Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dreams of dog sledding

As a fifth grade student, I remember learning about the Iditarod.
My teacher was definitely a smart lady. The Iditarod is intrinsically interesting to kids — think: the many kid friendly dog-sled movies out there, especially the 1995 cartoon movie Balto depicting the heroic beginnings of the Iditarod race.
Balto is the famed dog credited with saving the Alaskan town of Nome in 1925 after its residents were stricken with Diphtheria and there was no way to get the life-saving medicine to the town except for dog sled teams.
Dog sled teams covered the 1,150 miles between Anchorage and Nome to deliver the supplies. The event is now memorialized every year by the Iditarod race (this year’s race starts March 6), where dog sled teams from all over the world come to compete.
A dog lover even without a dog at home to love, my fifth grade self was mesmerized by dreams of traversing the cold tundra on only a sled led by a team of dogs.
These are dreams I have not quite given up.
No, I have no plans to ever become seriously involved in dog sledding nor do I wish to ever partake in such an arduous journey like the Iditarod. I don’t really like cold weather and as such, I don’t think it’d be a good event for me.
Also, I don’t really want a whole team of Huskies. Maybe a Malamute or two, perhaps one Husky, but definitely not a whole team of them.
I do tend to think that one day, though, if I can just make my dreams of living on a large piece of property in Northern Michigan come true (isn’t that everyone’s dream around here?), I can teach my own eclectic group of dogs to pull me on a sled.
Perhaps it would be better to say my one or two Malamutes and Husky can teach the rest of my dogs to pull me on a sled.
Anyway, I just think it’d be fun to ride around on a sled being pulled by my dogs and at the same time, it’d probably be great exercise and a great outlet for the dogs.
But you’ve got to start somewhere and I haven’t ever even seen a real dog sled in person before.
That’s why you might just find me this weekend in downtown Rochester at E. Third and Water Streets, checking the dog sled demonstrations and maybe even taking a ride on a dog sled.
The demonstration is part of this weekend’s Fire & Ice Winter Festival. The festival is taking place Friday and Saturday but the dog sled teams will be out only from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.
A coworker told me he took a ride on one of the dog sleds one year and it was pretty cool. I can only imagine and I hope to find out!
Read a story all about the Fire & Ice Festival by clicking here. To visit the county's Web site for more information about the festival, click here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tuna breath and still starving

That’s it. I’ve reached my breaking point. I’m at my wit’s end. Any suggestions, send ‘em my way.
My dog is starving himself.
Last week, I wrote that I was pretty darn sure my dog was manipulating me — starving himself with the ultimate goal of having something new added to his daily food dish.
This week, I am less sure of what is going on.
He’s eaten about a quarter cup of food a day now. That’s like two and half cups less than his 85-pound physique needs.
He loved oatmeal, then hated it. Loved pinto beans, then hated it. Loved tuna and now — as of this morning — hates that too.
Without a doubt, the tough love path is in use. If he refuses what’s in his food bowl, he gets no food.
And day after day after day now, he’s refused his food bowl and skipped on one meal after another.
He’ll refuse a fresh dish of tuna and oatmeal, but yet he tries to eat dirt outside.
On Saturday night, he ate a bunch of wood that was stacked indoors for our wood stove. How do I know this? It was regurgitated on the floor by the time we awoke on Sunday.
What really stinks about all of this is his breath.
He’s been predominately eating tuna for the past week or so. His breath smells about as strong as a freshly opened can of tuna does — it really adds an element of disgusting to those dog kisses.
By the way, if anyone’s looking for a good deal on tuna, try Kroger. I bought 5-ounce cans of tuna for 65 cents on Friday.
I bought 20 cans of the stuff — 20 cans of tuna which I now have no use for, like the 4 pound bag of pinto beans I also have no use for and 5 pounds of cooked pinto beans taking up valuable real estate in my fridge.
I have a feeling the local food pantry will benefit the most from this whole allergy ordeal.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Take it or leave it

