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Geriatric pup problems


nancy
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Fergie turned 15 in December. Mom was a border collie; reports are that dad was a lab. But only mom knew and she wasn't talking.

 

Fergie has arthritis in her hips and left front "wrist". For the last few weeks, she has had either diarrhea or moderately lose stools.

 

We have been going to Bruce Tarkington - our local vet - for 7 years. But he just retired and sold his practice. We have taken her to the new vet. And are not really happy with her treatment. I feel there were too many different meds and too many daily changes in her diet. I know that for humans, doctors usually prescribe days of a particular regime, not a different one every day. We've had about every test on stool samples other than the exotic ones for things Ferg would have to have traveled to Africa to catch. The latest is that the vet wants us to try prednisone. It seems that she is treating everything she can think of to see if something works. I'm not sure that's fair to Fergie.

 

I hate to put an elderly dog through all this.

 

We were feeding her I/d prescription food. But I just made a big batch of boiled chicken, ground up and added to rice. We mix that with some canned pumpkin. The vet said to add either All Bran (which gave Ferg a massive sugar high) or Fiber One.

 

Any help, suggestions, mojo?

 

DH and I - and even the cat - are hardly sleeping or eating because we are so worried.

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Nancy - if you're not happy with the new vet - and i agree with your assessment - you might try Colony Park in Durham. They're really very good over there and the younger vets work in conjunction with the older ones so have good guidance. If you can, get in with Dr Hughes or McKinney or Klaitman, all are excellent.

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What has been done/tried so far?

 

Any other symptoms besides the diarrhea?

 

But if you're not feeling satisfied/getting answers from the vet, by all means get to a different one. FWIW, I really wouldn't feel comfortable with a vet telling me to feed a dog a sugar laden cereal for diarrhea.

 

I'd go with boiled chicken and rice for a couple days and see what happens. You want to make the rice overcooked with extra water so it is mushy and soupy - this helps in binding everything up. I'd give her a couple small meal of just rice, spaced a few hours apart, then gradually add some chicken in with it. I'd even skip the pumpkin for now and keep it as bland/basic as possible.

 

Prayers for you and Fergie!

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If Colony Park is the practice next door to Creature Comforts boarding, this is my second recommendation for them. And they are not too far from home. The transitional deacon at my church, who is about to be ordained a priest, has a service dog who goes there.

 

The worst hing about having pets is that you almost always outlive them. We know that, when our grandparents were in their 90s, they slept most of the time. But it's so hard to watch Fergie do that. She even ignores squirrels. But she does perk up and trot forward when she sees a friend out walking.

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Go with your gut. Don't be afraid to say no to the vet (and find a new one if you feel the need). Before okaying a test, ask what the vet is looking for specifically and what treatment options the test results might lead to. There's no point in doing a test if it doesn't tell you something useful and give you new options. Drugs can cause more problems than they solve. Was she on any meds when the diarrhea started? Could they be the cause?

 

At 15 years old, I think my main focus would be on keeping your girl comfortable and happy. It sounds like you've ruled out any obvious possible causes for the diarrhea, so I'd just try the simplified diet like you're doing, starting with just soupy rice. I'd also give probiotics a try too.

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Diarrhea in senior dogs, afaik, is often related to malabsorption of nutrients in diet (if it doesn't have a more definitive cause, I mean), like a form of IBD. Especially if the dog is taking something medicinal for arthritis or other pain. I guess that as dogs age, just like any other organ or system in their body, their digestive systems fail to work as well as they used to. And actually prednisone is really effective at resolving it. My old vet used to say "no old dog deserves to die without first trying steriods." That's not to say your dog is dying (of course!!), but sometimes very senior dogs are better off on a low dose of steriods to get everything under control rather than a constant, changing arsenal of medications etc. and the physical and emotional stress of bowel problems / messing themselves. I guess I am of the opinion that it can't hurt to try it; it's not as though, at 15 years of age, pred is going to shorten her life.

 

Good luck, I hope it all works out. I wish our dogs would not get old. I have told Tweed several times recently that he is not allowed to age and/or die - ever. He'll be 11 in about a month. Since he is right now wrestling and playing zoomies with the puppy, I'm hoping he's taking my directives seriously.

 

RDM

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Cindy is 13 this October and just went through a Clostridium Perfringens battle. She had diarrhea and it was uncontrolled, meaning she would spontaneously 'go' wherever and whenever she had to. Did your vet check for that? She went on an antibiotic and that cleared it up almost immediately.

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RDM, what do you consider a low dose of pred? I have to call the vet tomorrow. Until I get Fergie's test results and find a new vet, I have to stick with the one whose done all the tests.

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Oh geez I dunno - Briggs was on a half tablet every other day for several years, because of his arthritis, but I don't remember the dosage anymore. I would just try the minimum to start with.

 

A friend of mine has a simply ancient malamute that is on pred now for a similar problem, and it's fixed it right up.

 

RDM

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I'm seconding what others have said about going with your gut as to the vet and about questioning recommended treatments if they don't seem reasonable to you.

