Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weekend Update: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Oscar has been doing really well lately.  Just like when caring for an older relative - some days are good and some are not so good.  Some days start out good and end badly or vice-versa.  I'm learning to roll with the punches and appreciate the good days.

We judge our days on these parameters:
1) Did we sleep?
2) Do we seem to be out of pain?
3) Are we walking well?
4) Did we fall in our poop?

We have scored gold stars for most days over the last 4 weeks.  We've been sleeping, we have not complained of pain, we've reduced our pain meds even!  And we only fell in our poop once!  Oscar's back end has been getting stronger, he's been able to do more.

But then (and there is eventually a "but") last night he started wandering, getting up and down off the bed a million times, barking (this means general discomfort, not usually severe pain).  I did not sleep but about 3 hours and this morning he was panting a little more than normal.

So we get in the car for our scheduled "underwater treadmill" therapy and on the way the Oscarmonster was not looking good.  He was panting more -- with a few high pitched sounds -- this usually means increased inflammation in the airway.  When Oscar has severe pain he starts to breathe badly.  And this is the time where I have to start watching him closely to make sure his breathing does not deteriorate.

But the worst thing was he started shaking!  The only time I have seen this is when they suspected he had a herniated disc and he ended up at the ER because he started to breathe badly.  This shaking definitely means he is in acute pain.  We were already on our way to the appointment we had scheduled.  So, I took this video so that the Physical Therapist could see what I was talking about.  I also called ahead to tell them what was going and to prepare them in case he got any worse on our trip.  The video is not that bad, but for the super sensitive soul - you might not want to watch. It breaks my heart but was important to show what was going on.

So when we got to the vet, Oscar was no worse and he did not appear to breathing as badly as he had in the past but I was happy that the vet techs were right there when we got there to assess him and try to figure out what was going on.  We determined that Oscar could not do his scheduled "underwater treadmill" and we would just put him in some warm water to relax him and then do laser therapy and massage.

By the end of that he was happy and relaxed.  No more shaking in pain, no more panting.  Oscar responds really well to basically "warm bath soaks" and I swear the laser therapy works instantly.  

This is Oscar after his bath and laser treatment, much more relaxed:

His treatment plan changed a bit -- more rest, more meds for a few days and then a recheck with the vet and some acupuncture on Monday.  My theory is we over-did it with swimming this week.  He was doing so well I think I just thought he could do more than he could.  It's such a delicate balance of increasing strength and not stressing out his old little joints.  I feel the same way at the gym sometimes.

This process is generally two steps forward, one step back, especially with an active dog that does not like to rest. But as long as he is happy (as he is 85% of the time), I am good with his treatment plans as laid out by GVR.

On Sunday (after 3 days of rest), Oscar is relaxed and does not appear in pain and very happy to cuddle in the sun.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

When Things Get Hard, Remember This...

When things get hard... and at some point they usually do... take a breath and remember some of the best advice I have ever received:

live in the past (focused on memories of your young dog frolicking, running and jumping with not a bit of grey around the muzzle) and in the future (worrying about what catastrophe is going to happen next).

Am I hungry? Am I warm?  Do I have water?  Am I in pain? Where's my toy?  What's that smell?

Oscar enjoying some ice-cream

Even when Oscar was walking as crooked as he has ever walked, tripping, falling, and at the point that he would prefer to lay on the ground and drink with his head IN his water bowl rather than bother to stand over it -- he couldn't care less! Seriously.  He didn't care.  As long as he had his basic needs met, he was content.

I remember times where I was laying on the floor with Oscar because he was walking crooked or in pain.  Sometimes, I was able to ease his pain or get him to settle.  Sometimes, I was only able to steal short naps throughout the night.  Those were long nights.  Such long, long nights.  They happen and they are going to happen.  But the sun rises in the morning, you talk to the vet, you change your treatment plan, try new things, alter medication schedules and usually it gets better.

