weeks.  At that point, I decided to try to rehome her, and went through Shiba rescue, but honestly, who wants a dog who is that reactive, and who is also afraid of people?  A couple of people inquired about her.  Some even came to see her (she hid).   After six months of having her listed with rescue groups, I decided to just keep her, as I was used to keeping them separated by then.  That’s how it’s been ever since:  Bel and Toby are almost never together.

In the fall of 2009, she was attacked by coyotes (through the fence)  and bitten badly on the head and neck.  She had some eye damage, which healed, and who knows what else happened in her little brain.  She’s never been a particularly predictable dog, and this didn’t help.

Bel after the coyote attack

Bel after the coyote attack

After that she started to have a lot of “episodes” for lack of a better word, in which she would run and run along the fence, eyes blank, sometimes not recognizing me.  She’d done this on occasion before, but it got much more frequent after the attack.

In late 2010, she had a full on seizure.  The first I’d seen, but my vet and I suspect her “episodes” might be petit mal type seizures, which include periods when she “blanks out” in the house, for 30 seconds to a minute, and when she comes back she is fearful and confused.  Her crazed running outside seems almost like a fugue state.  Also in December of 2010, her luxating patella required surgery and she shredded her ACL, which readers of this blog know she had surgery for in March of this year.

She’s not been an easy dog.   She’s almost feral.  She is afraid of most people–sometimes even us.  She doesn’t come when called.  She runs away instead, and now can’t even be off leash in the main yard because she’ll hide out there and won’t come in, or she’ll run and run like a crazy thing til she does further damage to her legs (she’s already reinjured the leg we did surgery on, though luckily it doesn’t appear she tore the ACL again).

But before she attacked Toby?  It used to be lovely to watch them together….the way she followed him and watched his every move.  She taught him how to play–he never played before she came to live with us.  They used to run alongside one another in the yard, shoulder to shoulder, like a team, and they’d turn their heads at the same time as if they were one unit.  She was still fearful in those days, but she was funny and sweet too.  And then she wasn’t.

Toby and Bel in better days

Bel Today:

Bel can be very sweet.   She can be a charming, silly dog.  She likes to be petted, and she indicates this by standing up on her hind legs, and placing one paw gently on my arm to get my attention.  If I don’t pet her, she paws me a bit more.  She likes to have her chest rubbed, and she turns her head away as I do this, and leaves her paw resting on me to remind me that this is my duty–to pet her.  She is playful and she likes to steal things.  She taught me to always keep the bathroom door closed, because if it’s open, she’ll find the toilet paper roll, no matter where it is, and steal it and drag toilet paper banners all over the house.  She is smart, and loves clicker training, and took to it faster than any of the other dogs.

This spring, she’s been injured, so some of the things she enjoys (running, twirling, leaping, and hunting birds) haven’t been possible.  I have to keep her on the leash.  She’s been pretty mellow overall.  She was off phenobarbital for awhile (because of the liver problems she had in the spring), but she started getting fearful again.  She developed a fear of thunder last year, and now she’s added fear of wind to that.  A couple of weeks ago, she started to get fearful as it got dark.  Not full dark, but at dusk.  Every night as it gets dark, she starts to panic.  Her fearful behavior is the same for all these things:  she paces and pants.  Her tail is dropped.  She tries frantically to get outside.  Then she tries to climb up on me.  She wants to climb up on my neck like a dog scarf.

Bel doing her fox stole imitation (she wasn't in full on panic here)

After a few weeks of this, I put her back on the phenobarbital.  She wasn’t having seizures per se, but her behavior was erratic, and she was having brief “blank” periods again, so I thought it would help regulate her behavior, and it seems to have done that.  She was calmer.   So much so that I got complacent.