I think my dog is trying to manipulate me.
This goes back to his whole allergy thing we’re going through and my last blog about oatmeal.
We’ve now switched entirely to a home diet and sparing the daily play-by-play of our food-related drama, I’ll just say he’s learned that if he refuses to eat, something new might get added to that food bowl before it hits the floor.
First, he loved oatmeal. A week later, he hated it.
Same with the pinto beans. In the beginning, he couldn’t get enough of them. Now, he eats around them if he’ll even touch a bowl of food with pinto beans in it.
We’re on to tuna now. He loves it and readily eats it plain as treats. At first, he had no problems eating a bowl of tuna mixed with oatmeal. A few days later, though, he’s refusing that too.
I’m beyond bewildered. Add in the fact that Sensi is still vomiting here and there without much of a logical pattern and figuring out what he’s actually allergic to is even more mind boggling.
I am, however, becoming quite sure that he is trying to manipulate me.
In the past three weeks, there’s been changes to his diet every three to four days, probably. At this point, I believe he has caught on to the fact that if he refuses to eat what is given to him, something new will be given to him instead.
After a lifetime of eating dry and boring dog kibble and subsisting only on that and a few vegetarian dog treats, who can blame him for trying? I won’t, but I also won’t tolerate this behavior.
First off, my pocketbook cannot support the eating habits that Sensi is so desperately trying to develop with his hunger strikes.
Secondly, this well-fed dog of mine will not guilt me into cooking better for him than I do for myself.
If a meal of hot oatmeal, fresh pinto beans and tuna isn’t good enough for him, nothing will ever be again.
And so, the dog will starve until he decides this meal is indeed good enough.
I took this attitude last night after I spent a half-hour trying to get him to eat — coaxing him with all sorts of stupid stuff and looking a million times more silly than a mother playing airplane with her baby.
Finally, I set the food bowl down by his water dish and walked away. It was getting late and my husband and I still hadn’t eaten dinner ourselves.
What do you know? While I went to work cooking a human dinner and ignored my dog, Sensi snuck over to his food bowl and licked up everything that was there.
He pulled the same crap this morning. I’m hoping that when I get home, the food bowl is empty.
And if it’s not, I’ll just toss out the old, put in some new and set it down on the floor.
It’s take it or leave it from here on out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Oatmeal and your dog

Looking to spice up your dog’s dinner every now and again? Perhaps add an extra carbohydrate here and there?
Look no further than your favorite (or not-so-favorite) breakfast food — oatmeal.
Oatmeal is, admittedly, not my favorite choice for breakfast. In fact, I’m not much of a breakfast person. Coffee does me just fine until lunch.
Lucky for my dog, though, I happened to have a large package of oatmeal in the cupboard left over from when I made no-bake cookies for my husband’s birthday late last year.
Here’s what happened:
Last week, I blogged about my sick dog in this space. He has food allergies and things were getting pretty bad for him. We switched his food, suspecting that to be the culprit, and put him on a new food.
On the first day of eating the new food, he began vomiting after eating. A few days of that and he just decided he’d quit eating all together.
Mind you, I’m shoving nine pills down my dog’s throat every day. I think we all know how miserable medications on an empty stomach can make you feel.
So, on Saturday after Sensi had been on his food strike for more than 24 hours, I pulled out the papers my veterinarian gave me about food allergies with the list of home diets that can be fed to a dog temporarily until food trials are completed. One side of the list includes proteins, the other includes carbohydrates. You’re instructed to pick one of each.
Under the carbohydrate heading, I saw the word “Oats” and thought of that box of oatmeal in my cupboard.
“Honey, I’m giving the dog his pills in oatmeal tonight,” I told my husband.
He laughed. “Oatmeal? Good luck with that.”
“What, you don’t think he’ll like oatmeal?” I asked him.
“No. Why would he? Oatmeal is so bland and gross. Like I said, good luck,” he said.
“Well, I guess we’ll find out tonight,” I said, and we did.
The dog loves oatmeal. In fact, I’m pretty sure he thinks it is the best thing he has ever eaten. He likes it hot, he likes it cold, he likes it baked and he even likes it when it’s covering up all those pills he has to take.
I’ve been videotaping him before meals the past few days because I’m just astonished at his behavior. His whole body quivers and shakes with excitement as he sits nicely, waiting for his food bowl to set down for him. The other day, he was shaking so violently that his teeth even began chattering. I’ve never seen my dog like this before.
Sensi is so fixated on his meals now that I’m not sure he thinks about anything else. I’m beginning to worry that this could become an obsessive fixation. And I’m definitely worried that he’ll never eat regular kibble again.
Whatever struggles lie ahead of us, I’m confident we can conquer them. For the time being, though, I’m enjoying how much my dog is enjoying his oatmeal.

Update on Sensi’s health
I did take photos of how great my dog is looking over the weekend, but I keep forgetting to put them on a memory stick so I can upload them to this blog.
Truly, though, Sensi looks and feels fantastic. Even the hardest to heal parts — those nooks and crannies between the toes and underneath the paws — are dry with white skin (which means the yeast infection has subsided).
He was bathed last Saturday with a medicated shampoo and medicated leave-in conditioner. His coat is shiny and soft in a way I haven’t felt since he had puppy hair!
This doesn’t at all mean the struggle is over — Sensi will be on medications for a couple months yet and a special homemade diet for probably the bulk of this year. He is still a little pink here and there and scratching every now and again, but even so, the improvement is dramatic.
The bad news: all the hair he scratched off his face has grown back in white. He’s gone from looking like a prematurely aging 7-year-old dog to very senior canine citizen.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What do food allergies look like?

