Categories: Dogblogging

When our vet was looking Ollie over and taking blood samples to try and find out what his mystery malaise was all about, she suggested we test him to see how his eyesight was going. Her preferred method was to place various obstacles between him and his food bowl at feeding time.

He passed this test without tripping over anything but I noticed he was slowing down and sussing out the shoes, boxes and what have you with his nose.

I put his leash on and took him out into the park. Since his odd behaviour started, I noticed he still walked really well on the leash. Extra well. No pulling or zigging or zagging. Staying close to the person walking him.

I took off across the lawn and steered him towards a small branch lying on the grass.

He tripped right over it.


He can’t see.

His eyes are as brown and clear as ever, but something must have gone wrong with the retina. According to Dr Google, he could have an adrenal or hormonal condition or… something. There will be more trips to the vet to make sure he doesn’t have something systemically wrong like that.

It becomes clear now: the slow walking, the caution, pausing for minutes before he jumps off anything, standing as if staring into space. And much happier on the leash, of course.

He’s pretty good on his own turf – he can still clear the couch in two bounds and bustle out and down the deck steps to give some strange dog what for for daring to walk too close to his fence. But when he’s outside, if we’re not careful, he does walk straight into things – Doink.

Ironically, a charity collector for seeing eye puppy trainers rang me the other day. We’ll be Ollie’s seeing eye humans.

This isn’t false advertising. I scheduled it for Friday, honest. I don’t know what happened.

Maggie was responding really well to her treatment. Supervet has been really pleased with her. Therefore, we were ripe for Murphy’s Law to take effect. Something else had to go wrong.

Maggie and Ollie on the back deck. Maggie is a black Kelpie cross and Ollie is a brown pugalier

Just after Christmas I noticed a change in Ollie. That dog loved to run… and run and run. And he was fast. His favourite thing was to play chasing games with bigger, athletic dogs like weimaraners or boxers. It was lovely to watch him run and it totally cracked up the bigger dogs’ owners to see this little dog chase theirs all over the landscape.

He didn’t run any more. He lost interest completely in playing games with the other dogs and he was having trouble even keeping up on our walks. I’d look back and see him on the path a long way behind, toddling sedately like an elderly gentleman taking his daily constitutional.

Had he just suddenly clicked into middle-aged mode? He’s eight. It suddenly occurred to me the change in behaviour could be a sign of heart failure. We were still in the limbo period between Christmas and new year, so I took him to the Lort Smith, our year-round emergency animal hospital. His coat was as bright and soft as usual, his tongue was pink and healthy, his eyes were bright and clear, and hanging out on a leash in the Lort Smith clinic there was nothing visible to justify his presence there at all. With other dogs coming in with hernias like basketballs and bites and poisoning, he never made it through triage, and after a few hours I had to take him away. But there was a triage nurse who listened to his heart and took his temperature. Ollie had no heart murmur and no temperature. I wished he had shown a temperature so I could know that this thing, whatever it was, had a beginning and an end. I was casting around for explanations. Had he eaten some chocolate santas on Christmas day? Why was he so flat?

Off to the regular vet in the new year: Ollie had a comprehensive blood test which showed that all his organs were in superb working order. But this wasn’t the Ollie we used to know.

After a few more weeks and close observation, we know what’s wrong with Ollie now. Have you guessed it already?

Ollie sleeping on the couch

(Cuteness factor still off the charts)

It’s been a long time since my last update, when Maggie was diagnosed with failing back legs and taken to the Monash Vet clinic to participate in an experimental new stem cell procedure for arthritis and other joint problems.

Maggie was knocked out for extensive X rays which revealed her arthritic spine to be in a pretty horrible state. One or two of her vertebrae were pretty much collapsed, as I understand it. To do this, they had to shave her tummy. Fortunately that was back in January and it all grew back very quickly (Plus, if you’re going to have an exposed tummy, January is the time to do it.)

In March she went in again to have the stem cell treatment in both hips, spine and her front elbow (a different, old injury) again under a general anaesthetic. To accomodate the needles delivering the stem cells, they shaved two circles on the hips and a smaller area on the elbow. At this point when she came to she must have decided she’d been abducted by aliens and subjected to inexplicable experiments. “Every time I come to this place I get knocked out and another bit of me gets shaved!!”

Shows bare patch on Maggie's hip

For some reason, while the fur on her elbow grew back right away, the circles on her hips are still growing. So in winter, I bought her a spiffing blue coat to wear in the park. She’d never needed such a thing before, as a double coated dog living in Yarraville, but she thought it was pretty good.

Maggie wearing her new blue coat

Then we waited. And she’s seen every six weeks or so. The vet checks her over and updates her progress for the stem cell study.

Most dogs on the program so far have experience some kind of surge of wellbeing soon after the treatment. That didn’t happen with Maggie. I kept on with the other stuff we were doing, which I’ll list for you dog people, because it’s a great routine for an old dog:
Glucosamine/chondroitin and fish oil, both 1000mg daily
Hot packs for five minutes twice daily on the spine (or a massage if it’s heatwave conditions)

Treating dog's back with a hot pack

As well as this, and this is on vet advice only:

Gentle back leg stretches (best to get your vet to show you how this is done.)
Steroid tablets
Six weekly vet checks with a Cartrophen injection.

But she held her own, and was happy. Then, sometime in December, something happened. She started to run a little. Just here and there. Her body language has changed – there’s a swagger in her step.

The vet says it’s because we’ve got that back more comfortable.

She’s still in two minds about that vet. No more alien abductions and shaved bits, but she gets a needle every time. Not her favourite thing, those vet visits. I like them though, because he’s always pleased with her, so far.

Maggie was given maybe a 6 month prognosis last January if nothing was done. A year on, and she’s enjoying life to the full. She still walks a little bit skewwhiff, but she’s happy, healthy and having fun. Now let’s see how long we can keep that going.

I took Maggie for a checkup a few weeks ago because I was worried about the way she was losing oomph in her back legs. I twittered my distress and a blogfriend sent me a link about a vet in Oakleigh who is reported to be doing great things with a new stem cell technique. So I took her there, too.

One of her front legs has been stuffed for a while. She does a cheerful swagger and shuffle round the park, but she doesn’t keep ahead of me the way she used to. Instead, I need to stop and wait for her.

Maggie has arthritis and calcification in her spine and in her hips and in the dodgy front elbow. She’s had extensive X-rays under a general anaesthetic with Cartrophen and cortisone administered by needle while she was under. I’ve been given instructions for her new regimen: More Cartrophen – yes, I know about the sharks, but it’s the dog I know and love versus the shark I’ve never met. Heat packs twice daily on the spine. Fish oil capsules and Glucosamine/Chondroitin capsules (“Give her one of those fish oil capsules,” said the droll, shaggy-grey-haired vet from Central Casting, “take one yourself and give one to the husband.”) Gentle hip stretches, which she submits to with more grace than you’d think. Excercise twice daily, which she gets anyway, and more – “keep her moving,” said the vet.

She goes back on Monday for a followup examination and the vet will decide whether or not to offer a new stem cell treatment which has supposedly worked quite well for the few dogs on which it’s been tried.

It’s all a lot to get our heads around. How much more time she has left is up for grabs. We have to make sure that that time is happy and pain free and as active as her spine and joints allow.

For now, she is pottering and sniffing the exciting smells in her favourite haunts…

Maggie pottering along the edge of the Stony Creek