Sometimes we get to a point where we know what we are doing with our dogs, happy with feeding and grooming, have found some walks to suit your needs, maybe have even found training to work well for you or dog sport you feel comfortable with.
Then Bam! Something new turns up to turn everything upside down!
Last week Cassie achieved a Merit for her first ever Heekwork to Music Progress Award, for submissions done in December. This week Cassie started new medication as per new vet plus advice from a neurologist to help the irritation and discomfort she has had in her ear and neck for over 2 years (we have been trying to get to the bottom of this during that time). The meds main side effect of ataxia and this hit Cassie hard 3 days into starting the meds.
If you don’t know what ataxia is, put simply your dog looses control of their legs and look like they are drunk. They stumble, fall over nothing, walk into walls and in Cassies case can’t even stand still and up to toilet without help being held off the floor. Very disturbing for dogs to experience and quite a shock for owners when the day before the same dog was running, training etc!
So, what can I do for my dog? First thing was to get upset. I’m giving her these meds that are causing this so we had guilt also. Next thing was feel sorry for her.
Then I got pro-active – my little dog needs my help! All the previous conditioning work has meant she was already strong. So go back to the beginning and let’s look at real basic leg awareness exercises – stepping over the smallest pole on the ground, standing still, walking slowly, standing on solid items for a few seconds. Cassie loved it – we did everything slowly and I supported her throughout but after the first small session she wasn’t banging into things as much. Today, 3 days later, she is holding herself up to toilet and using the ramp for the garden!!
Dogs do get used to meds and the side effects – they ‘learn to cope’ – but helping your dog with something gentle yet familiar can help take away some of the confusion and help the brain and body remember what it CAN do. You can’t push your dog to bounce straight back and Cassie is way too wobbly to try standing on a balance cushion or do a set of cavaletti but we are maintaining familiar exercises which are helping her body remember plus keeping her level of conditioning good so when she is used to the meds she won’t have lost strength or awareness.
This brings me onto meds themselves. If your dog has a condition or gets ill try joining associations, help groups or forums specially for that condition rather then just looking it up online. Online can be scary and you may find things that upset you more and that may not apply to your dog! By being part of groups created by owners of dogs with the same condition you will hear about how other people cope, how they help their dog, what meds or supplements to be careful with or to try.
Through a group I have been a member of for about 9 years I had learned a lot about the meds Cassie has just started – always fearing she may need it eventually but hoping not! This meant that although the vets didn’t give me all the insider info I already knew the side effects, the best way to give it, how to also support Cassie’s body from the meds’ physical side effects. Info from people who have experienced the same thing – and got through it!
Todays blog isn’t about sympathy for Cassie, or about moaning about vets not having all the info for every illness – that’s impossible to specialise in everything! But it’s intended to highlight how suddenly things can change but can be worked around. So if your dog gets an injury and has to have crate rest for 4 weeks instead of 2 hour daily walks and agility classes that’s a great time to start interactive toys, static training like prolonged nose targets and stays. If your dog has new meds and can’t continue their training for something active, remember their brain will still be active, so a great time to look at training something new that doesn’t require your dog to move much – cross paws? Focus exercises like Watch, working on Hold.
There’s the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ – your dog being benched for days or weeks will be sad and possibly upsetting if you discover a terminal illness, but talk to owners of dogs with the same issue and see how you can help- I’m so glad I did and it’s helped me advise many other dog owners too. In fact my KCAI project is based on 13 years of research in one area of canine illness!
I work with dogs who have had surgery on legs, who are now deaf or blind, who have a life changing illness and each dog has needs and needs to be understood, but they still enjoy interacting and doing fun things with their owners – so please take time to accept your dogs condition and when you’re ready look at what they now can do instead of focusing on what they can’t.
Thursday morning Cassie literally couldn’t stand to toilet and I needed to hold her and help move her away after, today (Sat) she did the weaves in the photo – slowly and with guidance, but she didn’t fall at all and loved it!
Every dog is different, every owner is individual, but we can share our experiences to help each other help our canine companions x