 

My vet doesn't like to use steriods on older dogs but will occasionally for a short term for a specific issue. After Sara was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, I gave her daily steroid injections along with her pain meds to keep her comfortable but we knew it would just be for a couple of weeks.

 

I'm sending Fergie mojo, prayers, and good vibes. I hope you are able to find a regimen that gives her some more quality time with you and your family. It's always been clear that she's been a treasured member of the family, and I'm sorry for your troubled times now. It's so hard when they get old and you see their time is short.

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Nancy,

Here's another vote for Colony Park. I used to see Dr. Klaitman (mainly) there and was very happy with the care my animals received (and I'm extremely picky about vets). They are pricier than some though. And I also agree with sticking with a simple diet. Why was she on I/D in the first place? Sensitive GI tract? If so, it could just be that as she's aged she's become even less tolerant of the ingredients in that food, and you're doing the right thing by cooking her meals. FWIW, if you're adding pumpkin for fiber, I don't think you'd need to add the other fibers your vet recommended. Probiotics might be a helpful addition, as others have said. Also, Betty has recommended cold-pressed coconut oil or even coconut flakes (the nonsweetened variety) for diarrhea. It might help Fergie to try the coconut.

 

As I've got a number of aging dogs with aged-dog issues, I have come to the realization that as they approach the natural end of their lives, less can be more (granted, you want to fix the diarrhea problem--I'm not saying she shouldn't be treated for that): I think sometimes by trying all sorts of treatments (which realistically aren't going to lengthen their lives at their age anyway), we just add a different kind of discomfort into their lives. So now I try to find a good balance between quality of life and treating issues that may arise. If the treatments aren't helping a whole lot and I perceive that they are impinging on the quality of whatever time I have left with one of my geriatrics, then I make the choice in favor of quality of life. That won't be the right choice for everyone, but I wanted to throw it out there. I lost my 15 1/5 year old last fall. My 14 1/2 year old has a body that's failing her (but for now we've come up with some ways to manage that), though her love of life is still as strong as ever. My nearly 14 year old has had all sorts of medical issues that so far she's managed to overcome. It was during the time we were visiting the oncologist treating her for mast cell cancer that I came to the realization that all I was doing to deal with that was actually making her pretty miserable, so we stopped. I don't regret that choice and she's doing well....

 

I know it's easy for me to say, but try not to worry too much. Fergie will pick up on your stress, and it will only stress her as well.

 

J.

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I sure agree about the stress. And Chuck is so stressed that it makes even me wonky! But Fergie is his puppy.

 

We did start the prednisone yesterday.

 

Adding to her problems is her severe arthritis. And, with diarrhea and less food, she hasn't the strength to overcome it. So she staggers. And Chuck panics. And she then panics. I do my best to keep them both calm.

 

She has been eating the I/d (it does seem to sit better in her than my chicken & rice) and pumpkin. Today, we had cereal & yogurt for breakfast, and she has been eating bits of yogurt, too (with the cat getting really pissed as she considers all yogurt hers. We'll see if there's any improvement.

 

I'd love to take her to Colony - or the NC State vet school. But she's so unsteady that she can't walk in the tiled kitchen. And riding in the car has upset her - even with her seatbelt harness and someone in back with her. It's just too "moving". If things improve a bit, we will try.

 

I've even got our church's prayer network praying for her. Thank goodness I'm an Episcopalian. They volunteered! But I'm asking all her animal friends to pray to their deities for her. They know who better than we do.

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Nancy,

You might want to consider one of the high-calorie supplements that are available for elderly and convalescent dogs (Nutri-cal, Rebound, and similar products are designed for just such a purpose). If her lack of nutrition is making her that weak, your first priority should be getting calories in so she can get her strength back up. You could also try lean ground beef, browned and well drained of fat.

 

Also consider rubber-backed rugs or runners wherever she goes. My Jill severely wrenched her back (maybe strained the muscle or pinched a nerve) trying to get up on a slick hardwood floor (she also panics on slick floors). My house doesn't look beautiful right now (all the rain/mud hasn't helped), with the floors almost completely covered with a hodgepodge of rugs and runners for Jill's sake. I've got it so that she doesn't have to take more than one step on any hardwood surface (that is, either her front or hind end will be on a rug at all times) and it helps her a great deal.

 

I also got her a Ruffwear Webmaster harness (at my rehab vet's suggestion). They have them at Phydeaux in Chapel Hill. It's lightweight and reflective, and it has a handle on the end that's toward her hips so if she gets down and can't get up I can grab the handle and provide her with support. Something similar might work for Fergie if she gets panicky and starts staggering: you or Chuck can grab the handle and give her some stability. And seriously consider temporarily putting down rugs over any slick/shiny areas.

 

Her issues might be something that can be fairly easily resolved, but that would require a vet's intervention. You could talk to the vet (consider contacting Colony Park; I think you will be much happier with the treatment of the human half of the equation--that is, you--there than you would be at the vet school) to see if there's something you could give to Fergie to help her stay calm for the ride, but I think if she's that weak from lack of eating then perhaps I'd risk the upset of taking her somewhere in order to deal with the larger problem of not being able to get the nutrition she needs from what she's eating.

