Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cloud Star "Dynamo" Dog Treats Review

Life with a crazy dog is never simple. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Jon at Cloud Star, the makers of Buddy Biscuits and purveyors of the "Wag More, Bark Less" meme. Jon was offering us the opportunity to test and review their new "Dynamo Dog Functional" line of treats.

We were familiar with Cloud Star's Buddy Biscuits and I noted in my reply to Jon that Bella may have even liked them - high praise coming from Little Miss "I Eat Slugs But Turn My Nose Up At Honest Kitchen" Finicky-Pants. I warned Jon that when it comes to Bella, there's no accounting for taste. But I was intrigued by the new offerings so agreed to do the review as long as they didn't mind if I hired out the taste test to our neighbor's dog if Bella refused to cooperate.

The new "Dynamo Dog Functional" treats are formulated to help keep our dogs looking and feeling their best. There is a Skin & Coat formula made with salmon oil and vitamin E and a Hip & Joint formula with glucosamine and chondroitin.

But it was the Tummy formula that got our attention.

What? Me, worry?
You see, recently Bella was unofficially diagnosed with Colitis. I say "unofficially" because the diagnosis is based on symptoms as opposed to doing a colonoscopy or Trypsin-Like Immunoreactivity Test. But it's apparently not an uncommon among high-anxiety dogs.

As a result, Bella is on a prescription diet but still has occasional flare-ups when things get a little too stirred up around here. We were hoping that the Tummy formula might provide just the little bit extra support during especially stressful times. And we had the opportunity to test that theory just days after we got the treats to review.

The first time we sent Bella to Boston for the steroid injection in her shoulder, she was such a good girl but boy did she (we) pay for the trauma we subjected her to the next day. Poor, poopy puppy.

Are you going to give that to me or what?
We got the treats from Cloud Star a few days before Bella was scheduled to go back to Boston for the second injection and started her on them right away. She survived the trip and we survived her constitutional outings afterwards.

Cloud Star's Tummy formula has added pumpkin, ginger and probiotics - ingredients we've used separately in the past to help ease her tummy. And while we're not about to take Bella off her prescription diet, it's nice to have a little extra digestive support in the form of simple treat to help keep her bathroom habits consistent even under duress.

And as for simple? Well, that depended on Bella. Would she actually just eat the treat or would she turn her nose up at it unless we wrapped it in Pill Pockets or hid it in her canned Tripe dinner?

"She likes it. Hey Mikey!"

That's right folks, not only did the Tummy treat work, Miss Finicky-Pants actually LIKED them!

Bella liked the treats and the Tummy version really did seem to help. They're not smelly or slimy and break easily into smaller bites. The fact they are grain-free, gluten-free and made in the U.S. are just more reasons why we're giving Cloud Star's "Dynamo Dog Functional" two paws (and one ear) up. Thanks, Cloud Star, Bella is definitely "a Dynamo Dog" now.

Disclaimer: We were given a sample of treats to try but anyone who knows me, knows my opinions are all my own.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bella's boo-boo

I've mentioned in passing over the last few months that Bella is dealing with an injury. Today, I'll fill you in on what she did, what we've done, how she did and how she's doing. Tonight, we'll start with the timeline.

Back in September when we had our first fabulous family vacation in a number of years, Bella spent much time doing zoomies on the beach. The first night we were there, we noticed she had a limp when she stood up after resting for a while.

We didn't think much of it at the time. She had injured her left shoulder when she was a little more than a year old and on occasion ever since would show just a slight limp when rising after a good night sleep. But she would shake it off after a couple of steps and never really seemed bothered by it. In cold, wet weather, maybe she would limp a couple of times in a day but it never persisted longer than that.

So when she started limping on vacation, we gave her a couple of aspirin and thought nothing more of it.

Only this time, it didn't go away in a couple of days. And after a few days, it didn't ease up after a couple of steps. She started limping more consistently. Sometimes slight, sometimes considerably more pronounced.

So we called our vet. (October 15, 2012)

Here's something we learned about Bella through this: she's a pretty damn good little actress. And capable of being much more stoic than I'd ever imagined. Our little, limpy girl at home didn't even flinch at the vet's office. She didn't limp, she didn't grimace at the pulls and tugs. Of course, she's afraid of people so basically, she shuts down when the vet handles her. But in this case, it made it much more difficult to identify and treat the issue.

Anyway, the vet found nothing wrong and told us to rest her for awhile - no running, no jumping, definitely no zoomies. So we cancelled Agility class for a couple of weeks and waited.

And called the vet - again. (November 1, 2012)

At home she was still limping even after no exercise for a couple of weeks. The vet ordered x-rays. Her blood work was checked. Thankfully nothing notable there. No indications of Lyme, cancer or arthritis.

We scheduled an exam with a visiting orthopedic specialist (November 16, 2012).

Luckily, by this time we had wised up to her "Nothing to see here" routine and sent a video of her at home in to our vet before the appointment with the specialist.

They couldn't believe their eyes. The specialist actually said, "It's a good thing you sent the video. She looks like a completely different dog."

Next up, an ultrasound. (December 12, 2012)

The specialist said at the time of his examination, he thought Bella had the equivalent of a human's torn rotator cuff and he wanted to do an ultrasound because she didn't react to the examination. That didn't show anything either. Apparently, there are some muscles/tendons/ligaments that they can't really get a good view of even when they have a dog under sedation.

We were sent home with a two-week dose of carprofen (Rimadyl) and instructions for "strict exercise restriction". I will have much to say about Rimadyl in another post, however, the bright side is, she did show improvement while she was on the drug. But the very day she came off it, she was limping again.

As for the exercise restriction, if you're keeping track, Bella hadn't been allowed to exercise at this point since September and we were working our way into January. With any other dog, this might be an inconvenience, a cause of mischief. In Bella's case, it can lead to bad behavior much more severe.

And it didn't help anyway.

January 2013 had us investigating rehab as an option and I've got some amazing video of Bella in the underwater treadmill tank to share coming soon. But, while that was providing a semi-controlled environment to get her the exercise she needed to not flip out on us, it didn't seem to be fixing anything either.

Finally, in March, we set up an appointment with a renowned neurologist in Boston to see if he could tell us what was wrong and what to do. He was a bit confused because to him, the injury was obvious: Left should biceps tendon tenosynovitis. (As noted earlier: the equivalent of a human's torn rotator cuff.) And he didn't know why we had been made to wait so long to do something about it.

He gave us a couple of options - steroid injections or ultrasonic shock wave therapy. Since he wanted to aspirate the shoulder joint anyway to confirm the diagnosis and degree of injury, he recommended we start with the steroid injection and he would draw the fluid at the same time.

Confirmation came on March 27, 2013.

We went with Dr. Sisson's recommendation of having the steroid injection and aspirating the joint at the same time and his diagnosis was confirmed: Bella had "moderate, chronic inflammation in her left shoulder joint". The effects of the steroid treatment were real but not long-lasting (as had been explained to us as a possibility) and a second treatment was performed on 4/16/2013.

We are now a full two weeks out from that second treatment and Bella seems to have gained considerable relief from it. She even had a moment yesterday when both Jan and I cringed as she ran around the backyard. Much to our relief, she has not come up lame again yet as a result of her escapades. (Do not underestimate how difficult it can be to keep a crazy dog from doing unexpected zoomies.)

We start back in agility class on Wednesday and yesterday I started jogging with Bella on the path around the yard. (About 1/8 mile, maybe?) We did two nice, slow, deliberate and controlled laps to start working her muscles again and begin to get her toned. Good exercise for her, good exercise for me.

Cross your fingers and toes, paws and claws that Bella continues to show steady improvement as we gradually work her body back in shape. I do have some fun stories to share about our experiences during this whole ordeal and will later weigh in with my opinion on various canine health care issues ranging from pet insurance (positive) to the use of Rimadyl as the pain management drug of choice of many veterinarians (not positive).

I am proud to say Bella has been a real trooper through this entire ordeal taking vet visits, surgical procedures and even home improvement renovations right in stride. Even without exercise, her stress levels have remained controllable (although we're having some issues with her sleeping habits at the moment). She's been a champ through this whole thing and has barely raised her voice to Jan even when he has had some less-than-spectacularly-thoughtful moments like trying to offer her a massage while she's nomming on a bully bone. (Really, Jan? Doh!)

Mysterious illnesses and injuries. We've had more than a few here in Blogville. Have you suffered at the hands of not knowing what the heck was wrong with your dog? How'd you manage to keep your spirits up and keep pursuing answers? Did you ever feel like you were the only one who cared? Or have you worked with extraordinary vets who go the extra mile because they're driven to help? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 87 - Bella misses her handsome hound...

Here's hoping she can get together with her beautiful beau, Gus, again very soon... Isn't he lovely?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Follow up.... Monday?

Geez, I suck at this follow up stuff.

Actually, since I was watching the manhunt that shut down all of Boston and most of its immediate suburbs on Friday, a follow up never entered my mind. However, I do have a bunch of house-keeping items to address and thought tonight would be a good time to get that in.

First up on the agenda, have you heard about the Pet Blogger Mall yet? A few very industrious bloggers have set themselves to work creating a great space for the creative types among us bloggers to hawk their wares. (They're making a website that will feature pet bloggers who sell stuff.)

The target date for the Mall opening is July 2013, but a blog is up and you can subscribe via email to make sure you don't miss out on any important updates.

Next, I wanted to give everyone a brief update about Bella's health. For those just joining us, Bella re-awakened an old injury last September and we've been battling it ever since. Essentially she has the equivalent of a human's torn rotator cuff that we were hopeful would ease up with restricted activity and rehab.

It didn't so we have tried a number of things to make her feel better and able to run and jump again but it has been disappointing and frustrating. We have most recently taken her to one of the best neurologists in Boston to make sure we weren't missing anything, verify the diagnosis was correct and come up with a treatment plan. Last Tuesday, we took Bella back into Boston for a second procedure to try and heal her up. So far, so good. But we're still in the wait and see stage. We have been weighing our options on what to do next if this doesn't work.

Finally, I'm hoping to get my act together and start posting more than just pictures in the next few weeks. I've got some reviews coming up, some causes I want to talk about and most of all, lots of Bella updates waiting to get out of my head and onto paper er, empty white space... I'm going to get out and about to visit you all to check in on your pups and other critters and I'm also making plans for BlogPaws! (I just have to finish this unreasonably scoped project for work first... Eek.)

So, that's all the news that fit to print today. Thanks for bearing with me last week. And be sure to hop on over to the Pet Blogger Mall and sign up to keep posted on all the goings on and we'll see you back here soon.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stunned and saddened but not wordless this Wednesday

I have had a love affair with Boston since I was 14 years old and attended my first Pops concert at the Hatch Shell on Fourth of July. I don't live in Boston and I didn't grow up there. But I have worked and played and loved and learned in the city for most of my life.

I danced with my highschool friends in Boston's fountains on late summer nights.

I trolled the nightclubs and concert venues all through college and beyond. I saw The Police at The Rat and U2 at Tremont Temple before they became the world-class acts they promised to be.

And I walked hand-in-hand with Jan through the Public Garden under the falling snow on our first official date.

The day I started my first job in the city, I had the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore show running through my head as I rode in on the Commuter Rail. I was so excited.

I was working in Boston when the Patriots won the Super Bowl in both 2004 and 2005. I was there when the Red Sox finally won the World Series. I was there when gay marriage was legalized and I was among those handing out flowers to the happy couples coming out of Boston City Hall.

Jan and I drove Bella into the city again on Tuesday less than a mile from where the explosions happened. The city was quiet.

But driving by Jamaica Pond, at just 6 o'clock in the morning, we saw first hand the indomitable spirit of Boston as lone runners made their way along the footpath that circles the water.

I had friends and colleagues in the race and among the spectators Monday. They are, thankfully, all safe. Not everyone was so lucky.

That is about as far as words can take me for now: They are safe.