In the beginning, my poor vet once got a desperate email from me that I wrote in the middle of another sleepless night when Oscar has having a lot of trouble walking.  I was blabbering saying stuff like "is this going to be it?  Is this going to be the end for Oscar?  He's not walking much at all and I'm so afraid that this is IT!" I am sure I sounded like a lunatic.  But I was convinced 'this' was it. That was 18 months ago.  Oscar is fine today.  And my vet probably still thinks I am crazy.

The thing is -- they are our babies and like the mother of a toddler: you feel every fall, every stumble and every pain -- probably more than they do!

I still worry that each fall is going to be the one that is irreparable.  But Oscar has had MANY falls and each time he heals.  Sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes a few weeks.  But each time he has healed with rest, meds and his treatment plan.  This isn't saying that that ONE time may come.  It may.  It could have happened already.  But worrying about it is NOT going to do anything.

Some nights when Oscar's pain is keeping him up I have learned to "let go" a little and to literally say to him "honey, there is nothing else I can do tonight, but I promise I will call the doctor in the morning."

I am so lucky that on only one occasion was Oscar's pain so bad that we had to go to the Emergency Vet.  That night they believe he herniated a disc and he was so upset he immidiately when into respirtory distress and almost stopped breathing -- from the pain!  He spent 2 days in the ICU on oxygen and pain meds.  He was in SO much pain that that night was the first time I seriously thought to myself if his pain did not improve I would have to make the most difficult decision.  It was so bad. I was a basket of emotions and I was convinced that he would not get better. But after two days he began to heal and he was ready to come home and he DID HEAL!

Oscar with his IV catheter in at Georgia Vet Specialists

So remember dogs have an amazing ability to heal.  Give them time to do so!! I repeat that GIVE THEM TIME TO HEAL!  You will be surprised at what they can do!

Give them rest, medications (sedation is often useful), whatever therapy you can give them and TIME! You can try to limit their chance of re-injury, but just like a teenage kid, know you can not prevent everything!

And remember, you may be heartbroken watching your baby walk slow, really crooked or not at all.  But they live IN THE MOMENT and are usually a lot less bogged down by the emotional stress we feel so deeply. If they are excited about treats and still want to cuddle, let them enjoy that and turn your "human" brain off and enjoy your old dog!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pet Laser Therapy: Yes, there is a Magic Wand for your Pet

Oscar wearing his goggles during a
laser therapy session

You want to do what?  Wave a magic wand over my dog and it will heal the parts that have been keeping us both up at night with whimpers (him with pain, me with lack of sleep)?  It was worth the try I guess... my general vet is also my friend and she would not steer me wrong, right?

Yes, she was right.
YES, it worked.

There are a lot of options out there for treatment of animals but this one by far is one of my favorites.  It is easy, safe, non-evasive and comparatively inexpensive (~$20 a session in Atlanta).  This is one of the first therapies I started when my dog started to have arthritis pain and with medication is the only therapy we needed for a year and half.  After one treatment I noticed a difference!  When Oscar has a particular pain we usually go twice a week for 3 weeks and then taper off.  His maintenance therapy is usually only 1-2 times a month. But they can go several times a week if needed.  And it works!  As he got older, I began to add other therapies but always continued this therapy.

What is this magic wand?  Well it is a small machine with a wand that projects a red "cold" laser and is guided to particular spots on the animal that need healed.  The red beam is slightly warm and is swept across the area for a few minutes. You wear goggles (and your dog if they will tolerate it) to protect your eyes (the only possible danger I can see).  The sessions we have had last about 10 minutes.  Oscar usually comes home, takes a nap and feels and walks much better when he wakes.  It's that quick and it's that simple.

Watch this video and you are going to to sold. This is NOT Snake Oil people!  I've seen it work with my own eyes!

My dog tolerates the goggles about 25% of the time.  If he does not want to wear them I simply hold his head away since he has his hind-end treated, it does not come near his eyes anyway.

I have also had laser treatment used on my other dog post surgery.  It is also used to treat cuts, bites, hip dysplasia, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, wounds, infections and many other ailments.  There is also a "human" version of the laser that they use in orthopedic and pain management clinics.

But how does it work? This is what Litecure has to say:

The Companion therapy laser system sends photons, or packets of light energy, deep into tissue without damaging it. These photons are absorbed within the mitochondria of the cells and induce a chemical change called “photo-bio-modulation”.   This light energy then inspires production of ATP in the cell.  ATP is the fuel, or energy, cells need for repair and rejuvenation.  Impaired or injured cells do not make this fuel at an optimal rate.  Increased ATP production leads to healthier cells, healthier tissue, and healthier animals.

Litecure Companion Laser is the brand that both my vets use and they say it is important to make sure your pet is being treated with a "Class IV Deep Tissue Laser."  I believe there are other brands of laser therapy out there, you just have to make sure it is the right "class" laser to be affective.

Now that you want to try it, go here to find a vet near you that uses this therapy. And be sure to report back! I am surprised to find that this therapy is found in many vet offices across the country. I even searched in some small towns just to see if it was available there.

I use both Georgia Vet Rehab and Ormewood Animal Hospital for Oscar's laser therapy. 

And It's even used on PENGUINS! 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Home Accommodations - My House Looks Like a Doggie Nursing Home!

Steps, Ramps, Rugs and Alternative Flooring

So my dog has arthritis, can I really do something right now to help them?  You can do lots with small accommodations to your home.  Think, what does your dog do daily?  Where might he be adding trauma to his joints?  Where does he have the most trouble?  Are there any dangers in my home for my mobility-impaired pup?

After Oscar's initial episode of severe pain with his arthritis  - the first thing the vet said was, "REST".  This meant short walks on leash, no stairs, no jumping, she said I should even consider crating him.  Um, I have an insane Boston Terrier that thinks he is invincible and can do anything.

Like for instance this:

Oscar already had senior doggie steps up to the bed.  It took him all of 3 minutes to learn how to use them like a pro.  He surely is not acting like a 12 year old in this video.

There are many options out there for dog steps, many are expensive, my favorite ones only cost $30.  I have used Pet Gear Soft Steps II from Target for 3 years now and they are still in good shape. You will probably have to order them online as I don't think they carry them in most stores. I also have some fancy ones kind of like this but by far I actually like the cheaper ones. You can also build your own out of Styrofoam and felt but the supplies also cost about $30.  See how here.

Oscar had used these steps for sometime until it became clear that he liked to use the stairs to get up into bed but would jump down to get out of the bed and after his diagnosis this was going to be a serious source of trauma on his back.  Every time he jumped from the bed I worried about his becoming paralysed.

So, I'm kinda ashamed 
to admit this but, eventually, I ended up on the floor.  Literally, I disassembled my bed, my friend built me a 1" frame out of two pieces of plywood ($20 for supplies) and my mattress has been on the floor ever since.  I admit it, my body hurt for about a week.  I have a really nice mattress so that is probably the only thing saving me. 
But after 2 years of sleeping on the floor, I can say MY balance and ability to spontaneously levitate up has much improved - and it inadvertently cured my sleep walking. Win!  I still miss my bed and LOVE it when I get to stay in a real bed from time to time.

The Dogs Like the Bed Being on the Floor

Now you seriously do not have to be as crazy as me and start sleeping Korean-style.  It worked for me.  What you may have to do though, if your dog is used to sleeping with you, is re-train him to sleep in a dog bed next to your bed.  If your dog is small enough, you can add bed elevators to your bed so that the dog is unable to get in and out of the bed.  It may sound cruel if your dog has slept with you its whole life but it can save his back and give him longevity.  Remember any fall or any trauma could cost you a lot of money (say $1,500 in one instance for me) and cause your dog a lot of pain!

When Oscar was diagnosed with spondylosis and arthritis, I was actually living upstairs in an apartment with about 30 steps downstairs, off the porch and into the yard.  To add to this, I also had a deaf dog to walk (my dear sweet angel Oliver is no longer with us).  The vet made it clear.  The less stairs the better and she would prefer NO stairs at all while healing.

My solution was haphazard to say the least. 
Walking down 30 steps carrying a 28 pound dog dragging while along a smaller dog on a leash, and hoping he would keep the same pace, was clearly dangerous.  Especially because I am damn clumsy myself.

Within a week it became clear to me: I must move to a ground level apartment.  Now, I know this is not feasible for everyone, but it was for me.  I happened to mention my apartment search to a neighbor downstairs and as if it was a "gift" from the universe, he said "Hey, I'll swap apartments with you if it means you don't have to move."  A week later I was moved downstairs!  A minor change of location avoided a cataclysmic change from the three of us eventually falling down a flight of stairs.

This did not completely solve the stair problem though.  I still had five steps to get from the porch into the yard.  It was manageable but I called on my handy friend again to help make me a ramp.  This sounds difficult, but seriously it was so easy to do.  We build a ramp for Oscar to get up and down off the porch out of a few pieces of wood and some AstroTurf for less than $20 in about an hour.  Almost 2 years later, we still use it every day - and I do believe this has been a life saver for my dog.  See Building A Ramp for the Monster.

Other things to consider are using well placed rugs or alternative flooring.  I found that as Oscar aged, he started to have more difficulty even getting into the bed on the floor.  I knew this was part of the progression into old age, so I had to start making new accommodations for him. This is why I ended up making the Felt Steps - because I could customize the height.  And also why I added rugs to either side of the bed.  Hardwoods suck for old dogs.  They lose traction when they need it most.  I found that placing nonslip (this is the important part) rugs on either side of the bed gave him traction back and greatly increased his ability to get into the bed and not fall while doing so.

One option that I have only dreamed of so far is adding alternative flooring to particular parts of the house.  If you have carpet, this is not really needed.  But if you have tile, hardwoods or other slick surfaces, your baby needs floor support.  My Orthopedic Vet has specialized flooring but you too can add this to your home.  You can get the rubber puzzle piece flooring used in children's playrooms or they have some particularly made for pets at RubberCal.  Note though that I personally have only used this flooring at the vets office.  I chose to go with non-slip utility rugs like this.

But my dream is something like this:

I have made some pretty drastic changes to my home which I believe have given my dog a safer, longer life.  I don't expect anyone else to do this.  You have to still live your life in your own home.  But hopefully this will help you to start thinking of what small changes can increase the safety of your dogs joints.

I will continue to add additional resources as time passes but Handicap Pets also has options for ramps and stairs, though they are pricey in my opinion.

Also there is the question as to Can my dog learn to use these accommodations?  Usually they can, because the dog soon notices it's easier than the old way.  But I will also ask a trainer to speak to this in a future blog.

Back when we had a "real bed" Oscar would always 
lay with his chin on the end of the bed just like this.

DIY: Building The Oscarmonster a Ramp - Aint Nuthin Holding Me Back

Those dog ramps are really expensive!  Do I really need one of those?

Well, the purpose of everything I have done in my home accommodations section is about making the home safer for your mobility-impaired dog.  In my opinion, if your old dog is having trouble getting up the steps - it IS time to make things easier for him.  

But, it does not have to be expensive!

Home made ramp
after 2 years it still works great!

Home Depot will cut wood for you in whatever size you need.  With some wood, astroturf, and a staple gun or some nails, you can make a long lasting ramp for your dog.  Now, note this is a ramp that is moveable but generally stays in place.   If I needed a ramp for my dog to get in and out of the car, I would change the design a bit.

This was designed for our area of 5 large steps off the porch.  You must take into consideration the grade the ramp will be.  This worked out well for our steps but if there had been more steps, it would have required a different intervention.

Here is the nitty gritty.

A) 1 large piece of wood (mine was 2"x10"x?).  The length will be determined by the grade of the steps. Mine was 68 inches.*

 B) 4 smaller pieces (approx 4"x10"x2") You can use molding throwaway pieces for this.  The size can vary.