 

I'll keep all of you in my prayers too.

 

J.

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When Zach wasn't eating before Christmas, I gave him the high calorie supplement. It was in gel form so I put it directly on his tongue. I also syringed "Boost" into him (not sure if it's a product in the US or not). However, he didn't have diarrhea - he just wasn't eating at all. He was on a low residue kibble for years because of the risk of pancreatitis but when he stopped eating, I decided that whatever I could get him to eat was what I'd do. So, his diet now consists of boiled extra lean ground beef with vegetables, some Taste of the Wild kibble, and oatmeal cereals as a 'snack'. He still gets a bit of his low residue food each day as well. He will also get boiled pasta, brown rice and whole wheat toast - all of this in moderation, of course.

this diet seems to work for him since he's more active and he's putting some weight back on his bones (which he needed).

 

I hope you find the right balance for Fergie. Sending lots of good mojo to her (and you)

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Julie, the Nutri-Cal is fantastic! Fergie can spot the tube across the room.

 

And to all, thank you for the help.

 

Yes, she's on the i/d stuff because she has had diarrhea for several weeks now. Every time we think it's improving and give her even my chicken puree & rice, she gets worse.

 

We're trying to feed her about every hour during the day. Different stuff each time. Main food is a tablespoon of i/d (in a few chunks) with a sort of thick frosting of pumpkin. Others are the gel, yogurt (plain unsweetened that I make, water, and various thin broths.

 

She's getting prednisone twice a day (for now), half a Cosequin twice a day, and what we call "fish pills" twice a day. Can't admit that to the vet.

 

She has been going outside and lying in the sun most of the day. Which was always her ideal. But, today, she got up and went for a little walk on her own! Which means that she's getting some strength back!

 

Well, it's still diarrhea for her one stool every morning. But it's not black and tarry - so I'm not so scared about colon cancer.

 

One day at a time. We know that she's an old dog. But we want her to stay comfortable and happy.

 

To which you folks have helped to to head back. (That was for Julie - who would have caught my editorial glitch. Because she's as much a curmudgeon as I.)

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Reading your list of things you can get into the old girl... is the yoghurt from cow milk? If so, you might want to try adding some ground up lactase pills just in case she's having trouble with the lactose. Or substitute goat or sheep milk. Lots of animals can't digest cow milk. And some animals who can handle it when they're younger run out of the right enzyme later in life. I speak from personal experience, alas. (First I started having problems with regular milk but for a while I could still eat cheese... now cheese, yoghurt, kefir are all off the menu too.) If there's a cow milk problem, you'll probably see relief very quickly. When I went cold turkey I felt better in 24 hours and the general sense of improvement went on for about 5 days.

 

Also along the lines of miscellaneous food rejections, I have one Border Collie in my house who appears to be allergic to fish. It's pretty clear cut -- give him a concealed fish oil cap and he'll yack it up within 20 minutes. Put sardines on his dinner, and no matter how hungry he is, he'll barely touch it. (He's not a picky eater in general.) Give him food with fish as an additive (even far down the list of ingredients), and over the course of a few days his output gets softer and softer. So many good healthy premium foods contain fish (I guess for the omega benefits) these days. I have to really check the fine print. Every other dog I've ever had LOVES fish. It took me a while to figure that one out.

 

I'm not saying that either of these is your beloved Fergie's issue. Just that these experiences have made me a believer in the occasional odd reaction to something that's generally a good nutritional bet.

 

Wishing you and the old gal all the best,

 

Liz S in Soggy Central PA

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Also along the lines of miscellaneous food rejections, I have one Border Collie in my house who appears to be allergic to fish. It's pretty clear cut -- give him a concealed fish oil cap and he'll yack it up within 20 minutes. Put sardines on his dinner, and no matter how hungry he is, he'll barely touch it. (He's not a picky eater in general.) Give him food with fish as an additive (even far down the list of ingredients), and over the course of a few days his output gets softer and softer. So many good healthy premium foods contain fish (I guess for the omega benefits) these days. I have to really check the fine print. Every other dog I've ever had LOVES fish. It took me a while to figure that one out.

 

I'm not saying that either of these is your beloved Fergie's issue. Just that these experiences have made me a believer in the occasional odd reaction to something that's generally a good nutritional bet.

 

Wishing you and the old gal all the best,

 

Liz S in Soggy Central PA

 

This is a really good point. I have a friend with a GSD that would NOT gain weight, was eating a lot of cups of high calorie kibble a day and the owner was supplementing with high calorie treats. The dogs poo was normalish but soft. The vet said she was healthy. After a while, she decided to try a different food that was beef based rather than chicken, and suddenly she got more energetic, her stool firmed up and she turned into a porky pig (shes since been put on a diet). Another friend had a basenji pup who was a "picky eater" and seemed healthy but never was interested in food or food treats. He became ill, and was put on a vet diet of something bland and suddenly he had an appetite, works for food etc. Her best guess was he is sensitive to something that's not in the veterinary diet and now he enjoys eating. Its worth considering.

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