But I want to try and say one last thing. I hope I can say it right.

I don't remember where I was working at the time but for a few years, I drove through the town of Concord, a Boston suburb. ("The" Concord of Revolutionary War fame.)

And I noticed that every Friday, rain or shine, there were people walking around Monument Square in the town center. Just walking. Silently.

I used to make a point to honk or wave. In time, I learned to give the proper acknowledgement - the two-fingered "Peace" salute.

You see, every Friday since the beginning of the first Gulf War, people have gathered there in peaceful protest. Every Friday, for more than 20 years, the people who walk and the people who pass by them take a moment to remember those who suffer the horrors of violence and war - wherever it happens.

3 people died in Boston Monday. 37 people died in Baghdad. To everyone who died yesterday and all who will die tomorrow in senseless acts of violence and hate, you will be remembered.

May we all, one day, know peace.

Music, as it always does, has played a large part in my emotionally traversing the last few days. Here's a link to some of Boston's finest - some 'wicked awesome' Boston tunes.

We will return to our regularly scheduled programming next week. Bella is home from her second round of injections and she is fine. We are going to spend the next few days holding our family close. Peace.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

What a difference a drug makes... Pt. 3

When we first met with Dr. Dodman to address Bella's aggression towards Jan, we were most concerned, rather obviously I suppose, with the aggression aspect. But in our dissection and discussions, our researching and reading, our observing and opining and (Oh I'm sorry, are you still reading this? Bella tells me she's gone out for coffee and returned by now.... Moving on...)

My point was, as we started thinking things through, we were able to come up with patterns and identifiers as to when Bella was going to short-ciruit on us. And it was all, drum roll please: fear/anxiety-based.

This isn't a huge revelation, to us or the veterinary/behavioral profession. Most aggression in dogs is fear-based. But while we were focusing on her aggression, we weren't paying attention to the effects fear and anxiety were having on her temperament. The "Fly Incident" made us all re-focus on what was sending Bella over the cliff rather than just focusing on the cliff itself.

And thankfully Dr. Dodman had one more tool in his pharmaceutical toolbox for us: Clonidine.


We had been giving Bella Clonidine on an 'as needed' basis for thunderstorms since we first started seeing Dr. D. He now recommended we try giving it to her every day to see if it helped with her anxiety. We had a .2 mg Rx for Bella to handle thunderstorms already with the instruction to give 2 - 4 tables up to twice a day. HA! HAHA!

We made the mistake of giving Bella 2 tablets twice in a day during the "Snowtober" storm of 2011 shortly after first getting the prescription from Dr. Dodman. It worked but the second dose worked so well, Bella actually wet the bed while she was sleeping she was so sedated by it. NOT what we were looking for. Poor drugged baby dog.

So this time, after a bit of discussion with Dr. D, we started by giving Bella 1 tablet in the morning and 1 tablet just before going to bed.

Unfortunately, Clonidine only works for about 4 - 6 hours and we found we had a considerable gap in the late afternoon/evening time-frame. We also noticed that giving Bella a whole Clonidine in the morning just left her sleepy (a positive for its continued use in the evenings however).

We needed to balance out the fact that she was sleepy in the morning but still anxious by the evening. We found giving her 1/2 a table with her breakfast, 1/2 a tablet with her dinner and then a whole tablet just before bed seemed to offer us the greatest benefit.

It took a few weeks for her to adjust to it but every week as we took her to agility class, our trainer Carolyn could see more and more improvement. Seeming a little sluggish in the first few weeks Bella was gradually getting back to her spunky self just without all the anxiety attached.

It has turned out to be our miracle drug.

For the first time in her entire life with us, Bella wasn't running from the room at the drop of a pine cone. She wasn't trembling at the sight of trees blowing in the wind. And, finally, it seemed, Bella was going to earn her "Sato ears".

Who are you calling Dumbo?
Satos in general have ridiculously big ears and they tend to either stick out to the side of their heads or straight up. Honestly, I can often identify a Sato from a block away just for their adorable, crazy ears but Bella never had them. Her ears were so often pinned back to her head due to stress and anxiety, I didn't even realize she should have them. I just assumed her ears were supposed to be that way.