Determining whether your dog has food allergies is not an easy task.
The same physical symptoms you see are not specific to food allergies — plenty of things can cause a dog to scratch or lick excessively. Plenty of things can be responsible for rashes and ear infections. And certainly, what the skin looks like can, in some cases, look an awful lot like other issues, especially mange.
In fact, when Sensi began having skin problems years ago, our first guess was that he had either some form of the mange or some sort of mite problem.
So, it’s not as easy as catching your dog licking himself and saying: “Yep, he’s got food allergies all right.”
In fact, once you’ve begun wondering what is causing your dog’s skin problems, it can get even more difficult to determine that.
Allergy tests on dogs are not reliable. A good and thorough veterinarian, in my experience, will recommend food trials. After several months of food trials, you will have a good record of what your dog is allergic to.
We’ll be starting food trials again with Sensi as soon as he is healthy, and I’m sure I’ll blog in greater detail about what goes into conducting a proper food trial.
This blog, though, is supposed to be about what food allergies can look like in a dog. And lucky you, I just happen to have pictures.
The photos below were taken on Wednesday, the day after Sensi went to the vet and his second day on medications. Believe it or not, these pictures show a dramatic improvement compared to what Sensi looked like the day before they were taken.
Sensi continues to improve on a daily basis. His face is almost completely back to normal, with the exception of some scabbing, which I consider to be Mother Nature’s path to healing. The backside of his foreleg and a faint and fading rash on his underside are all that remains of this allergy episode now.
After a good bath this weekend, I’ll take some more photos to post on a blog update next week.
For now, though, here’s what food allergies can look like:Sensi's swollen & scratched eye, closed because of the camera's flash.Backside of forelegs are very red, but this photo shows scabbing developing. This is a great improvement over the open wounds that were there the day before.Here is a good example of why we need to focus on body language and eye contact to communicate with our dogs. Does Sensi's facial expression and eyes not clearly say, "I am sick, Mom. Why are you taking pictures of me?"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One sick pup

My dog peered up at me through his swollen eyes this morning as if to say, “Are you really leaving me? Can’t you see how sick I am?”
And he is.
I came home from the vet’s office yesterday feeling good about being on the right track to get him healthy again, but there was no denying I had one sick pup to take care of.
He’s got four prescriptions — an antihistamine, a steriod and two other pills to help his body combat the secondary infections he created through his persistent itching and licking. Plus, I picked up an anti-itch leave-in conditioner. Sensi needs to be bathed twice a week until his skin is healthy again and this time of the year, that’d dry him out for sure. With the conditioner to use, it will make sure his baths are the most beneficial they can be for him.

Well, let’s try to learn a thing or two from Sensi’s state. Here’s what you need to know about a dog who is licking excessively.

Stop that!
All dogs scratch and lick themselves periodically, just as we humans often scratch an itch. When the scratching and licking is not excessive, don’t worry about it.
However, an excessive licker or scratcher needs to be examined by a veterinarian.
Dogs who lick their paws for hours on end, day in and day out, can easily contract yeast infections. On the front of the paws, dogs have spaces in between each of their toes. On the back of the paw, there is another space between the large pad and the individual toe pads.
These spaces are havens for yeast infections. They are semi-closed environments lined with skin and fur that keep the spaces warm.
Add in the moisture from excessive licking and these spots become the perfect storm for nasty yeast infections. How can you tell if a yeast infection has developed? If the skin in these spaces is abnormally red and moist, there’s a good chance you have a problem. Dogs have a more difficult time licking their rear paws, so comparing the spaces in the front paws to the same spaces on the rear paws can often be a good indicator of what healthy vs. nonhealthy looks like.
If you find the rear paws to have white, dry skin but the front paws have moist, blaring red skin, you have a problem. If both sets of paws have blaring red skin, definitely make a vet appointment or at least call your vet to get some professional advice.
Most dog owners have combated yeast infections in a dog’s ear, but the paws are a whole different beast. Once yeast infections have taken root in the paws, a vicious cycle is created where the inflammation from the yeast infection intensifies the dog’s desire to lick.
Yeast infections can also spread easily and, worst of all, with the dog’s immune system working hard to stave off the yeast infection, the immune system becomes strained and leaves the dog open to contracting even worse infections.
There are medicated shampoos that can help a chronic paw licker, but these need to be ordered through your veterinarian.
It is important to have your veterinarian examine your paw licker because the licking is often just a symptom of an underlying problem, like food allergies, and oftentimes, prescription pills are needed to get rid of the yeast infection.
One last note: If you examine your dog’s paws this time of the year, remember to wait until he’s been inside for several hours. A dog coming in from the cold, wet snow will have red paws until they warm up and dry out!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Merry Christmas and a crappy New Year

