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)

Our Favorites: Resources

always updating... always looking for new suggestions...

Favorite Websites:

Handicap Pets - Though I have not needed them, they seem to have many options for doggie wheelchairs and other supports.

2nd Chance - A website by a Vet that also has a soft spot for old dogs.  Well written, compassionate, worth reading.  

Favorite Stuff:

Pet Gear Soft Steps II - $30, durable.

Hip and Joint Plus - $18.  Oscar's favorite cost $80 (they taste better, same ingredients)  

Favorite People Around Atlanta:

These are Atlanta Metro area resources.   If you live elsewhere:  look at these websites and see what they offer, then search in your area for similar services.  For example, I would search for "Orthopedic Vet" or "Rehabilitation Vet" or "Pain Management Vet" or even "Alternative Medicine Vet" in your area.  Then, I would compare services, read reviews and meet with the vet. You have the power of choice.  If you are seeing a vet that is not giving you options you like, keep looking.  The right attitude and perspective make all the difference.

Georgia Vet Rehab (Orthopedic and Pain Management Vet)  - A Godsend and treasure for Atlanta.  Bright, involved, compassionate staff that go the extra mile! Services: Acupuncture, laser therapy, chiropractic, massage, swimming, underwater treadmill, physical therapists, supplements, specialty supplies for mobility impaired dogs. I would travel long distances to have my pooch cared for here.

Georgia Veterinary Specialist (Emergency Vet) - Open 24 hours. Can deal with the most serious of emergencies. Have saved Oscar's life twice.  They were actually cheaper than The Village Vet's in Decatur who are great but have less emergency equipment. Many specialties (Oncology, Internal Med, Neurology, Orthopedic Surgery, etc) - though I would choose the GVR for any orthopedic or pain issues other than surgery.  If my dog had to have Orthopedic surgery, I would have it done at GVS and transfer care post-op to GVR for rehab.  

Ormewood Animal Hospital (General Vet) - Compassionate bright staff.  Offers laser therapy. 

Toto's Pet Service (Atlanta) - The BEST pet sitter.  Great with older dogs, heart of gold, affordable and totally reliable. (contact me for contact info)

Note:  If you dog is having any serious life-threatening surgery done, I now always choose to go to a place that is open 24 hours - this means in the event that something goes wrong, you have someone to call. Plus, this ensures continuity of care by docs that know your dog.  I learned this the hard way, and it is one of my biggest regrets ever with my other dog, my dearly departed Oliver.

Other Resources Across the Country: 

I have not personally used these facilities but they offer similar services to what my favorite place Georgia Veterinarian Rehab.

Canine Rehabitiation and Conditioning Group

Favorite Spots:

Park Grounds - The best of all worlds, a dog park and coffee shop.

Taj Mahound - Where Oscar goes to celebrate each birthday!  Homemade doggie Ice Cream and the most amazing cakes that are easy to chew! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Who We Are and Why There is HOPE!

Hello there!  My name is Andy, and this is my most rambuntious and ancient boston terrier, Oscar.  As of this writing, Oscar is 14 years and 8 months old, and still as stubborn as the day he was born.  For the record, that's really old for a Boston Terrier!
After living a very active and acrobatic life for 12 years, in April of 2011, the Oscarmonster started staying up late at night, whimpering and rubbing his lower back on things around the house.  As this behavior became a nightly occurrence (and I lost weeks' worth of sleep), we ended up at the vet's office with a diagnosis of severe arthritis and spondylosis of the spine.

Whereas many dogs are known to keep their aches and pains to themselves, The Oscarmonster will wake me up out of a dead sleep if he finds a single solitary flea on his private area.  He is a Boston Terrier, thus one of his limitations is that he is unable to reach his "down there".  His solution: Wake up Mom to remove the unwelcomed inhabitant.

Oscar's precocious nature is probably why his problem was discovered when he was 12 and not 14, but this allowed me to start intervention early. And I believe this a big part of why he is still walking. 
Old people have arthritis right?  That's no big deal, right?  Well it depends.  For many heartbroken pet owners, it becomes the most serious problem they must face. As their life-long companions lose the ability to walk (and perhaps ability to control their bladder), a decision has to be made. Too often the decision means animals are euthanized due to mobility issues rather than old age or true life-threatening illnesses.
For some, they have no choice.  I understand the therapies I have used can be (but often are not) expensive and not everyone lives in a metropolitan area with speciality vets.  But this is a new time in Veterinary Medicine!  America LOVES dogs!  And whereas 20 years ago a vet would have often suggested putting an animal down when they started having trouble walking, now there are many options for restoring and retaining your dog's mobility!

When Oscar was diagnosed, I wished and prayed that I would find a way for my "old man" to have the chance to actually grow old and pass peacefully of old age or something medically out of my control. My BIGGEST fear was to have to decide to put down an otherwise happy and healthy dog just because he could no longer walk.

And after 2 years of working on keeping my Monster mobile, I can say: 
There is TONS of it!

One vet once told me that their goal was to never have to "put down" a dog due to orthopedic problems, and she is doing amazing work at this.  When some other vets are wanting to "call it" on an animal that still exudes life, there are many now that say "Let's try this...." My advice: find one of the "let's try this..." vets.

Through a series of life adjustments (for me too) and non-invasive treatments, I have been able to keep Oscar on his feet and generally out of pain without submitting to invasive spinal surgery.  I have spent a small fortune, something I know is not possible for everyone. I don't have kids, I have some minor debt.  But I also have my Oscarmonster.  There are many options that you can do yourself with small investments.   
For the most part, I speak to non-invasive therapies.  This does not mean I am anti-surgery.  Some ailments require surgery.  But I want to also be a voice that says it is rarely the only option.  I am not a vet.  But clearly for very old dogs surgery and recovery pose much more stress than in their younger counterparts.  Be informed and find a vet that offers many options for your baby. 
It's been a long and often stressful road, but anything that keeps my baby healthy and happy has been worth it to me.

I hope to share with you what I have found, to give you some support and most of all HOPE!

I wish for you and your dog ALL THE BEST!


The Oscarmonster in his younger, more acrobatic days: