Cora

Cora’s Vestibular Disease, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

Last Sunday (August 16), we got home from a day away to find Cora not quite herself—she didn’t seem certain that it was us coming in the door, and she was a little unsteady on her feet. I also noticed her head tilt was worse than usual. Because of our experience with her vestibular disease in January, I knew what to look for, so I got her in good light and, sure enough, saw the nystagmus (rapid eye movement), which was diagonal again. It was then that I realized her head tilt was to the left, not to the right as usual.

She really wanted to join us on the walk but wasn't able to walk much, so she rode.

She really wanted to join us on the walk but wasn’t able to walk much, so she rode.

She saw the vet the next day, and vestibular disease was confirmed. However, this time, there was no sign of an ear infection, which was more worrisome to the vet. It was suggested we see how her symptoms changed over the next few days. The following day, as last time, she was moving in circles in the backyard. Over the next several days, new symptoms that were different from before appeared gradually—confusion about how to get out of the house; Parkinson’s-like movements when eating, drinking, or sniffing the ground; and circling that she seemed unable to stop.

By Friday, the vet recommended a consultation with a neurologist and possibly an MRI.

We got in to see Dr. Campbell at Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital on Monday. Cora was doing so much better by then, and I honestly expected him to send us home with no further investigation. But he found that she was painful in her neck. With only slight pressure, her neck spasmed. His concern was a tumour on her brain stem because neck pain is common with that. The MRI was booked for the next day. When he learned that our vet had removed a pellet from her cheek a couple years ago, he said he’d do X-rays first to be certain there wasn’t any other metal in her head.

Cora's head had to be shaved for the spinal tap. It looks as though she had three needles there.

Cora’s head had to be shaved for the spinal tap. It looks as though she had three needles there.

Sure enough, she has another pellet embedded deep in the tissue of her neck (no wonder she is so wary of people!); however, the vet felt it was deep enough to make the MRI safe to do. Cora’s neurologist was in emergency surgery during her MRI, so the radiologist on staff looked at her results, and I got a call at 3:05 p.m. telling me that her brain and ears were normal, so they were also going to MRI her neck and do a spinal tap. I was thrilled to get the news that nothing showed up in her brain (well, except a brain).

However, then when I met with the neurologist at 5:30 p.m., he started by telling me they’d found something small at the base of her brain stem, the site he’d expected to find something, based on the vestibular symptoms. I was confused and told him about the call I’d received. It turns out that the nodule or whatever it is is SO small that the radiologist didn’t see it until the neurologist pointed it out. They can’t be sure of what it is or whether it’s cancerous, though, so we don’t actually know much more than we did. He said we’ll have to judge the prognosis simply by Cora’s clinical symptoms over time.

So it wasn’t exactly the news we were hoping for, but it’s also not nearly as bad as we feared. There isn’t a definitive sign of brain cancer (woohoo!). The spinal tap results we’ve received thus far have been “normal,” but we’re waiting on the pathologist to look at the cells in her spinal fluid to be certain.

The head tilt to the left is just as cute as her head tilt to the right was. :)

The head tilt to the left is just as cute as her head tilt to the right was. :)

The best part of the call from the neurologist yesterday was his pronouncement of the diagnosis “geriatric idiopathic vestibular disease.” Idiopathic means “unknown cause,” so he’s not relating it to the tumour. (The second best part of the call is his assurance that our insurance company will cover the cost, which was substantial, and if it doesn’t, he’ll follow up with whoever he needs to talk to to get coverage!) Cora received amazing care at TVEH, with both her neurologist and vet tech recognizing just how sweet a dog she is. Both were saddened by the pellet in her neck, and as I left there Wednesday, the vet tech pet Cora’s bald head and said to me, “This girl really melts my heart.” Really, how could she not?

If we’re to judge by Cora’s clinical appearance, I’d say she’s healthy. Since Friday, she’s continually improved, walking straighter, not shaking as much when her head is down, and seeming much less confused. Whereas I thought maybe her head would at last be straight, which it hasn’t been since her first vestibular episode, it seems the left-leaning tilt may remain, and that’s okay. After all, it’s just as cute as her right tilt was.

Cora’s Vestibular Disease, Part 1

I haven’t had much time to post here in the past year, but last week I got a terrible reminder of one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place—to have a record of issues we go through with the dogs.