Bel and Toby:  A(nother)  Scary Incident

Since she has to be on the leash all the time (to keep her from further injuring the leg she had surgery on), sometimes I take her out in the yard when Toby is loose. (This gives Toby the freedom to interact with her or not as he chooses). Lately, they’ve been playing together, and even doing something they used to do when they were young and got along: they walk along shoulder to shoulder, like a little Shiba team.  She’s on the leash, and Toby comes up and initiates play, or walks closely to her.  They’ve been fine.

Sometimes I even walk them to the mailbox together, sometimes on separate leashes, and sometimes on a leash coupler.   I decided to do it on Monday.  I was overly optimistic: I thought maybe they were going to get along now that they are a bit older, calmer.  I’d heard of that happening with feuding dogs.

So I leashed them up with the coupler and walked down to the mailbox. On the way I saw someone jogging with an Anatolian shepherd and I thought, this is a bad idea. Seeing another dog may be too much for them.   By then it was too late. They saw the other dog, and both growled at it, and once Toby growled, Bel turned on him and they started fighting. Of course I could hardly separate them because of the stupid leash coupler. Bel grabbed him by the scruff and would not let go.   Then Toby slipped his collar (probably the only time this is a good thing) when she let go a bit because I pulled her by her back legs.  I usually leave their buckle collars on and put a martingale collar on to walk them, and thank god I’d done this, because I was able to grab Toby by his other collar.

Then I had two dogs, one leash, both dogs still snarling at each other.   Each time Toby growled, Bel went berserk again; I could barely keep them apart.   I managed, somehow, to get them to our fence, tied Bel to it, and took Toby around to the gate then into the house. Luckily he’s got a ton of hair and a roll of fat on his neck, and was not badly hurt.  There was no blood, but he was so scared! He ran in the house and hid, and wouldn’t come out from under the table for almost three hours, and he was panting with stress, poor boy.   And I felt awful.

Lessons:

There are some things I learned from this:

  1. NEVER become complacent with reactive dogs, and never underestimate what they can do.  Both Shibas have a low threshold for stimulation, and the excitement of a walk together was probably enough to be dangerous, but seeing another dog sent Bel over the edge.
  2. Leash couplers are a bad idea for reactive dogs, possibly for any dogs.  They simply don’t have enough room to get away from one another, and if there is a fight, as I experienced, then it’s hard for the person handling the dogs to get them separated.
  3. Know how to separate fighting dogs.  The first things to try would simply be noise to startle them, or try to get something in between them (even the mail, as someone suggested!).  Water is another good thing to use–spray them with a hose or dump water on them if needed (this has never worked for me to get Bel off Toby, but it will work for some people).  The wheelbarrow move, which I used, is something to be tried if other things don’t work.  Grab the dog’s back legs and lift them off the ground–they lose their balance and in theory, will let go (which did work for Bel).  One person who told me about this found some information about it on the Leerburg GSD site*, and this site suggests holding the dog’s back legs and moving in a circle so the dog can’t snap back and bite you.  It’s worth a try.  Some people have said it could be bad for a dog with a luxating patella, like Bel.  I agree.  But I also knew this was a matter of life and death:  she would kill Toby if she could.  I’d rather risk the injury than lose a dog.  Don’t do what I stupidly did out of panic, which was to try to separate them by pulling on their collars.  They simply got more agitated, and I was lucky I wasn’t bitten.  (You just don’t think about these things, in the heat of the moment,  though).
  4. Bel is crazy and can’t be trusted.
  5. I did a very stupid thing, and it was a stupid thing that put Toby’s life at risk.
The Aftermath 

As I said, Toby spent the rest of the afternoon and evening really spooked and I can’t even begin to tell you how bad I feel about this.  He trusts me to keep him safe, and I failed him.  Everytime he looked at me, I felt awful.  I know this incident reinforced his reactivity:  for him other dogs are dangerous, and therefore he needs to react as if his life is threatened every time he sees another dog:  he needs to go on the offense.  Or so he thinks, and it’s not an unreasonable supposition on his part.

