Monday, September 9, 2013

Knowing when something is wrong...

At the Veterinarian's these past several months I heard a number of times how observant I am of my dogs and how it is amazing that we caught this or that so early.  It is good reinforcement for me to not dismiss when I think something is "off" with one of my dogs.  They cannot verbalize when they do not feel well so we have to be constantly on the look out for possible problems.  Now by that I do not mean to be always catastrophizing about things or becoming a hypochondriac nor do I mean we have to stare at them constantly.  But what I do mean is to not dismiss behavior changes by saying things like "he's finally growing up" when all of sudden he is less active than he has been the whole rest of his life.  When you are having trouble training something that requires some sort of physical skill and you have tried different approaches and the dog seems unable to grasp it then stop and look at what you are asking the dog to do and whether they feel well enough to do it.

Last Spring Carmine tested positive for Lymes in her routine spring wellness check.  I had not found any ticks on her the year before nor had I seen any red circles or signs of fever.  However the month or two before that test I had been commenting "she seems like she is growing up" because she was quieter in her crate and she was not so pushy in her training.  The other things that I did not consider a sign of illness because I attributed them to my lack of working with her since I had been laid up with a knee replacement - her running slower yards per second than she had the year before and her not having the stamina for training.  I dismissed it as lack of conditioning. Those were the only symptoms she had of the Lymes.  Within a few weeks of being on the antibiotics she ran with Pam in Duluth and had one of her fastest runs ever.  She was back to being pushy and naughty again.  So last week I trialed her and we thought she was running slowly because I am not back 100%.  Then I watched her run with Jen who she is used to running with and she was not as fast and she seemed to tire easily.  I then chalked it up to a recurrence of Lymes and she is on antibiotics again.  Even after just a few days of the antibiotics she is doing better.  She ran fast all weekend at the trial even with her gimpy handler.

Also this past Spring Feisty started to run slower and to avoid the teeter more and more.  She is very moody about agility trials so it is hard to tell physical from mental.  Then I was working her in obedience and she went from loving to retrieve to fumbling with the dumbbell in her mouth more and not wanting to pick up the metal scent articles.  So I took her in to the Veterinary Dentist and sure enough she needed four teeth pulled.  The outward signs were almost non-existent but the dental x-rays showed 4 teeth were infected.  Within a few weeks of that surgery she was happily picking up metal articles and happy about retrieving.  However her energy level was still fluctuating a lot and her interest in agility was going up and down.  At the end of July she had the third occurrence of a cough that sounds like kennel cough in six months.  I took her in for a chest x-ray and she has congestion in her bronchial tubes and an enlarged heart.  She is 7 1/2 years old.  So then I took her for an echocardigram and she has very early signs of mitral valve endocardiosis and cardiomyopathy.  So early there is no heart murmur to be heard.  She is on medication for it and her energy levels have gone up and stay up for longer periods of time.  She still has bouts where she is low energy but the up periods are back to that of a year or two ago.  She has not been so high energy in quite awhile.  Her stamina is still a bit of a problem and we are monitoring that.  

Lastly Sinco has had a hard time with her dumbbell and wanting to flip it with her front feet and having a hard time holding it still in her mouth.  I decided to take her into the dentist as well.  Again looking at her teeth and gums no outward signs of problems. The dental xrays showed four infected teeth.  She had four teeth removed.  She is now picking up her dumbbell textbook perfect and she is having a much easier time holding it still in her mouth.  All things she could not do before the teeth were removed.  She also has a lot more energy around the house and is running faster than she has in several months doing agility even at 16".   It is clear that having a sore mouth was affecting other things.  All things you don't notice when they happen gradually to a 7 year old dog.

Dental disease, tick diseases and heart disease have very subtle symptoms in the early stages.  Heart disease is called the "silent killer" for a reason.   Dogs are very stoic about tooth pain.  It is a survival instinct for them.  Dental xrays are really what is necessary to detect problems.  Things that might otherwise be considered training issues may actually be related to health problems.  The more you know what your dog is like normally, the easier it will be to notice when they are not feeling well.    A dog who is naturally high energy is not all of sudden going to become a quiet and subdued dog as part of maturity.  It just does not happen like that with a truly high energy dog.  They may be able to have a better "off" switch due to training but you should still experience their high energy if they are feeling good.  

So the next time you feel your dog is acting differently stop and consider whether a health problem could be the underlying cause.  You  want to go to a Veterinarian who will believe you when you say something is wrong with your dog.  Yes health screenings can be expensive and you want to work with your Vet to make sensible choices about what to look for.   I have several dogs so I cannot go crazy spending thousands of dollars on tests on each of them all the time but 9 out of 10 times when I think something is wrong with one my dogs - something really is wrong with them.  Trust your instincts. Again I don't want to be a hypochondriac where they are concerned but I do want them to be in the best physical shape possible for what I ask them to do as canine athletes.  I also rely on my "health team" of canine massage therapist and Veterinarian Chiropractor/Acupuncturist to let me know when they feel something unusual.  Being proactive and help your dog live longer and be athletic longer as well as save money in the long run.   

Also as a result of these things I had no problem moving Feisty down to 4" jumps in CPE and NADAC where that is possible.  Feisty no longer has to do the teeter or a stay on a table.  I will no longer trial her in stressful places.  She can do CDSP obedience.  Sinco is jumping lower where she can and while she can still do 16" and will for a few more titles this year I am willing to move her down when those are done or sooner if I feel it is physically necessary.  I am letting her take advantage of jumping lower in places where she can and I can earn the same titles.  I'm making an effort to finish off those 16" jumping titles sooner rather than later.  There is no need to wait for a physical reason to jump them lower - they can play longer if they jump lower sooner.