C) Astroturf (approx 25"x74") to go around both sides of the large piece of wood and a little longer than the large piece of wood.

D) Staple gun and nails or screws

* The length will be determined by measuring where the top of the stairs start and where you want them to end.  The ramp does not have to end at the exact end of the stair.  You can make it slightly longer to decrease the grade.


1) Wrap the large piece of wood in astroturf. Tuck the one end so it is wrapped like a present.  Let the bottom end with the extra material fold out like a mermaid tail!  Do not tuck, fold or staple this end!

2) Once the board is completely covered, place it in the approximate place the board will be on the steps with the tucked end at the top and the mermaid tail end at the bottom on the ground.

Tucked end at the top.  Tuck it a little loose and it cushions
the transition from porch to ramp.

Mermaid End creates a soft ending that rests on the ground
(folded a little weird after 2 years of use)

3) Note where the steps' edges meet the Astroturf board -- just above this area is where you will nail in the small pieces to give the board some stability as these pieces rest on each step.  These pieces can actually be a shorter length than the board.

4) Rest the board on the steps again with the tucked end at the top, the mermaid end at the bottom and the extra pieces of wood on the bottom so they rest on each step.  Fold the mermaid end like a mermaid tail.  This gives the bottom part of the ramp a soft end and also the extra astroturf acts as cushioning so that the ramp does not move.

Train your dog with treats!

You're done!

Questions?  Please just ask.  If you make a ramp yourself -- by this means or by another, please email me your photos and details, and I will post!

DIY: Making the Oscarmonster Custom Felt Steps

So are you crafty?  Do you have a glue gun and a coupon for Michaels?  Then you CAN make your own stairs.

Please read my post on home accommodations for my recommendations on store bought stairs.  Honestly, they are more sturdy and there are many options! But sometimes you can not find one that is appropriate for a particular spot.  This one was designed for Oscar to get up and off of the bed which was only 13" off the floor, while most dog stairs are 24" or taller.  So in this instance, I decided to design some steps.

1) Scissors 
2) Hard Styrofoam (I used 2 long rectangle to avoid having to cut extra corners.
3) Enough thick felt to cover the stairs twice (I used 1 yard)
4) A glue gun with sticks
5) A knife (exacto preferred, I used a kitchen knife)
6) (Optional) Square of non-skid material (often used for kids footed pajamas - found at a fabric store)

Cost: About $30
Time: 60 minutes


1) First I used the knife to cut the foam into stairs appropriate for where you need it.   Measure, measure again and go place it next to the area to see how it would fit.  Mine is 12 inches wide for a 28 pound  Boston Terrier. 

2) Use the glue gun to glue the pieces you have cut together like so:

3) Drape the felt over the lowest step first making sure to have enough material to wrap the rest of the felt all the way around the steps.  Go slowly, glue one step and smooth with your hand, get the corners, move up to the next step.  I glued the top of all the steps first.  

As you go you will find extra material on the sides at the level of each step.  These can be cut and tucked if you are particularly crafty.  I am not, so I folded each so it looked kind of like a theater curtain. I like this effect but you could easily make it "neater."  After you cover the top and the sides, then turn it over and glue the back.  This will require cutting some material off and tucking the remaining felt to completely cover it.  Don't worry if this is perfect.  It must be pretty level but it does not have to be pretty because you will cover it with the non-skid material on the bottom.

Place the stairs and train with treats! It takes some practice and it's not perfect. But these stairs work well now.

 If you do something like this, please report back!

Videos of The Oscarmonster

Twirling for Ladybugs (age 7)

Oscar's First day on the Underwater Treadmill
(Age 14.5)

Caught Stealing - Wait for it... (Age 12)

Chorus of Snoring Bostons (ages 12 and 13)

Aint Nuthing Holding Me Back
Oscar showing off his new ramp
(Age 13)

Eating Snow (Age 12)

Don't you Dare Wash the Windows!
(Age 11) 

Christmas "Bite Me" Puppet 
aka: Let's Dislocate Mom's Arm
(Age 10)