Dog trains man

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hovawart TV: Cliff's Smile

A smile can mean so much. In Cliff's case, it means the world.



Seeing that smile at the end of this half-a-minute video warmed my heart when I saw it first. And it still does when I see it over and over again.

Please stay tuned, as Thomas - Cliff's parent/caretaker - shares Cliff's amazing story coming Monday on this blog.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

Hovawarts On A Raw Diet

Today I turn the blog over to Jan Wolfe - raw feeding advocate and Hovawart enthusiast - to learn more about feeding raw. 

Something I have struggled with for a long time, and kibble is so convenient. I also noticed more and more Hovawarts are on a raw diet. Jan gave us the last push to go raw.


***

Reading Kenzo’s blog, and in particular, about Viva’s health problems, led me to contact Leo to ask him if he had ever considered feeding a raw diet.  It turns out that he has, but had found it hard to find enough information about it to be able to do so with confidence.  He invited me to do a guest blog, and I am delighted to do so.


PIONEERING

I started raw feeding my dogs some 14 years ago.  We had a young Labrador with food aggression problems and a speed-eating “disorder”.  He was also a generally difficult dog – we had adopted him from the local rescue kennel at around six months of age and we had no idea of what his early months had been like.  We were advised by the kennel to feed him a certain dry food as it was a complete diet specially designed for a growing dog.  I felt very sorry for him as this dish of brown cardboard pieces would last him about 30 seconds at the very most.  I don’t think it touched the sides.

Tussock as a pup with her first raw snack
Some months later, we were still tearing our hair out with him and to add to the existing issues, he now had very itchy and smelly skin.  It was whilst seeking advice on how to deal with the food aggression that my path crossed the subject of raw feeding.  Raw feeding?  What did that involve?  Bones?  Chicken bones?  Surely dogs cannot eat chicken bones?  How do you make sure the dog gets everything he needs?  So many questions.

But then I bought  a book by Dr Ian Billinghurst and my mind was blown wide open.  The light bulb went on and has never gone out.

It was rather daunting at first – I remember giving Sisko his first bones and wondering if I was going to be rushing to the vet later in the day or week.  I remember his face on finishing that first meal – if he were human, he would have said “Wow!”  I also remember inspecting his poo every day and marvelling at the transformation from monstrously smelly and sloppy heaps to small firm nuggets.


OUR DIET

I currently have two hovawarts and one flat coated retriever and all have been raw fed since about eight weeks old.  The eldest is six and a half and the youngest is eighteen months.  Sadly, Sisko the Labrador died just a few months ago at the age of 14 – his teeth were still clean!

Chicken, minced tripe with veggies
The mainstay of their diet is chicken – I buy carcasses from a local butcher, and he also keeps a “goodie box” for me of any bones, scraps, stuff that is past its date for human consumption, or that has been damaged in any way.  I allow them to catch the odd rabbit, and I pick up fresh road kill.  I feed them fruit and vegetables, yoghurt, eggs, fish, cheese, and they are able to graze on grasses and eat horse poo.  I can imagine you screwing up your nose at the last item, but horse poo is actually very nutritious for dogs!  There are also several companies here in the UK that cater for the raw feeding market making it much easier for many people to feed raw.  I do buy a few minces to give my dogs variety.

Should you be interested in feeding raw, or want to research it a bit more, then you are more than welcome to join our raw feeding group on Facebook.  It is a non-judgemental, helpful and often hilarious group where no question is silly and nobody is absolutely right or absolutely wrong – we all feed slightly differently the same way as we ourselves eat differently.  [Note Kenzo: the group has great resources too, like a Raw Feeding Starter Guide and more]

There are also many books to read by Ian Billinghurst, Lew Olson, Kymythy Schultz, Tom Lonsdale, to name a few.


SO WHY DO IT?

Why give yourself extra work of sourcing food and providing a balanced diet?  Is it not easier to buy “complete” food and be assured your dog is getting everything he or she needs?  Is it not an expensive way to feed a dog?  Still more questions.

When pet food was introduced it seemed a brilliant idea.  Years of advertising has “convinced” us that it is the only way to feed our dogs and cats.  Images of cute puppies and kittens have pulled at our heart strings and we have believed that the people who make these foods have the interests of our animals at heart.  Our conscience was led to believe that we would do our dogs and cats a disservice if we didn’t feed this specially prepared food.

In the early days it was tinned food, and to be fair, it was probably okay stuff!  I remember my first dog ate Chappie and Winalot for much of his life and he lived to almost 17.  Then kibble was introduced.  Complete food.  All you have to give to make your dog healthy and hearty.  But is it?  Are there not now more health issues with dogs?  More cancers, more dental problems, more obesity, diabetes, thyroid problems, skeletal issues, skin problems, allergies, arthritis, compromised immune systems, and so much more.  Dogs seem to be living shorter lives, despite all this researched nutrition.

Do I need to say more?
Granted, there are many other factors involved with the things listed above, but human nutritionists tells us that “we are what we eat”.  They encourage us to eat fresh meat and fish, lots of fruit and vegetables, to avoid processed food, too much salt and sugar, preservatives, colourings, flavourings……. So what do we feed our dogs?  Meat and fish by products that have been rendered beyond all recognition, devoid of colour, flavour, texture, and nutrients.  Add to this mush several colourings to make it look nice, salt and sugar to make it tasty, artificial nutrients to make it complete, then bake it to give it texture.  Finally it is sprayed with a solution containing vitamins and minerals.   Oh, and when your dog has teeth covered in tartare, here’s another product to help clean them, or a special toothbrush to clean them.  Oh and doggy toothpaste, too!

And come to think of it – I haven’t seen many dogs able to bake, use cooking utensils, open tins, or use a toothbrush……  But I have seen dogs catch a rabbit!

***

Thanks Jan, you have convinced us! Normally I would add a little biography of the author, but Jan is participating in the Hovawart School of Witchcraft & Wizardry as well. So stay tuned, to get to know Jan and her Hovies a little better.
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Monday, January 7, 2013

Showing Off Our Waistline

Of course, you are the judge if there really is something we can show off with. And to explain why we suddenly became exhobitionists over night: we are joining the Show Off Your Dog's Wastline Campaign over at Jana and Jasmine Rade's blog Dawg Business.

Look at that waistline:

When you have a look at the infographic on Jana's blog, you can find out if that's an ideal waistline or not. I am blurred when it concerns Kenzo and Viva, they are always ideal to me. And while you are over there, read more why it is so important to keep an eye on your dog's waistline. Jana can explain it a lot better than I can. Knowing Jana, it is probably very important for your dog's health.

To close off with some facts. Viva was obese when we got her, her weight was 50 kg. She is now on a stable 43 kg, which seems a lot for a Hovawart lady, but she is a tall girl, so her waistline is a much better indicator than breed averages. Kenzo had opposite issues before his neutering, as he stopped eating because of all those love bugs in his stomach. He was even down to 39 kg, but after his neutering he is now on a stable weight of 43 kg.

Now show off your dog's waistline.
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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Am I A Hova Now? Or Half-a-Hovawart?

No Viva, just the Wart on the inside of your eyelid is gone. It annoyed you so much, we asked the vet to remove it for you. You don't need a Wart to be a Hovawart. Even without it you are still the most gorgeous ever Hovawart, sweetie.

So it was kinda like very expensive plastic eyelid surgery?

I'll expect a whole lot of Kenzo TLC the coming days anyway

Viva had a small wart - already as long as we have her - on the inside of her eyelid. Lately it started growing and annoying her, and yesterday the wart was even bleeding a little bit. So the wart had to go. Our luck was that we finally have Viva's health in such a good shape, that there was no additional risk to let her undergo surgery. The stitches can be removed again in 10 days, until then, we take extra good care of her.
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Monday, July 9, 2012

Happy Feet Please

The happy feet syndrome is revisiting casa del Kenzo & Viva lately. This time it is Kenzo's turn.

As you can see on the photo to the left, Kenzo has something embedded in his paw that became infected. Antibiotics have by now cleared the infection and hopefully his body has "processed" the culprit.

The vet doesn't want to operate when they cannot see a clear entry point for whatever caused this. She needs an indication where to look. A paw with it's myriad of nerves and muscles, is a risky place to start a search.

Viva had something similar last year - see photo on the right. In her case the infection returned after a while and the only option left was to open up the paw and see if the nasty bugger causing all this could be found. Luckily the vet found a tiny little thorn - see photo at the bottom - and Viva has been good ever since.

Lets hope for Kenzo he doesn't go down the same road. On top of his injury, he also made havoc with his other paw. A nail seemed to have died off and a new one was growing inside the dead one, which was very painful for him.

We checked both paws when we were at the vets for the infected paw, so it is a mystery how that could have happened. The theory is his nail got punctured by something sharp. Most of the nail had to be surgically removed. There is just a small stump of nail left now.

It turns out to be quite a challenge for us to keep happy feet. We spend a lot of time outdoors: hiking in forests, long nature walks, and doing tracking nose work. When we return I always check them for ticks and feel their paws for thorns and other injuries. Yet something always seem to sneak through the thorn patrol.

What do you do to prevent paw injuries? Is there something we could do differently? Or are we just being unlucky?

We found some doggy foot wear too. Is that overdoing it? Would that be too protective?

For now I think we are going to be a lot more thorough inspecting their paws on return from the walks. Not only feel if there is something out of the ordinary, but also give them a visual inspection, as much as that is possible with all the fur.
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Friday, June 8, 2012

Daily Excercise Prevents Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease to which also the Hovawart is prone. It was always believed due to the Hovawart's size and it's rapid growth from pup to adult, that this was one of the contributing factors why hip dysplasia could develop quicker with Hovawarts.

No Hovawart or other dog is born with hip dysplasia (HD), but genetic disposed dogs can develop HD during their life to a certain degree of severity. New research now shows that factors in the environment play a much larger role in this development of HD than expected.

Randi I. Kronveit, from the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, came to this remarkable conclusion in her research. Randi followed the development of HD in 500 dogs from 4 different breeds, the Newfoundland, the Labrador, the Leonberger and the Irish Wolfhound.

Rapid growth does not increase the risk of HD

Findings from previous experiments and studies from other countries have indicated that rapid growth and a high body weight are factors that increase the likelihood of developing HD.

But Randi thinks this is not true:
"On the contrary, we found that the breed that had the slowest growth rate – the Newfoundland – had the highest incidence of HD (36%). The Irish Wolfhound had the lowest incidence of HD (10%), yet had the fastest rate of growth."

Daily exercise in the first 3 months prevents HD

Puppies born in spring or summer time, either on farms or with other ample opportunity to exercise during the first three months of their life, had a lower risk of developing HD. But moving up and down stairs is bad. Randi says:
"Overall, it would appear that daily exercise out in gently undulating terrain up until the age of three months gives a good prognosis when it comes to preventing HD."
Based on the findings of this doctoral research, preventive measures through exercise during the first 3 months have a huge impact on how HD will develop and how severe it will become. If HD in its most serious forms can be prevented, the quality of life for dogs with HD can be improved tremendously.

Randi I. Krontveit comes from Oslo. She studied mathematics at The University of Oslo and took her Cand.med.vet. degree at The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in 1998. She has held a post at NVH since 2001, where she also carried out her doctoral research.
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Chronic Cushings Diary

Viva Hovawart
It is just over one year ago Viva was diagnosed with Cushing's disease. And all that time she thrived on the prescribed daily medication - 120mg of Vetoryl, or Trilostane. Every quarter Viva was tested and the results were excellent. Such a test consist of an ACTH stimulation test and full blood-work. Viva's liver, battered by her Cushing's disease before we started treatment, was slowly but determinately recovering.

For a dog like Viva with several chronic diseases every vet visit can be turned into a puzzle. Has any of her known conditions worsened, like spondylosis, allergies or Cushing's? Or are we looking for something else this time? To be prepared we keep a diary of Viva's general state of health to note the changes as they come slow and first when compared over time you can really notice a difference. We write down things like:

  • Meals: how fast did she eat her meal?
  • Walks: after how long did she tire?
  • Play: did she play with Kenzo? And who initiated?
  • Cuddle: did she exchanged her infamous ear-nibbles with Kenzo?
  • Greets: did she wagged her tail so her back moved?
  • And more...
The list is specific to Viva. Like when she wags her tail a little less and the walks get shorter, we know we are up for an acupuncture session for the spondylosis in her back. So when the diary started to show a little less play and cuddles, we advanced her quarterly Cushing's test. And although Viva's cortisol levels related to her Cushing's were still perfect, the rest of her body and organs clearly were feeling unhappy as the blood work showed.

This meant we were looking at something new, or the Cushing's medicine - which is very aggressive and can be compared to chemotherapy - was giving side-effects. Based on what we knew from the diary and the lack of other symptoms we decided together with the vet to lower the doses of Viva's Cushing's medication. The most reasonably assumption was the doses was affecting her health adversely despite it kept her cortisol in place.

It took only a week for the diary to show us the first positive effects, and when we re-ran the Cushing's test at the end of that month, her cortisol level was still within the limits while her blood-work showed a lot of improvement on all area's. Would the diary not have shown any improvement, we of course would have been right back at the vet's again, discussing other options.

Having a dog with chronic diseases requires a chronic attitude. At first, it stressed me out having to watch everything she does through symptom-glasses. But now that I accepted what a chronic disease requires, it doesn't stress me out anymore. I became even more connected with Viva than before, and know she is living her life to the fullest despite the odds. That's just a terrific bonus, being able to give that to Viva.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why the Hovawart Must Never Become Popular


The Hovawart is not a popular breed at all. Which really is a blessing in disguise, as popularity is something a purebred dog can't afford.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dog Walks Man ... With Poop Bag

Where is the bag? We don't go without it.
Half a year ago I promised we would become a Poop Fairy, every day picking up one doggy deposit that doesn't belong to Kenzo & Viva. Apart from the daily scooping, making this promise to Amy Burket from Go Pet Friendly made me more aware of the whole debate surrounding our four-legged friends and we made some peculiar observations.

I thought you should always pick up after your dog. But apparently not. I discovered that in Holland they had poop lanes. Workers operating special designed scooping machines - like lawn-mowers - were doing their best to keep up with the poop flows. Some places had doggy restrooms, a small fenced in area, which no dogs even wanted to visit, with good reasons. Workers had to clean out those as well.

Poop is bringing employment to Holland. When we visited Holland last week, there was even a very real "dog poop symposium", in which 60 municipalities and counties exchanged "how to's" on dog poop, and how to get it scooped. It has become a business.

Back in Denmark, I found out by accident the Danish laws that poop should be scooped by the dog's owner had become obsolete. The scooping laws were a part of some police regulations, that everybody forget to address when they reformed the police some years ago. Scooping thereby became the responsibility of the person who lives on the ground adjacent to the public space, and not the dog owner. They are even liable if someone would slip in the poop and would harm themselves. I kid you not.

Reading a good book doesn't free me from my newly gained awareness. Even John Zeaman, author of the (otherwise fabulous and must read book) "Dog Walks Man", went to great lengths to find places to walk his dog where he could convince himself scooping surely was not necessary here.

I makes me wonder how poop did become such a topic that we need legislation, new industries, well-meaning lobbyist's and action groups. It all comes down to a man (yes it always seem to be man) with his dog that doesn't want to clean up. It is so simple: dog+man+bag=problem solved. 

Ladies, demand from your spouse to display one bagged deposit (two if he is a Poop Fairy) on return from the dog walk. Use your positive reinforcement wits and praise him for every pile you see in the open: "I am so glad you are not doing that and clean up after Fido". I can see it work, can you?
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grooming a Lioness

Before - After
We started treating Viva for her Cushing's disease more than half a year ago, and soon we were confronted with a harmless side effect.

Viva's hair growth was exploding. Cushing's had been suppressing her natural hair growth so far. And now it was rapidly returning to it's normal state.

In Viva's case, that meant a lot of hair. She quickly developed a "Lion collar", any Hovawart male would have been jealous of. It couldn't be comfortable for her having that much fur. And it wasn't very lady-like.

When I read on Pamela's blog how Honey grew "Muppet feet" and how Pamela executed some do-it-yourself grooming with great results, I went to arms. Viva needed some wellness.

Thankfully I started on the area below the chest, a little out of sight. My few existing grooming skills, if any, seemed to have gone with the wind. I had to give that up and I frantically started to search for an alternative, while Viva's "Muppet feet" where developing into "Muppet flippers".

Armed with a list of test questions on how to groom a reactive dog, I called around to local groomers but was left empty-handed. Nobody seemed to be able to refer us. Not in the dog training club, not the vet. Finally, we got a tip from Viva's water-walker therapist. She gave me the contact details of a groomer that she knew could handle reactive dogs. When I called for an appointment, we got a time two months away.

When the day finally came I told all there was to know about Viva and her reactiveness to our newly appointed grooming-lady, Jannie. She nodded politely through my whole monologue, and reached for the leash to take Viva in. I didn't expect her to do that, as she was physically absolutely no match for Viva and assumed she would need my help getting Viva crated in the bathing area in the back. But Jannie, nodding politely again, said it will be alright and off she went with 90lbs of highly-explosive Hovawart.

The longest 3 hours in my life started. I think I phoned Jannie at least twice. "yes, everything is alright", and "no, Viva is not ready yet".

When I could finally pick Viva up, I rushed into the shop. One groomer was busy with a Corgi mix and Jannie was grooming a Poodle on her table. When I started to approach Jannie and said hello, I noticed a blondish shadow was rising from below the grooming table the Poodle was standing on.

It was Viva, and she was off-leash. I panicked, expecting Viva to lash out to the Poodle. I reached for her, in what felt like being in one of those movies where you see the hero flying through the room in slow-motion while shouting "noooooo...", equally in slow-motion. She was too far away for me to reach. The only thing I could do was to hold my breath in a feeling of helplessness and accept the laws of gravity.

But the Lioness didn't roar. Viva rushed passed both dogs and made a whole spectacle out of greeting me, and the remaining dogs in the shop happily joined in for the concert. Viva had been taking a nap at Jannie's feet while she continued grooming other dogs. My jaw-bone must have reached the floor on the very moment I realized that.

I was so baffled and relieved, I was not capable of having any kind of intelligent conversation about it. Jannie did not give a lot of detail either that could explain Viva's exemplary behavior: "She was nice". Most important, Viva was B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L as well. Her fur was soft from the bath and her trimmed coat had the highest cuddle factor. The Lion's collar was gone as well.

Here are some pictures of Viva new style, and Kenzo seems to approve it too:

Nice trim Viva !
Kenzo takes a sniff on arrival at home

It's OK, Kenzo sends a look of approval :)
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

I am The Poop Fairy

are you finished scooping?
Don't you hate it when people don't clean up after their dog? I do. And so does Amy Burket from GoPetFriendly.com. Last Friday Amy launched a great initiative, "I am The Poop Fairy", as her contribution to Blog The Change.

Amy is a firm believer that you shouldn’t complain about something unless you’re willing to take action to make it better.

In addition to picking up after her own dogs, every day this quarter Amy will pick up at least one doggy deposit that does not belong to her dogs.

I will join Amy in her "I am the Poop Fairy" initiative and hope you will too. Why? Because two years ago, poop that was not scooped almost became fatal for Kenzo.

He contracted the "French heartworm" - angiostrongylus vasorum. Little devils that use poop and slugs as intermediate hosts. Although a rare heartworm, they are present all over the globe, though mostly in Western Europe and Canada. They follow the poop. No kidding.

It is fatal for dogs. The worms reproduce inside the heart and travel from there through all the organs in your dogs body - see this animated video. They eat your dog from the inside out. As soon as you notice the hemorrhages around the eyes and gums, and blood in their poop, it is already too late. Internal organs have suffered fatal damage.

In Kenzo's case, it started when we got a letter from our vet informing us the French heartworm was on the loose in our local area. She had a case of a dog with the French heartworm in her pratice and adviced all of her clients to be tested for the heartworm. We had to leave for a trip to Holland - Kenzo included - at the end of that week, but I delivered the necessary poop samples of 3 consecutive days to our vet before we left.

If something was wrong she could call us. I was not the least worried and did not give it a lot more thought. One of the days I had problems with incoming calls from Denmark that were disconnected before I could answer them. The same day my wife called that Kenzo had started to cough up white slime. It looked and sounded a lot like the Kennel cough.

First thing I did was to call our vet in Denmark. As you probably already guessed, it was her that has been trying to reach us as Kenzo's test turned out positive. And she was really worried when she heard he was coughing up white slime. The white slime was filled with French heartworm larvae causing inflammation in his lungs.

The prevention and cure for the French heartworm is the same: Advocate / Advantage Multi. But I had to get it A.S.A.P. Like in yesterday. We could still have a chance to prevent damage to internal organs. Getting a Dutch vet deliver Advocate - a prescription drug in Holland - on such short notice was not easy, but my vet was a great help and send faxes to their office explaining what we needed it for.

Kenzo got his Advocate that same day. A necessary evil, as it kills the worms, but the body has it difficult to cope with all the dead foreign bodies at once. It doesn't always have a happy ending. The little guy now quickly felt very sick and it started to show. It took two days where he didn't do a whole lot more than laying down. But on the third day, he stood up again. Kenzo made it ! It was a close call.

So as you can understand I take scooping poop very serious. What I wanted to ask you is the following - in Amy's words:

In addition to picking up after your own dogs, will you pledge to pick up one pile of unclaimed poop? Could you do it every day for a week? Anyone brave enough to join Amy and me for a month? If you’ll commit to picking up with us every day for the quarter, you are Amy's hero. And Kenzo's as well. We may have to start a club – this could become a movement. Who’s with us?!?
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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pet health care taken seriously

image with courtesy of KU
Copenhagen University recently opened a brand new academic animal hospital with a special department for pets. There was a whole lot of buzz around the opening, where Her Royal Highness Princess Marie was present at the opening ceremony. "So what?" many people might think.

The new hospital embodies the new way in which we care for our pets. And these times have now seriously come to Denmark. If you would have a pet in need of special treatment, you were on your own. The average vet is more your vaccine-spay-euthanize type of vet. It was difficult to refer to more specialized vets. Let alone find them. Treatment quickly became scattered between multiple vets and clinics, depending on their specialism. It became expensive too, very expensive.

In comes the new hospital, with everything under one roof. It gets even better, as they on average only ask half of the price of what a treatment would cost in other clinics. Making it more affordable for people to treat their pets in need of special care.

The new hospital is, by far, the most complete and well-equipped in the whole country. It has all the latest facilities for diagnosis, treatment and therapy. Think ultrasound, CT- and MRI scanners, water walkers, physiotherapy facilities, acupuncture. And the list goes on. The hospital will service people and their pets directly and also service referrals for special diagnosis and treatment. The extensive staff contains the nation's specialists in treatment of cancer, neurological, heart and skin diseases.

The hospital will be used as a place to educate a new generation of vets. New vets that have the opportunity to apply treatments like acupuncture and other integrative medicine in practice and move beyond the textbook. They will spread these new health care standards throughout the country and into the regular vet practices. Pet health care in Denmark is about to make a leap forward.
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Viva has Cushing's

Helping Viva to get better and improve health is a lot like peeling the layers of an onion. Just when we think all bases are covered and all issues addressed, we find out we are looking at yet another layer.

Warning signs

ear-nibble please?
The warning signs have been around all the time. High liver numbers returned from her very first blood-work. Not too high to worry about, treat or investigate further. But we kept on monitoring her regularly just in case. The first external signs came about one month ago. Viva was slowing down on our daily work-out. We gave her some rest, an additional acupuncture session - maybe she was in pain ? - but to no avail. She rapidly became more lethargic, and stopped playing and ear-nibbling with Kenzo, her favorite past-time!

We did a round at our vets and found out her spondylosis had not gotten worse, but her liver numbers had exploded. High liver numbers could be caused by just about anything and further testing was needed. We were in for a couple of painstaking weeks of further testing, investigating, and discussing theories. Our regular vet started suspecting Viva of having Cushing's disease after some additional testing. Although not all the signs have been adding up. She turned out to be spot on.

Cushing's disease

Cushing's is caused by a tumor in the pituitary or the adrenal gland, causing an over production of ACTH hormones which in turn triggers an overproduction of cortisol. A life threatening condition affecting inner organs like kidneys and liver. Some of the most common signs are hair-loss, a pot-belly, lethargic behavior, incontinence, and being overly interested in food and water. Apart from being lethargic, Viva had none of those signs. Yet she always had been overly interested in food and water as a former obese dog. Testing Viva for Cushing's sounded like a wild-goose chase, but I am happy to have followed our vet's gut feeling on this one.

To diagnose Cushing's we started with a urine test to measure cortisol levels. They were sky high. Next was an ACTH stimulation test, which was conclusive. Now it was final, Viva has Cushing's. The diagnosis was actually a huge relief, a month had already passed and I was so worried for Viva being in discomfort for so long and not being able to help her.

Treatment

We started treating Viva with Vetoryl (Trilostane). Already after 5 days Viva was feeling better. Kenzo got his first ear-nibble in a month, which we celebrated with the whole family that day. It was awesome to witness.

Vetoryl is a very aggressive medicine, that messes with the hormone level. Administering the correct doses is extremely important, as Viva can die when we administer either too much or too little. Viva will need Vetoryl for the rest of her life. The doses can vary over time, and Viva has to be tested quarterly to ensure the doses is correct. Those quarterly tests include an ACTH stimulation test and 3 different blood-work tests.

The onion

It was a hard month with no blogging but we are back! Just wondering how the onion is doing. We are three layers down: allergies, spondylosis and Cushing's. Maybe we are done, maybe we are not. Yet another lesson Kenzo and Viva taught me. Health is not a shopping list with items you can check off and wrap up.

A big thank you to all my anipals for all your kind words and your support on Twitter and Facebook during the last month. It meant a lot and was a huge help getting through all of this. You guys rock!
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Viva's long road to rehabilitation: the work-out

The shelter passed along to us from the former owners that Viva loved long walks. They probably meant measured in time, not in distance. Viva hardly ever stepped up in pace, let alone take a run. As we soon where to find out, every step was painful for her. Caused by spondylosis and a continuously infected paw.

She already lost a lot of muscle with this inactive lifestyle, and she was in a negative downwards spiral. After we cured the infected paw and managed the spondylosis, we guessed it would be easy to build up some muscle again. We were looking forward to getting started. We could not have been more ignorant.

The mind

What's wrong with a couch-potato?
Viva was in better health and pain free, but the mind still told her to spare her legs and back. We could notice her being more happy and playful, but the walks were like before. The first thing she had to learn was that it was alright to use her legs again.

We adjusted our walks and made sure to do a lot of uphill walking and swimming. Preferably on the beach, plowing through sand and dunes.

How to outsmart a smart dog

Building up muscle is hard work. For Viva, but even more so for us. We came home exhausted from our work-out walks - which are more like runs to us humble humans. But that is by far not good enough for a dog. Therefore we tried bicycling, but that was just to stressful for her as a fearful dog. We also tried with toys, luring her into going uphill or climbing a sand dune.

But Viva is not that easy to lure. Once up on a hill, she didn't come down anymore and enjoyed her toy by herself. Or find out a less steep slope to reach the toy. Throwing another, more valued toy, didn't help getting her down either. Walking away would get her down though. But we had to find a new hill to throw the toy. Throwing it up the same hill again, she would only look at me and think "You must be stupid ...". When I asked Kenzo's help to get the toy back he was happy to oblige. But Viva thought it was very annoying he was getting "her" toy and waited for his return downhill with an attitude. Not a good idea if we wanted to keep the peace. I had to climb up and get it myself. In the end, it was me getting the exercise instead of Viva.

The water walker

The water walker was absolutely key to make any substantial progress. Walking this underwater treadmill once or twice a week forced her to use her legs. It was also a great way to follow her progress. Not only could we increase the time for each couple of sessions, we also could get a good picture of what she could cope and put a time on it. As soon as her steps became smaller, we knew she had reached her threshold. We found the water walker to be a great and absolutely necessary addition to our daily work-out schedule.

Viva started with a five minute session. Then we slowly build this up into multiple short sessions with a break in between. Today she can do a 13 minute non-stop session without getting tired. Pretty good Viva! To compare, a healthy dog could do a 30 minute session. But I am not sure if that would be realistic for Viva because that would certainly be too stressful for her back.

Stretch those legs

Slowly, very slowly, we can see her make progress. The biggest progress we saw was when her mind made the switch that it is cool to use both of her hind legs. Her gait improved into a more dog-like style, instead of using her hind legs as bouncers. She could accelerate and stop quicker. You could see her really stretch her legs to make big steps, meaning she was using her muscles.

Diary

To keep a good track of her progress we made a simple diary with videos and pictures of Viva doing the same things on the same places. That way we could track difference better. See this video here comparing Viva walking up stairs after one month of training. The two pictures above to the left and right also shows how she is able to stretch her legs now.

Because progress is so slow on a daily basis, the diary helps us to notice improvements being able to compare over a longer time. It is a mood booster too, that keeps us going.

Finding balance

We learned the hard way that work-out is more than just working out. Viva missed one of her acupuncture treatments. It was rescheduled twice postponing it in all for 3 weeks. As she needs acupuncture for her pain management and keeping her back flexible I was such a fool to wait and not give her NSAID's instead. We kept on training, and disaster struck. When she miss-stepped it indicated something was wrong. She was rapidly going downhill once more instead of improving. We had to start all over again with step 1, convincing the mind ...

There should be absolute balance between her medical treatment AND the work-out. We learned it the hard way. We have some NSAID's around might we miss an acupuncture treatment and I will not hesitate to use it next time.