Bel was fine, of course, but hyped up like crazy.  I took her into the vet that afternoon for her regularly scheduled appointment, and she could not settle down (she still hasn’t.  She’s still hyperactive, and she “stalks” Toby from inside the house when she sees him outside, and she’s tried to force herself into his room.  It’s scary).

I told my vet what happened as she was examining Bel’s leg.  And my vet told me this:  they had a fox terrier who was very like Bel, and though their dogs had had several fights (none with big injuries) they still let her interact with the other dogs, because they misjudged how bad the situation was.  One day they left the terrier bitch and another male in the car briefly while they ran errands.  When they came back, she’d killed the other dog.

I was astounded, and heartbroken.  Both my vet and I were petting Bel at that time, who was sitting on the chair like a little princess, acting as sweet as can be.  My vet said “So I understand about dogs like Bel.  And I’d understand, with all her health issues and her craziness, if you decided she was too much to deal with and decided it was too much to put your other dogs at risk with having her in the house.  I’d understand, and wouldn’t blame you.”

We didn’t say anything for a moment, though of course, Bel’s life hung there, for a moment, in the balance.  I asked my vet what happened with the Fox terrier bitch.  “Oh, that was five years ago,” she said.  “She’s 9 now, and still evil as can be to other dogs.  We just keep her separated from the others, and they know not even to get near her crate.”

 We both looked at Bel.  “You’ve been managing all this time with her, and you’ve done a good job.  Be careful, and don’t beat yourself up for a mistake.”

I brought Bel home.

This is hard to say, but  it is the truth:  there days I really do think of giving up.  I think about how she’s only 6 years old–barely middle-aged for a Shiba, and I think of the mistakes and near misses that occur at least once a year, and I wonder if I’m selfishly putting Toby’s life in danger by keeping her.  I think about her seemingly endless health problems, both mental and physical.  I wonder if life is ok for her, as fearful as she is, and as limited as she in activities lately–she can’t even get out and run and play now, as it risks more damage to the leg she had surgery on.  She has LP on the other back leg too, and her constant carrying of the leg she had surgery on simply puts stress on her other back leg–eventually she may not be able to walk on either leg.

But I’m not ready to give up on her.  Giving up means one thing:  euthanasia.  She’s not a dog I could, in good conscience, rehome. Right now, I can live with her, even though, to be honest, she scares me.  I don’t know what goes through her head when she looks at Toby, but I know it’s like a switch is flipped, and she’s homicidal.  She’s never shown a bit of aggression toward a person, but she’s so unpredictable.  I’m not really afraid for that, though. I’m afraid of her unpredictability with other dogs, and though she’s only done this to Toby, how do I know she won’t turn it on Oskar someday?  Or some other dog?  I don’t.

But then there’s Bel.  Sweet little Bel, who comes to me when she’s scared.  The little girl dog who lays against me on the sofa as I read.   This silly, beautiful, fucked up little dog, who also trusts me, who is lucky to have someone like me who doesn’t give up easily.   And I know there may come a time when it is all too much, and her bad health and bad temperament overwhelms everything else.  If she every hurt another dog badly again, yes, I think it would be time.  But this is not that time, not yet.  I’ll keep going, keep the dogs separate, be more careful.    And I’ll keep enjoying the good days, and hope for more of them.

Happy birthday to Bel, my little crazy girl.  I hope there are better days ahead for us all.

Bel's a bad girl! (But this kind of bad is just cute!)

*Re: the Leerburg site.  I agree with almost none of this breeder/trainer’s philosopy, but I do think his method of separating fighting dogs is a good one, and so I mention it here.  Google the article if  interested.

Toby’s on a Diet

 

That’s not Toby, of course, but the point is relevent:  our boy is not as svelte as he used to be.

In fact, the last time I took him into the vet, he weighed a whopping 44 pounds!