One morning at the end of January this year, Cora scared the bejeezus out of us by being, well, spaghetti-like. She was unable to stand, and whenever she tried, she just fell down, limp as could be. She had the will to walk and do everything her brothers were doing, and she still wagged her tail, but she seemingly had no control over her body. We thought she was having a stroke. It was terribly frightening!

Fortunately, the symptoms began the day that one of our vets was to come to our house to give Dusty acupuncture for a cruciate ligament tear we were treating through conservative management (another blog post I should’ve written). The vet examined Cora off the record, suggesting we get her to the clinic for a full “official” exam, and pointed out her nystagmus—the darting of her eyes. He felt fairly certain Cora had geriatric vestibular disease. The word disease in the name knifed fear into my heart—would she live out her days unable to control her body? He then told me that when his dog had it, it lasted about two weeks and resolved itself. Phew!

Vestibular disease, I learned through many Facebook friends whose dogs had gone through it, is not all that uncommon in senior dogs, and, more important, it’s not a death knell. Essentially, it’s an episode of vertigo. Cora was dizzy, as evidenced by her eye movements (nystagmus), which in her case started out as diagonal, not back and forth or up and down, and through her poor sense of balance. Most often, vestibular disease is considered idiopathic, meaning that there’s no known cause—it’s just age related.

However, because Cora has had ear infections on and off since we adopted her, the vet assumed an ear infection could be causing her symptoms, and sure enough, examination showed inflammation (despite regular ear cleanings!), so she prescribed two weeks’ worth of antibiotics.

Cora’s condition worsened a bit on the second or third day, when she started circling in the backyard. Our vet was a little worried by this because vestibular symptoms should only start improving after the first day. The circling happened on and off for a couple more days. But we waited it out because other things were normalizing—her nystagmus wasn’t noticeable to the naked eye, she was able to walk around the block, and she wasn’t vomiting or avoiding food (quite the opposite, as usual).

Cora rocking the head tilt.

Cora rocking the head tilt.

By the time she finished the antibiotics, Cora seemed mostly back to normal. She was safely jumping onto and off of furniture, going on our long walks and keeping up, and being as energetic and kooky as usual. Two main symptoms remained: her head tilt, which the vet had warned might never go away, and a bit of a lazy eye—both on the right side.

Then a day or two after she finished the antibiotics, Cora’s symptoms worsened again. I don’t remember exactly what was going on, but the vet decided to put her on antibiotics for another four or six weeks.

Once that course of antibiotics was done, Cora was back to normal (yay!), except for the head tilt and the lazy eye, both very cute qualities, we think. 🙂

And then in August …

The Switch to Raw

In April of this year, we finally made the switch to a raw diet. I’d been reading both anecdotal and scientific articles about it (some for, some against) and waffling for more than two years. What gave me the kick in the ass I needed was the premature reappearance of Dusty’s environmental allergies. He’d been on customized allergy shots since January 2013, but when the growth of new grass in the spring had him scratching so much he kept me up at night, I gave up on the allergy shots (which we’d had to adjust numerous times because of the serum overstimulating his system) and switched all three dogs to raw.

Two or three months before, I had visited Heronview Raw and Natural in Whitby and had gotten a lot of information that gave me hope that a raw diet would improve Dusty’s allergies. I also spoke to two different people whose dogs had terrible environmental allergies (one dog had spent summers in a cone for years) that were “cured” on raw diets. What did I have to lose?

The Switch

Mixing the tripe and offal in with the raw turkey--the dogs were very interested in what we were doing!

Mixing the tripe and offal in with the raw turkey–the dogs were very interested in what we were doing!

Heronview explained to me that raw has a much faster rate of digestion than kibble does, so the two couldn’t be given together, in part because of the risk for bloat, so the change had to be made instantly–not gradually as we’d been taught to do when switching a dog from one kibble to another. I worried, of course, that this switch would cause gastrointestinal issues for my dogs, particularly Dusty, who has a very sensitive stomach and had had four visits in three years to the emergency clinic because of gastro issues severe enough to dehydrate him.

Our vet contradicted what Heronview said, saying that we should make a very gradual change over two weeks because of Dusty’s sensitive stomach. Although the vets at our vet clinic aren’t exactly pro-raw, they have been very supportive of my decision since nothing else we had tried for Dusty’s allergies had helped. One of our vets is not a fan of commercial food and feeds his dogs cooked meat and veggies, which I used to do. He told me as long as we weren’t going to a highly processed food, he’d support any decision we made, but he didn’t think our dogs should chew raw bones. Cora and Hogan don’t have the best teeth, and Dusty has a weak stomach. So we decided to buy only the ground meat with ground bone. We took his advice on that, but we took Heronview’s advice on not switching gradually.