When enough is enough

Ha! you make it sound like you can keep up with me ... not!
The question I struggle with now is how far I can take this. Viva will never become as agile as she once was, and I must take care not to overdo it. I am very happy with where she is now. She can do a one hour "work-out walk" with no signs of stiffness or pain the next day and fresh for a new work-out. The way she positions her legs, turned inside to better support her body, has improved a lot but could be better. When she can position them straight it will be a great indication that her muscles are strong enough. So we continue with the work-out and the water walker. Just taking it slowly, and giving Viva a chance to show how far we can take this.

A big thank you to the awesome people of the vet clinic "KĂžbenhavns dyrehospital" and the love they have given to Viva: Lea, our water walker trainer and coach, and Charlotte, a great vet with a magic pair of hands.

***

"Viva's long road to rehabilitation" is a series of updates how Viva is doing almost one year after her adoption:

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hovawarts and health


We all worry about our dog's health. What about Hovawarts? What conditions do they fight with as a breed?
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Viva showing remarkable improvement in health

I admit. I am a very happy person. Although we knew Viva was neglected and in poor condition, it was still a shock to discover her many health issues. Now, five months after we adopted her, we can see how much she improved. It is so much more then we could have hoped for.

Viva the Hovawart

A small recap of her issues: Viva has spondylosis, a form of osteoarthritis, food- and dust mite allergies, and was overweight.

The easy part was the overweight. Viva is now on 86 lbs. Perfect for her size and body structure. She lost 14 lbs with a strict diet balancing everything from her meals as well as her treats and a daily exercise program. She must enjoy not having to drag along all those extra pounds on her already sore back.

Spondylosis

The gravest of her conditions gave us a lot of worries. Spondylosis cannot be cured. It leads to pain, stiffness, lameness, restricted mobility and muscle weakness. Possibly also incontinence and an inability to coordinate placement of the feet. Dawgblogger wrote a very informative article about the disease: The Many Faces Of Arthritis: Viva Has Spondylosis.

Viva having acupuncture
We were so fortunate to find an excellent vet that studied Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). She suggested a treatment based on acupuncture, physical therapy, and a food supplement consisting of glucosamine, organic anti-inflammatories and Omega 3/6.

The acupuncture had an immediate effect. And after a month also the physical therapy and the glucosamine supplement started to pay of. Viva is today clearly in less pain. She enjoys long walks and playtime with Kenzo. And she likes playing rough. Where at first she sometimes whined and squealed because of (the anticipation of) pain, it is now Viva that initiates playtime and wrestling is her favorite. Her back is more agile. Where it first only moved up/down when she walked, it is now noticeably also moving left/right. This means she has become able to use the spine in her back!

Our daily work out (Viva is the darker Hovawart)

See also
this video that show progress in her muscle build-up after one month of training.

We could have done better though, as Viva's muscles are not strong enough yet. A daily work out is limited in its progress. When Viva becomes tired on the walk she adjusts her level of activity, meaning progress is slow.

We did join an underwater treadmill program, but were not able to carry that through on a regular weekly basis. Viva stepped into something sharp and hurt her paw. Twice. Meaning a set back in the training program as we had to start over. But hey, it is great there is still room for improvement.

Allergies

To treat her allergies Viva is only getting low-allergy kibble and for her dust mite allergy we administer monthly shots of an allergy vaccine that is specifically developed for her. We also bath her regularly with a special dermatological shampoo.

Although progress was slow the allergies bother her a lot less. From a state of obvious discomfort, reddish skin, biting, itching and almost inflamed paws she now only has slightly reddish paws left. Biting and itching only returns incidentally and not so intense as before.

The vaccine is first fully active after nine months and we therefore still expect to make more progress. Her skin has such a beautiful pink color and the dandruff has disappeared.

The years to come

Today we visited the vet for her regular acupuncture treatment. She was very pleased to see Viva. The stiffness in her back is completely gone. Her muscles are not tensed anymore. We can stop now with the regular acupuncture appointments and just see when we would need it again might the pain return. The vet added that she was especially happy with Viva's progress, and that she has a completely different aura now. Viva is one of her patients that made the most remarkable progress.

What will happen in the years to come we don't know. But we are so hopeful for Viva's future. We cannot win the battle with her spondylosis. But we can enjoy each day we are allowed to spend with her. In good health.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Viva adopted: adressing her health issues in the first two months

The first time we noticed Viva was a half year ago. When her first family had left her in the local shelter. As a dog lover with a weak spot for Hovawarts I followed what happened with her. She got quickly adopted, but things went wrong and she returned to the shelter again after some months. That's when me and my wife decided to adopt her.

Viva in the shelter, 5½ years old
She had issues. She was overweight, flea-infested and had a poor skin condition.

We took her to the vet to look at her skin condition. The vet gave us some Hill's prescription low-allergy dog kibble as she guessed it was probably a food allergy. We also ordered blood work to investigate further for other possible allergies.