Granted, Toby has never been a small Shiba, and he looks positively thin at 35 pounds.  Also, he’s been on prednisdone for allergies (poor boy lost the hair on his neck and chest!), and that made him retain fluid and look a little puffy, so I supposed he was more like 42 pounds off the steroids.   Even so, there’s no way around it.  He needs to lose weight.

I’m a bit puzzled as to why he has gained so much.  Granted, he doesn’t exercise much (Toby’s idea of exercise is moving from the sofa, to the crate, to the chair).   And he’s a master scavenger.  But still, he usually only gets one chicken neck or half a chicken back a day, so it’s not like he’s eating much.  And as you know, HE’S HUNGRY!

So we’re trying something different.  He’s getting a bit of pollack (half a fillet) and some frozen green beans.  Normally, Toby doesn’t much like vegetables, but HE’S HUNGRY, so he’s eating them with gusto.  What I’ve noticed on day three of the fish and veggie diet for Toby is that he’s not acting quite as ravenous as usual, so I’m hoping this is filling him up a bit more (while still being relatively low in calories).

I hope with a new diet, and some exercise (yes, Toby, we are going to resume our walks), he’ll soon be his only mildly plump self, rather than the enormous great pumpkin Shiba he has become.

Of course, Toby is a scavenger par excellence (or forager, as he prefers to call himself), so I have to make sure there is nothing out that he can forage.  Or we’ll have something like this:

 

 

And our boy does not need to be eating cake.  I’ll keep you all posted on his progress.

And speaking of progress, Bel is NOT on a diet, but she is much improved.  She’s eating well (or as well as Bel ever eats), and her hair is slowly growing back in:

 

Bel has a snack

 

She is also able to walk–and even run!–on her leg now, and though I’m trying to keep the running to a minimum, it’s encouraging that she’s not carrying the leg anymore, or limping.  She can’t sit normally yet, but she is able to get into her “froggy” pose, with her legs out behind her, and she seems to be feeling well overall.

On a near final note, Toby  would like to remind everyone that there is still time to get a great Shiba print here, with proceeds going to ARK.   We finally ordered this one, which Toby liked because it shows a Shiba pissing on an Akita (ok, the Hachiko statue!) and Toby finds that deeply satisfying.  He still is not happy with the fact that there is an Akita in our household!

And I’d like to thank the Shibal Inu crew for the great fundraiser for a good cause,  and for drawing my attention to the Soft Bank commercials, which fit in so well with this post!

And this really is the final note:  if you’d like to hear more  Shiba adventures from another perspective,  check out this and this from Mornings with Birds.   Shibas and birds: it’s all fun and games til someone gets hurt.  Or til the humans intervene before  damage can be done.

Feeding Bel

Bel is sick.  She may be ill because of liver damage from her meds, as I suspect, or  she may simply  not  feel well from all of them–I won’t know until I get a full liver panel done next week.  But in any case, the little girl does not feel well, and has not eaten a full meal since Thursday.

Our little sick girl

I was quite worried about her on Saturday and Sunday, but since then, she seems slightly better.  Until today, she was not willing to eat anything on her own; I had to syringe liquid into her mouth.   However, she’s since taken a bit of her puree by spoon, and we just had a victory!  She ate something out of a dish on her own:  1/4 cup of vanilla ice cream!  No, that’s not a normal part of her diet, but at this point, I’m more interested in getting something in her to keep her blood sugar up.

She has managed to keep everything down, so far,  though she did vomit up some water earlier today.  She’s not out of the woods yet.  But the fact that she takes anything is a plus.

When I had to force feed Toby, I hadn’t thought of the idea of pureeing the food and then squirting it down his throat with a syringe.  I had to stuff food in his mouth, then hold his mouth shut until he swallowed.  It was a VERY slow process, and so far, Bel is unwilling to chew anything.   She utterly refused her fish and potato mush (which is very much coveted by the other dogs):

No! I don't want it!