I made sure we switched midweek, when I wouldn’t have to pay the extra-high examination fee of the emergency vet just in case.

Gastrointestinal Issues

All three dogs devoured that first meal, and I’m happy to report Dusty hasn’t had ANY gastro issues since we made the switch. Better yet, he doesn’t even pass gas anymore. Oh, could that dog empty a room before!

Measuring out one-ounce meatballs

Measuring out one-ounce meatballs

The only negative gastro effects we’ve seen were related to the fast digestion rate. Cora was so hungry by 3 or 4 a.m. that her stomach noises were waking us up. She was desperate to get outside to eat grass because she felt so sick with hunger. This issue had happened with her on kibble, too, but we had found the magic solution to get her through the night, so it had been a while. We had to start from scratch to find the right mix of feeding time, snacks, and food quantity so we all could sleep. (One interesting observation, though, is that when she was on kibble, Cora wouldn’t eat her breakfast once her stomach got that upset—we had to give her peanut butter to “prime” her tummy before she would eat; on raw, though, she gobbled down her breakfast even with that upset belly.)

Weight Loss and Gain

One of the reasons I wanted to switch all three dogs to raw, not just Dusty, is that I’d read that most dogs lose weight on raw, and Cora and Hogan were heavier than they should be. In the four and a half months they’ve been on raw, though, Cora has gained four pounds, Hogan has gained two and a half pounds, and Dusty, who was already skinny, has lost two pounds. It doesn’t sound like much, but on small to medium-sized dogs, the difference in all three is noticeable.

Reducing Cora’s and Hogan’s food has been difficult and very gradual since we have the fast digestion rate to contend with. We’re also feeding a fair amount of veggies (a puréed mix of kale, broccoli, pumpkin, green beans, spinach, and blueberries)  to fill them up some. We’ve introduced more game meats (bison, elk) in place of some fattier meats, but I’m not convinced that’s making a difference.

Skin, Teeth, and Breath

Dusty showing his pearly whites with  a little help

Dusty showing his pearly whites with a little help

One of the most amazing things to me is that none of our dogs smell bad anymore! I used to shower them every six weeks because by that point, they smelled like dogs and needed a bath. I don’t know that they’d ever need a shower again if I stuck to that criterion now. They really don’t stink—and that’s not just a mama’s love talkin’! And that awful doggy breath—especially old-doggy breath? The stink is gone there, too! What that suggests to me is that we’ve done a good thing by switching to raw. Their guts aren’t producing whatever it is that makes doggy breath and fur smell bad.

Allergies

I had high hopes that we’d get through the summer without putting Dusty on steroids (Vanectyl-P), but no such luck. A couple of weeks ago, Benadryl stopped making even a dent in the scratching. I am hopeful that, since a raw diet is supposed to strengthen the immune system, Dusty’s liver won’t be affected too much by the steroids. I also have him on supplements to support his liver through steroid season.

All in all, although it’s a little gross dealing with raw meat, tripe, and offal (I shouldn’t downplay it—it’s plenty gross doing our own mixing of it all), and although Dusty still has to be on Vanectyl-P for a month or two, I think we’ve made the right decision for our dogs’ health.

Are any of you feeding raw or considering it? I’d love to hear about your experiences with it!

Cora: Less Fearful than Ever!

I haven’t updated on Cora in a while, but I keep meaning to. Time slips away all too easily.

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly "scary" person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly “scary” person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Last summer, we took our scaredy-dog off the clomipramine she was on for anxiety. We slowly lowered her dose by 10 mg every week, and since we weren’t seeing any less anxiety with each tablet less, we figured it was okay to take her right off them.

In the past six months or so, Cora has made great strides. She is so close to appearing to be a “normal” dog that some people who had never met her before have been surprised to learn of how she cowered in her crate on the day we first saw her at an adoption event at PetSmart; how until very recently she hid in her “safe spot” in our house the entire time we had guests; how it took her well over a year to approach people whom she saw in our home regularly (including my mom and friends we played cards with weekly); how her fear was so incredibly bad at times that our “eat anything” beagle girl wouldn’t even take a treat from some people….