Until she started on the Clonidine and her Sato ears began making appearances.

Just occasionally at first but more and more over time. Bella's ears don't always stick straight up, they are floppier like a Labs ears but more and more often I have found them sticking out to the side or popping up in the air. They are so freaking cute.

But what really has me over the moon is that it is not just something we think we're seeing in her behavior that proves she's feeling better. We can actually see in her physical appearance that Bella has moments in life now where she's not scared. That may sound extreme to someone who hasn't lived with a fearful dog and it probably makes us sound oblivious and stupid to not have realized earlier just how much distress she was in. But if all you've ever seen are flat-back ears, how do you even know there's anything different to work towards?

Bella's progress since adding the Clonidine has been extraordinary. She still has some cranky moments but a few weeks ago Jan did something she didn't like (he might have stepped on her foot, I think) and she barked at him. That may seem inappropriate to anyone with a 'normal' dog but it was an enormous step forward for us. I believe dogs have a right to tell us when we're doing something they don't like. And that's exactly what Bella did.

She didn't overreact from living in constant distress with a hair-trigger temper. She barked. I'd have been happy with a growl. She didn't lunge. She didn't bite. She barked. She's learning that she has a voice and it will be respected and listened to. She's beginning to understand she doesn't have to fend for herself and treat every transgression as a life-threatening attack.

She's beginning to trust.

Without medications, I don't think we would have ever been able to bring Bella to this point. We would never have gotten her "below threshold" so we could teach her more appropriate ways to react, improve her confidence and see those Sato ears. We are still figuring so much out about her and she is still growing by leaps and bounds to our utter amazement. I will never trust her to be alone with a child, that's a given, but I am so proud of how far she has come.

I'm sure there are people who think medicating dogs for fear and anxiety is a cop-out, a quick-fix in a world that seems too dependent on instant gratification and simple solutions. I believe I waited too long to help Bella because I was worried about exactly that: worried I was seeking easy answers to complex problems. I can tell you this, none of this has been simple. And after a year and half of working with behaviorists, trainers and vets, it has certainly not been a quick fix. But it has been a life-saver.

Bella will never be a social, out-going dog. But last week we took her to a major city animal hospital and she survived both the waiting room and being handled by any number of staff with, if not aplomb, at least a modicum of dignity. She is a smart, sweet dog who just needed a little patience and understanding to bring out the best in her and we are thrilled at her progress.

We have experienced any number of milestones in the last year with her that I hope to relay in future posts. Bella's story is a long way from over but I hope you've enjoyed reading about her journey thus far. I know I'm looking forward to seeing what she's going to do next.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 85 - Something a little different

Here's a few more pictures my dad took. I posted one of these to my Facebook page and the thread lit up so I thought maybe folks here would like to see them, too. These pictures are quite old.

Happy Wednesday! Have fun checking out the rest of the blogs in the hop.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What a difference a drug makes... Pt. 2

Hi all, sorry about last week's cliff hanger. I hadn't meant to do that but our crazy dog has come such a long way since I started telling you her story that I didn't want to short-change the best part. Hence, this 3-parter.

But enough of that, let's get right to part 2, or what I like to call "The Curious Incident of the Fly in the Night-time" (With all due respect and admiration to Mark Haddon).

Folks who follow us on Facebook may remember last April we began having trouble with these horrible, ugly flies that sometimes appear out of nowhere. They are officially called "Cluster Flies" and I now know more about these horrid little beasts than I ever cared to. They are harmless, if gross and disgusting, but they buzz. Loudly. And a lot.

Back during our very first visit with Dr. Dodman in the Fall of 2011, he had recognized, and diagnosed, Bella with "insect phobia". I didn't even know that was a thing. Apparently it is and Bella has it.

So we knew this but hadn't thought much of it for a while since here in New England there's generally a distinct dearth of insect activity during the winter months.