So I made a puree.  I took the fish mush and mixed it with goat’s milk, chicken broth, and a little Ensure to add to the calorie count.   Sometimes I give it to her just like that, squirted into her mouth.

Last night, after syringing the liquid into her mouth every two hours, I noticed that she was starting to lick at the syringe, which suggested to me she might be ready to progress to the next step.  So I made her puree a bit thicker by adding some chicken and rice flavored baby food.  At first, she was unimpressed:

I'm not eating!

But I’d heated it a bit too, hoping the smell might get her interested, so eventually she had to take a sniff:

Hmm...what is that?

And then finally, she decided to take just a little taste:

 

It's not bad!

And then, a little more:

 

She likes it!

Success!

Leave it to a Shiba to refuse to eat unless it’s off a spoon!

Feeding Bel is a pretty time-consuming, though.   She won’t eat much at once, which is ok, because I’ve read that small meals are better anyway for dogs who have overtaxed livers.   The most I manage to feed her at one time is about a 1/4 cup of anything, whether it is the puree, the puree/baby food mix, or ice cream.   That’s not very much, and I’ve really only gotten up to the 1/4 cup at a time yesterday and today.  To put this in perspective, we still haven’t worked through an entire bottle of Ensure, and each bottle has 250 calories.   Since I mix it with other things, I’d guess she’s managed to get maybe 300 calories today, so far, maybe closer to 400 now that she just had her ice cream.   It’s not enough.

But it’s better than Saturday, when I could barely get her to take anything at all.  And she’s drinking on her own, so she’s not at risk of becoming dehydrated.

Toby, who has clearly entirely forgotten his own experience with liver disease and forced feeding, is a bit demoralized by all the attention Bel is getting, but because she’s sick, they’ve been able to be together in the house:

Toby dreams of fish mush

You may have noticed that in the feeding pictures she doesn’t have her “cone” on.   I take it off when I feed her, even though it does kind of function like a giant plastic bib–all the things she pushes out of her mouth end up in the cone for easy clean up!  I can’t leave it off very long, though, because she immediately starts licking at her incision site if I do.   The wound itself looks good–it’s clean and healing well,  and her fur is growing back:

Unfortunately, she keeps licking at a spot that the splint rubbed on, and she’s polished it down in to bare skin.  This is why I have to keep the cone on.  I also put a bit of calendula cream on that spot and on the incision a couple of times a day to help speed the healing along.

The dark spot is where she licks

Poor Bel!  Between being shaved and being sick and not eating, she’s looking positively thin:

Little Miss Wasp Waist

But she is doing better today, and I’ll keep feeding her every few hours and dosing her with milk thistle and B vitamins, and I expect she’ll continue to make progress.   And next week, she’ll be back to the vet for a full liver panel.

And there is some good news:  she’s walking on her leg quite normally these days, and is even able to get into her “froggy” pose, where she stretches her back legs out behind her when she’s laying down.  So the surgery, at least, seems to have been a success.

The Liver Cleanse Diet

In my last post, I talked about Bel being ill, which I suspect is from damage to her liver from her medications.   As I noted, I found a great deal of information on the Canine Epilepsy Guardian Angel site, including this very important paragraph:

“Extremely important is dietary management. The liver aids in digestion and processes fat. When the liver is dysfunctional, it cannot process fat like it should and thus it has to work harder. You want to avoid fatty foods, processed foods, and undercooked foods (bacteria in undercooked meats in processed through the liver and another good reason we do not indorse the raw diet for our epi pups). When I went thru liver dysfunction with Alex one of the biggest helps in turning her liver around was the help I got from Dr. W. Jean Dodds and the liver cleansing diet. An excerpt from UC Davis Book of Dogs states that the Liver is able to heal if the patient is provided with a diet that supports an optimal return to normal function. The liver cannot heal if the patient does not eat, thus, it is important to ensure an adequate food intake.”