Unfortunately Viva couldn't cope the low allergy kibble and went down with some severe diarrea. We changed back to the original kibble to stop the diarrea. The vet got us some new, this time very-low-allergy, kibble. At least she could digest that but the whole thing made me uncomfortable. I don't know for sure if Viva suffers from food allergy as the other allergy test results hadn't come in yet. And not knowing what ingredients she would react upon, what would be safe for treats or snacks? The ingredients listed on the bag looked like something from which each living molecule had been removed. At the end I went along, better safe then sorry at this point in time. But I still have a bad taste in my mouth of getting pushed a Hill's sales pitch without a proper diagnosis.

When we got results back from her blood work allergy test Viva tested positive on dust mites and fungus. The good news was that this was treatable with a vaccine that had no known side-effects, so we ordered that. Now we had the whole allergy picture laid out. And although not overly excited with feeding low-allergy kibble and allergy shots, it would do the trick. We decided to go for it also because we started to notice other issues with Viva that could be a lot more severe.

Viva (left) and Kenzo (right) playing
Getting to know Viva better, other things with Viva started to worry me. She didn't seemed as mobile/agile as Kenzo. When Kenzo would land on her lower back when playing she seemed to be in pain and she stopped playing immediately. Also I guessed that the pain could be a cause for her aggressive, fear-based, behavior with some other dogs we met on our walks.

We went back to the vet to have this looked at. The vet investigated Viva's back and noted something was there that caused pain. We went outside and I showed her how Viva walked. Viva drags her feet a little when she walks (sounds like walking with slippers) and she also moves slowly as if she is tired. And when she is running, I can keep up with here. The vet discarded that to be an issue, but wanted to have a closer look at her back. Again, like with the food allergy diagnosis that didn't feel right.

We agreed to take x-rays of her lower back and got very bad news. Viva had spondylosis, a form of osteoarthritis. Three discs in her lower back were affected and were growing towards each other. This caused inflammation and pain. When left untreated, other discs would follow, resulting in a back as stiff as a board. The vet gave us a glucosamine and omega3/6 food supplement which is good for the inflammation and prevents the spondylosis from spreading. So far so good, but when she also suggested pain-killers and possibly also steroids, we thought that now it was enough. The total picture of Viva on low-allergy kibble, treated with agressive medicine and some of her signs neglected just didn't cut it. It sounded like a future of side-effects and new problems.

Inspired by my Twitter pal @dawgblogger on the possibilities of traditional Chinese medicine (TCVM), stem cell treatment, etc. we went looking for another vet. I found a vet that studied Chinese medicine in China itself, specialised in joint problems and an advocate for alternative treatment giving seminars, teached on universities, etc. She got her Ph.d. on that subject and travelled the whole country to handle the difficult cases everybody else had given up.

So we visited the new vet. Her approach was completely different. When we arrived we started with going on a walk where she observed Viva. Without me telling her she quickly noticed the same issues with Viva's walk I noticed before which our own vet had discarded earlier. After that we went inside and she did a physical examination, with a lot of feeling and rubbing Viva over her whole body. She concluded that the problem was not only the spondylosis in her lower back but also that her weak muscles were not able to support the back properly and had to be strenghtend. It was probably a result of Viva over a longer period trying to walk in a position that would give her the least pain. She was not sure that even more could be wrong, also because the right hind leg reacted differently to some reaction tests she did. But we had to move the muscle problem out of the way first to be able to see if more could be hiding.

We agreed to start a treatment with acupuncture for the pain and an exercise program to start training her muscles. Involving swimming in a pool with a treatmill and do a lot of walking up hill. Viva got her first acupuncture right away and we started the exercise program. The vet suggested to do this for a couple of weeks and then to re-assess the situation depending on the progress Viva has made. She instructed me to be on the lookout for any change in behavior that might indicate Viva was in less pain. In the mean time we can also talk allergies and nutrition again, as she suggested there are other options then low-allergy kibble. And she wanted, like me, know what ingredient triggered Viva's food allergy. But she stressed to work on her back now first, as the allergies seem to be/get under control with what we were currently doing.

I liked this. She noticed a lot more of what was wrong with Viva. Without even looking at an x-ray or other info. One thing in particular I noticed which I thought gave a lot of hope. When she was examing Viva and pressed on the top of her back, it looked stiff as like you would press on a woaden board. She repeated the examination of her back after the first acupunctur treatment, and I it was clearly noticeable that Viva's back reacted with more movement and flexibility to her touch.

And that is where we are now. Will undoubtedly be continued. For more information on treatment of joint problems, allergies, Chinese medicine, stem cell treatment and a lot more, please visit @dawgblogger's blog. On these topics it is one of the richest and most clear sources of information on the Internet.

Kenzo (left) and Viva (right)
One thing is for sure. Even Viva is struggling with her health, she still enjoys every day with her new family, Kenzo in particular. We have been on a vacation, started training in obedience and tracking on our own and have already been on lots of dog walk adventures. And she enjoys it as much as her health will allow it. Probably even more then that.

For us it is an absolute joy to see her getting better mentally. We hope her health will follow soon. And that she will have a great "second part" of her life.

She deserves it.

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