But when we brought Bella back to see Dr. D after Bella bit Jan again in February 2012, we were talking about her increased anxiety and the subject of insects came up again. In fact, while we were discussing Bella's fear of all things buzz-worthy, Dr. Dodman made a 'Bzzzt' noise in his office and Bella almost lost it.

Seriously, you could see her immediately react to the noise: running to us, cowering and shaking and trying to escape. It took several minutes for her to get over a sound that lasted less than a second. We talked about drugs that would specifically address noise phobias but had decided, since we were already looking to increase the dose of Prosac she was receiving, we'd start with that and see what happened.

And so, as I left you last week, we were able to get Bella to the higher dose of Prosac easily enough, she showed no negative side effects. But it was slowly becoming clear to us that, while the Prosac was helping with her aggression towards Jan, it wasn't relieving Bella of the constant stress and anxiety she suffered from noise phobias and insects.

This became strikingly obvious to us, not to mention our Facebook followers, last April when Bella started having trouble sleeping thanks to those horrid little aforementioned flies.
April 16, 2012

"Oh yay, it's time for another exciting episode of 'Let's figure out what scared the dog out of the bedroom so we can get her back in here and go to sleep.' Maybe we can just bribe her with some chicken......?

Oh darn, it's a fly. It's going to be a long night." Bringing up Bella on Facebook, 4/16/2012
We figured it out and Jan and I chased, swatted and vacuumed flies out of the bedroom for a few weeks in April.

But it became a nightly occurrence and finally, I couldn't stand seeing Bella so distressed all the time and on May 5th, I sent Dr. Dodman a link to a video of Bella completely melting down over 'something' in our bedroom. That something turned out to be a fly but it took us two days to find it because it was hidden in a closet 30 feet away. In the meantime, that left me and Bella sleeping in the basement because she simply would not come in the bedroom at night.

Our poor pumpkin.

Our poor me.

For the purposes of discussion of 'phobias', I want to share an event that occurred around the same time during which Bella behaved decidedly different.

Last May, we were wakened in the middle of the night to the sound of Bella barking ferociously at the door of our bedroom that leads out to our backyard. Most of you probably don't know that, while we live in fairly well-populated town, our house is surrounded by woods and we get more than a few wild visitors traipsing through the yard on a regular basis.

Last year, however, something happened in my neighborhood that never has never happened before: we were visited by a Mamma Black bear and her fairly well-grown cub.

We didn't know that the night Bella went all Cujo on us barking and lunging at the door. We found out about it the next night when my neighbor called us at midnight to warn us not to let Bella out as there were two bears sitting in their backyard munching away at their bird feeders. Oh. Well, that explains why Bella had jumped off the bed just prior to the call and threw herself at the door growling and snarling again. Nice to know. Thanks.

This never happens to us, honestly. By wildlife in the backyard, I'm usually talking about deer and raccoon.

But it really struck me as such a different reaction to Bella's response to the flies that I thought it bore mentioning.

What makes a dog willing to take on a bear but cower in fear at the sound of a fly?

Granted, Bella had a pretty bad experience with bees when we first brought her home to live with us but I think it is far more likely that her fear of the buzzing sounds is instinct. All indications point to Bella being born of a stray of a stray of a stray in Puerto Rico, a tropical island paradise (for people). It would have been in her best interest to learn to avoid things that buzz. Flies, bees and other insects can wreak as much harm on a small puppy as just about any other predator Bella would have learned to be wary of.

So I'm not sure: is this a phobia, "an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something"? Or is Bella just really smart? Smart enough to keep herself alive when all she had to depend on were her instincts? Are her genes responsible for what she has come to believe of the world? And do they really still play such a big part in her life that the 5 years she has spent protected in our home matter little in her mind?

You're talking about me again, aren't you?
Regardless of the answer to the nature vs. nurture debate, and personally I believe it's both, we needed to find a way to help Bella survive comfortably in our home. And next week we will do just that covering Dr. Dodman's recommendation of adding Clonidine to our pup's chemical cocktail and the effects it has had on the little wunder-dog's life. Stick with us.

As always, thanks for following the story of the crazy dog.