How quickly things go from wonderful to terrible ...
I was really looking forward to blogging about our happy, wagging-tailed dog opening his gifts merrily on Christmas morning — which he did. It was really cute and he was really happy and blah blah blah.
But now, there’s just bigger fish to fry.
Brent and I awoke on New Year's Day to find our dog red and swollen. The tell-tale signs that he'd spent all night scratching himself raw were all over his body.
From time to time on this blog, I’ve mentioned that Sensi has food allergies. He was about two years old when we found out, and we found out the hard way. More than $2,000 in vet bills later, we thought we had it all figured out.
My husband and I spent the bulk of one year doing food trials — this means the dog spends one week on a special anti-allergy food formula followed by one week where you mix in other foods, like beef or corn, to see if the dog has a reaction.
One food source after another Sensi reacted to. It’s just easier to say that Sensi is not allergic to a few items, including lamb, chicken, potatoes and green beans, than to list the multitude of things he is allergic to.
For years, Sensi has been on a very strict diet and because of this, we’ve been able to enjoy a very healthy dog. Selecting a dog food brand was a challenge at first.
The key, for us, was to find a food that had no “animal by-products” listed as an ingredient. Generally, this means the “by-products” of any animals could be part of the food. It’s a safe guess that anything that says “animal by-products” contains beef. Beef is Sensi’s biggest allergy.
We settled on Pro Plan Lamb & Rice after the allergy debacle. For years, it’s kept his coat and skin healthy, given him a reason to be excited at feeding time and kept him allergic-reaction free. I’ve recommended this brand of food to countless people over the years.
If any of you who I have recommended this brand to are reading this now, take heed that I am pulling my endorsement of this dog food.
As I was trying to figure out what could possibly be causing Sensi’s allergic reaction, I thought of how careful I am to always check the ingredient list on treats before I purchase them, even if it’s a brand I’ve bought before. Right then, I realized that I hadn’t checked the ingredients on Sensi’s dog food in years. I also remembered that last year, the formula for his food changed — softer, tasty morsels were added and Sensi was just thrilled about it.
Well, perhaps that’s when Pro Plan changed its ingredients too. On Saturday night, my frantic and worried self discovered “Animal Fat Preservatives (mixed with tocopherals)” and something which I think was called simply “Animal Digestive” added to the mix.
I left right away for the pet store to scour the shelves for a Sensi-safe food. Much to my chagrin, I found that Purina, Iams — even the Science Diet formula — and Pro Plan as well as some bags of Natural Choice contain some form of either animal by-products, animal fat preservatives or animal digestive.
I did find a few safe brands and chose Dick Van Patten’s Limited Ingredient Diet, the Duck and Potato kind, to try out.
It’s day two of the new diet and so far, the improvement has been so slight that I’m not favor of calling it an improvement at all. We’ve also taken away all of his toys and are keeping him on Benadryl.
It's definitely too early to tell what was causing the problem for Sensi, but my money's on the dog food.

What do food allergies look like in a dog?
Scratching and licking.
A dog who is allergic to something he eats regularly may react slowly or quickly. In Sensi’s case, I believe it took a lot of time for his symptoms to rear their ugly head.
Dogs will react to their allergies by itching and licking themselves, often profusely. Think this isn’t a big deal? Listen to what Sensi’s done to himself in the space of the last four or five days:
• Possibly broke the cartilage in his ear
• Given himself a fat lip
• Made rim of eye swell and bleed
• Scratched his armpit so profusely he gave himself raw, open and heavily swollen wounds
• Yeast infections in his front paws and most likely on his forearms too

Don’t blow off your dog’s allergies — it’s not at all like a human who sneezes during ragweed season. By the time we could visibly see the affects of allergies on our dog the first time around, he had been suffering for almost two years. His immune system was worn down and his body opened up to a multitude of infections, a couple which were very hard to shake.
Sensi is going to the vet tomorrow. I just hope we’re on the right path with the food.
And so, it was a very Merry Christmas at my house — and then, as we awoke on New Year’s Day to a scratched raw and swollen dog, a rather crappy New Year.