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

 

 

 

Yeah, she’s not really that dog anymore. We’ve had Cora for three years and one month, and she has finally emerged from her shell, although somewhat tentatively. There’s no denying that she is still cautious, but in recent months, Cora has joined her brothers, Dusty and Hogan, at the door when the doorbell rings, nearly always comes out of hiding within an hour or so of guests coming in, sniffs strangers on our walks and has even let some pet her, and, most surprising, has found her voice! We’ve heard Cora bark while awake only a handful of times in three years (we can definitely count her barks on our fingers), but two weekends ago, she barked three times in normal situations in which a dog would bark. It was shocking to hear her voice (which sounds so much like Dusty’s)! She hasn’t barked since, and because the boys both bark too much, we can’t say we’re terribly disappointed she hasn’t taken up the habit. Nevertheless, I will never discourage that in her.

She still has her "safe spot," but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

She still has her “safe spot,” but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

So it has been an eventful several months in our household. Cora is a very happy girl now. She is in her twilight years to be sure, but she still has so much life in her, and it’s been incredibly heartwarming to watch her seek it out from deep within, dust off the bad history with big sweeps of her tail, and make the most of what she has left.

And we couldn’t be happier to be the ones sharing this glorious time in her life with her!

Life is looking bright....

Life is looking bright….

To read more about Cora’s journey from fearful dog to normal dog, click on the “fearful dog” link below.

A Merry, Furry Christmas

We have had a very merry Christmas season! It started in November, when the dogs had a professional Christmas photo shoot by Gotcha! Photo Studio. Here are a few of the great pictures we got that day:
Gotcha! Christmas pic3
Gotcha! Christmas pic4

Gotcha! Christmas pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(In the picture on the right, the dogs are all wearing something I knit: Cora’s scarf, Hogan’s elf hat, and Dusty’s bow tie.)

After the Christmas photo shoot, things quieted down for Cora, Dusty, and Hogan. In mid-December, my mom’s dog, Misha, came to stay for a couple of days, which was fun, and then on Christmas Day, our three visited Misha’s house, where we celebrated Christmas!

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Hogan and Dusty were all dressed up for Christmas

Hogan and Dusty were all dressed up for Christmas

Pretty Misha (she has such crooked ears!)

Pretty Misha (she has such adorable crooked ears!)

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Cora loved her rawhide candy cane!

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Dusty loved his rawhide candy cane too!

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Surprisingly, Hogan didn’t care much for the rawhide this year. He enjoyed napping, and then on Boxing Day, he enjoyed destroying Mr. Penguin with Dusty. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, on Dec. 27, the boys’ pretty girlfriends, Chelsea and Mocha, came for a visit! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any great pictures of them all together, but here are a few from that evening:

Dusty and Chelsea seemed to think it was time to check out what was happening outside while Mocha wanted to see her mama.

Dusty and Chelsea seemed to think it was time to check out what was happening outside while Mocha wanted to see her mama.

This is the sweater I'm knitting for Mocha (almost done)!

This is the sweater I’m knitting for Mocha (almost done)!

Pretty Mocha

Pretty Mocha

The cuddly hound dogs <3

The cuddly hound dogs <3

Finally, on Dec. 28-29, we had Mumford the Great Dane and his mom and dad over for a near 24-hour Christmas celebration. Every time Mumford comes over, Dusty wags his tail nearly nonstop and climbs on every piece of furniture and person he can in an effort to see Mumford face to face. It’s quite adorable.

Mumford liked his stuffed turkey from Cora, Dusty, and Hogan.

Mumford liked his stuffed turkey from Cora, Dusty, and Hogan.

When Dusty's not trying to reach Mumford's face, he's rolling over and spreading his legs for Mumford. :)

When Dusty’s not trying to reach Mumford’s face, he’s rolling over and spreading his legs for Mumford. :)

Not sure what they're communicating to each other here.

Not sure what they’re communicating to each other here.

Cuddle time!

Cuddle time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite all the activity, the visiting and the visitors, Cora has done amazingly well. On Christmas Day, she barely hid at all at my mom’s house, and during both evenings with visitors in our home, she came out of her “safe place” to say hello around dinnertime and stayed with us from then on. Our scaredy-dog has come such a long way this year!

All in all, we have had a wonderful, merry, and very furry Christmas—and I wouldn’t want it any other way!