Monday, November 11, 2013

Honey, I broke the dog

Here's a strange little story for your consideration:

A few weeks ago, I came home from work on a Friday night. There was nothing extraordinary about this Friday night. I wasn't especially late nor unexpectedly early. I came in the door to my regular welcome home: Jan, in his upstairs office called down "Hello" and Bella, from her perch in the kitchen came bounding into the bedroom to greet me.

Bella and I did our routine little 'snuggle snuggle kiss kiss' and all seemed well. Although in retrospect, Bella did seem just a tad more excited to see me than usual.

I'm not 100% sure of exactly what happened next but I ended up with my hand petting her neck and she screamed in pain. And then she lunged at me.

Oddly, Bella often seems to 'know' it's me even when she flips out and the very second her mouth connected with my hand, she stopped herself. By this time I was standing (I am not as dumb as I look after all) but I did not raise my voice or my hand. She was obviously hurt or scared and reacting to protect herself. She immediately went into a very submissive posture and was trying to cuddle as she cowered next to me.

Posing with her "Peace and Paws Rescue" calendar.
Safety first

I wanted to check her out to see what the heck I had done to hurt her so I quickly grabbed her muzzle and put it on while yelling up to Jan to stay upstairs.

Bella has been trained to accept a muzzle for safety purposes but she's not crazy about it. Still, if there was any possibility my checking her out would lead to her mouth on my skin, she was going to get checked out wearing her muzzle.

And indeed, when I gently ran my hand over her neck, she screamed in pain again and had another little flip out, although not one involving teeth. And again, immediately she was back near me, submissively cowering at my feet.

As an aside, there are no words I could ever find to describe how unspeakably heart-breaking and devastating it is to see her in these moments. There just aren't.

I have never, ever in our history hit Bella. And yet, I have hurt her on two other occasions in the past. Under these exact same circumstances: coming home from work, a happy, excited, little greeting turns into Bella howling in pain at the most inoffensive touch. The really strange thing is it has been while I was touching different parts of her body each time - once on her "croup" (the top of her butt area near the tail) and the other time on her hind right thigh/flank.

They all think I'm nuts

I have tried to recount these situations to vets we have seen in the past about various ailments but they have looked at me like I was losing my mind. I don't know what it is and I don't know what to do about it. I can say that I'm glad, at this time, it has only happened to me and that Bella recognizes me enough to restrain her bite. I do not want to think of what would happen were someone else other than me to trigger her trouble spot.

In fact, I don't even know if it's even possible for someone else to trigger it. This has only happened when she's been interacting with me and all 3 times after I've come home from work. Is there something in her anatomy that gets "tweaked" when she gets so excited? Is she pulling a muscle or pinching a nerve? Is a vertebra slipping out of place? I don't even know what the possibilities could be.

Then again, is this part of what has been happening between her and Jan? While I don't believe there has been any of the "screaming in agony" as part of their altercations, could it be something we have missed?

I do believe there is a component to Bella's issues with Jan that stems from her fear of being hurt rather than any actually pain endured. And yet, in the situation that has happened with me it feels clear that I did in fact hurt her even though I have no idea how or why. And even though I may have actually hurt her, still she moderates her reaction.

Oh Bella, it's a good thing you're cute. 

Bella is a complicated girl and I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure her out. But at this point, the vets don't seem to have any answers and I don't honestly know what to do about an issue that has manifest itself only 3 times in the last 5+ years. If anyone has ever experienced a similar situation or has any insight at all into what is going on here, I welcome all counsel.


  1. No strong insights to offer, but I can't imagine how traumatic that situation is for the both of you. It does seem like *something* must be physically wrong with her for these freak outs to happen, but it's obviously not always a problem. In a human, I would suggest a pinched nerve, but I'm not sure how that works in dogs. Can they get something like fibromyalgia?

    I'm sure you and Jan will keep working to determine the exact cause, but my heart goes out to you in the meantime.

  2. I wonder if, in Bella's excitement to see you, she gets hypersensitivity of certain nerves. I know that this type of "hypersensitivity" can happen. It's essentially the body's way of lowering the threshold of a nerve so it fires more easily. Maybe when she's so excited to see you after you've been away for a long time, this threshold change happens and so she gets "hurt" simply by being touched (because her nerves are hypersensitive).

    If I were in your shoes, I think I'd tone my greeting way down and not really pet Bella until you've been at home for a little bit and Bella is calm. Maybe that will prevent this scenario from being replayed.

    I'm no expert (except about the physiology of nerves) but I hope there's a grain of something here that might help.

  3. Wow Leslie. That is truly puzzling. I would ask if it were possible that one incident taught her she got extra attention and she is just using it to get ore attention, but the mouth on hand thing has me believing that it is real and she is feeling pain. Bizarre and sad.

  4. I agree with KB, my dog Brut is hypersensitive when he gets really anxious and will seem to be in extreme pain. He will give me a warning when I get too close or touch him. It is almost like he's wired with electricity he can be so tightly wound. And I only understand this because I am much the same way. All my sensory organs feel like they are supercharged and I can't handle light, touch, or sound.

    Brut was abused as a puppy when we first got him, I had an abusive childhood. Is there anyway that Bella was abused before you got her? NOT including your reaction to her. Just curious.

  5. Such a pain reaction must be coming from somewhere. My suggestion would be a consultation with an animal chiropractic or physical therapist.

  6. I have to say, that is odd. No idea what could be causing that unless she has a pinched nerve somewhere that is irritated when she gets overly excited. Have you ever tried a dog chiropractor? Maybe she needs an adjustment?