(taken from the Canine Epilepsy Guardian Angel site linked above)

I feed my dogs raw.  I have for years.  Most of the time I feed them chicken with additives:   kelp (Seameal), fish oil, and some leftovers.   Occasionally, I feed them other meat that is on sale, like the dinner on Friday that everyone ate with a great deal of delight except for poor Bel:

(That’s sirloin steak that was marked down for quick sale.  Toby and Oskar enjoyed it mightily!)

I also fed them fresh tilapia a week or so ago.  It was perhaps more of an adventure that I want to repeat:  turns out, tilapia has some wicked sharp fins that had to be cut off, as well as a super tough skin.  

 

Bel and Toby eventually liked it (Bel enjoyed gnawing on the head after she ate the meaty pieces), but Oskar never quite got the hang of it, and he buried his in his blanket:

 

Oskar caches his fish

(sorry for the blurriness….I take most of these photos with my phone, and action shots don’t come out well on my little LG Ally camera).

Anyway, I don’t want to tax Bel’s liver anymore that it already is, so I had to come up with something palatable for her that will also help her heal.  Luckily, the same site I linked above has a description of Dr. Jean Dodd’s liver cleanse diet.

The diet is basically 75% potatoes and easy to digest veggies, and 25% low-fat white fish.  So off I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for the liver cleanse diet, as well as some recommended supplements:  milk thistle and B vitamins and SAM-e, all things that my vet had had me give to Toby when he had liver problems.

My little mountain grocery store had everything I needed except the SAM-e.   I only got potatoes and fish–I know from experience that Bel will not eat zucchini and isn’t much of a green vegetable fan in general, and I also know that it is very difficult to get a dog who is sick like this to eat anyway, so the food needs to be as palatable as possible.  (How do I know this?  When Toby was sick like this, he had to be force fed 3-4 times a day for over a month.  If you’ve ever tried to force-feed a Shiba, it’s not easy.  They seem able to grit their teeth closed so it is nearly impossible to pry them open, and Toby was a genius at holding food in his mouth and spitting it out as soon as I let go of his muzzle).

Turns out pollack was on sale for $1.99 a pound, so I got four pounds of it.   When I got home, I started assembling Bel’s meal.   I didn’t measure (I never do when I cook), but I cut up four small white potatoes to cook with a pound of pollack:


All of this went into a pot to boil:

while I microwaved some sweet potatoes (they’re so much easier to peel after they’ve been cooked!)

Once the fish and white potatoes were cooked, I added the sweet potatoes, and made a delightful mush:

Well, it was delightful for Toby, who was my sous-chef, and who got to sample some.   It didn’t look very good to me.

And unfortunately, but as I expected,  Bel would have none of it.   I had better luck with the baby food I also got (chicken and rice) because it was easy to smear on her lips and she tended to lick it off automatically.  She sniffed the fish/potato mush, and did manage to growl when Toby got too close to her bowl, but she wouldn’t eat it.    The thing is, it is critical that she eat.  So I spent some time forcing food down her throat, though I only managed a few tablespoons.   I’ll be giving her more in a bit.

She is drinking on her own, and is not vomiting, which is something, but has eaten very little–the last real meal she had was on Thursday night.  So until she is willing to eat on her own, she’s going to hate me, as I’ll be the one opening her mouth and pushing the appetizing mush down her throat.  It was a long process with Toby, but as I said in an earlier post, he was much more ill, so I’m hoping I don’t have weeks of this ahead of us.

And there was a happy ending for Toby; the liver can regenerate itself, and his did, and after months of recovery, he was fine, and got his appetite back.   With a vengeance.  In fact, I think that Toby believes he needs to make up for those weeks of not eating, because he certainly is all about food now.   He is always foraging:

Toby says, where are the cookies?

And as you can see, he’s hardly a waif of a dog!

I hope Bel will be able to make a similar recovery.   In the meantime, she’ll be eating fish and potatoes, whether willingly or not, as we rebuild her health.

 

 

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