  7. Maybe there's something in the MA air (snow)? Molly's a bit under the weather / cranky and tried very hard to nip me when I pressed on her gums yesterday to test for refill. And, one of the worst things to do is to go right back to the spot to check on the problem (which I did of course!). Got nip attempt #2. It was clearly discomfort plus fear. Later, I checked her gums and she was fine with it…….Both she and Gus will try to nip when they're over the tipping point with our hovering, grooming, tick removal from face, so on.

    Is Bella's neck warm where you touched it? It's a sign of inflammation. I might suggest a spine specialist -- acupressure / acupuncture or chiro. Maybe in her jumping up she tweaked something that you hit when you petted her.

    Much, much of Molly's problems in this area are fear of pain, not just pain. Wish I knew how to tell her that I don't plan to hurt her.

  8. I can't even imagine how heartbreaking that is. I don't know if this is quite the same, but this made me think of something we're working on: When Cooper gets overstimulated he yelps and screams like he's being beaten. This happens primarily when we're out for a walk and something unexpected happens... last week, a stray cat darted out from the bush he was sniffing, and he went bonkers. People actually came out of their house to see what had happened. We're working on a mix of impulse control and calm reactions when we're out on leash, but perhaps Bella's issue is over-stimulation? She's SO excited and SO happy that her senses are heightened, so something small triggers the reaction? I'm so sorry you're facing this.

  9. Wow. To see her in that state (in pain and so upset), it must be so hard to maintain composure. I just love that you go right into mom mode and that you have a plan for Jan and the muzzle. You are an awesome dog mom!!!! I hope you figure out some of the mysteries, but i applaud you for loving her unconditionally.

  10. That's a good point, Donna. I absolutely had to videotape her limp last year because Bella would not present symptoms in the vet's office. Of course, this is so intermittent, even if she would present, it might not happen. I will think about it next time but you're right, I have been going straight in to care mode when it happens. Might be a good idea to stop and think first.

  11. Thanks for weighing in, KB. I didn't know if any of the things I was thinking were even possible. At least now I know there are things to look into further.

    I can try to tone down my greeting but that may come to no greeting at all since I'm not the one with the exciting greeting - she does that on her own. (Of course, I feed her when I come home so that is probably more what she's excited about it than just seeing me. ;) I will definitely try that tonight. It's strange though that it has only happened 3x in 5 years. :/

  12. Hi Jana, You know, Bella was actually seeing a physical therapist last year when this happened for the second time. I explained what happened to the PT and she did a thorough physical exam but couldn't instigate the behavior again. Of course, Bella shuts down around, well, pretty much everybody, so the vets never see what I see. Maybe a chiropractor is worth consulting though... Thanks for the tip.

  13. Hi - thanks for sharing your story. I was starting to agree with the vets that I was kind of losing my mind about this. I can't imagine what it would feel like to live with this condition all the time. :(

    But I would say there's a very good chance that something happened to Bella when she was very young since she was a puppy on the streets of Puerto Rico. Best possible case, she was yelled at and shooed away. I don't even want to think of worst case. She does have a 'divot' of sorts on her back where her hair has never fully grown in. She doesn't like me touching it so I've never been able to look for a scar but I've often thought it possible.

  14. Jan K, Wag N Woof PetsNovember 12, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    We have had a similar thing happen with our beagle. With her it's always been in the "croup" area, mostly when my hubby is playing with her, but once when I was just wiping her down with a towel. She doesn't get aggressive but she does yelp quite loudly so we know we've hurt her, but just not why. She jumps a lot playing ball, etc., and we've often thought her back might be a bit sore or something. It only happens occasionally. We've often thought she's very sensitive, and maybe a bit melodramatic about some things, if you know what I mean? I wish I had some insight, and I hope you figure things out with Bella.

  15. Aw, poor Bella... and poor you! :( It definitely sounds like something is bothering her - I wish I had some insight to offer. Sending a hug though.

  16. English Rider myeffingponyNovember 13, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    My first thought was static electricity. When the air is dry and, depending on clothing, walking on carpet, etc that can discharge when you touch Bella. It sounds more severe than that.

    Secondly, I remember our family dog occasionally screaming suddenly in awful distress and being undiagnosed until the veterinary college discovered a slipped disk, that was causing her pain if she moved in a certain way. I was a kid, but I know my parents persisted with many vet visits and examinations before they found out what was wrong.

  17. We will definitely keep searching. I can't believe how many good suggestions were made here in the comments - what an amazingly smart bunch of readers I have.

    It really is so sad to see. I'm glad it is so infrequent.

  18. You know, Jan recently started seeing an acupuncturist for pain management and has been seeing such good results that we're looking into that for Bella but I chiropractor is another good idea. Thanks for the suggestion, we'll look into it.

  19. Hi Cindy. I don't recall feeling any heat but I have to admit, I wasn't looking for it. We're definitely leaning towards the chiro/accupuncture route at this point. Now if we can just get her comfortable enough with a stranger to let them stick her with a bunch of needles. :(

    Poor Molly. I don't know how we get them to understand that part...

  20. Thanks for sharing that story, Maggie. Poor Cooper. But it does feel a little better to know it's not unheard of. I do think there's a measure of over-stimulation with what's going on. If I could just figure out what's happening when it happens.

  21. Wow... a little confused but have seen this reaction from some of our dogs... Even when they aren't hurt at all, they react as if they are.... It's like a phantom pain. Maybe it's because they have associated certain people with pain... I have no idea...

    Is she physically healthy? No broken bones or torn muscle? It might be a stiff neck... although I doubt they've ever had something like that.

  22. Hmmmm....Chester has only yelped a couple of times and there was a definite pain-cause connection. It would worry me too if there seemed to be no apparent cause. It doesn't sound like it happens often though so that is good.