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Back in 2020, I published a blog post entitled, ‘Never stop playing’. I ended it with the quote, ‘We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.’ The last year has been tough on our little man. He was stoic and caring as we nursed our darling Annie in her final months, then he grieved her passing. Just when we thought he was getting back to himself, the Pemphigus struck, and we feared we might lose him, too.

While he’s still in remission, along the way, he’s lost some of his playfulness, looking at an offered teddy as if it were a foreign object and watching blankly as a squeaky ball rolls passed him. His overflowing baskets of toys sat gathering dust, and it was breaking my heart. But then something changed.

A lovely friend of mine runs a training class for older dogs called Golden Oldies. I missed the first two rounds as they clashed with my Friday morning college sessions, but as I’ve been recovering from surgery this past month, I signed us up.

Transformation

Bear has never been a fan of training classes. No doubt because of the awful experience we had at puppy classes back when I didn’t know what a properly qualified teacher looked like. But, in Golden Oldies, he lit up like a candle. It helped that his BFF Paddy was a fellow student, and that one of his favourite aunties is one of the instructors, even so, the change in him has been a delight to see.

The class is based purely on fun. They do scent work, tricks and play, and Bear loves it all. He’s even rediscovered his Kong Wobbler thanks to the course. Ignored for months at home, it was the best thing in the world in class! All of his enrichment toys are now out of the cupboard as he’s suddenly interested again.

The only thing he doesn’t understand is the relaxation session at the end of the class. As the other dogs settle down for a rest, sometimes a full on snooze, Bear stares at them, then us, the bemusement obvious. That changes when we get home as he’s then flat out for the rest of the day, but that he enjoys the class so much fills me with joy. Never stop playing Little Bear.

Find out more about Golden Oldies here and on their Facebook page here

More photos and a video on The Little Bear Dog Blog Facebook page.

The good news is that Bear’s Pemphigus Foliaceus is in remission. The diagnosis was confirmed by the dermatologist we saw in Brighton in January. The treatment, a three day steroid storm of a dose so high, we thought the demimal point was in the wrong place. That said, it worked. Weaning him off the steroids and finding the right maintenance dose will take close to four months but we’re relieved to have our Little Bear back.

The blisters and scabs that, at their height, covered his entire body are gone. Our lovely groomer Jeni gave him a ‘vet’s orders’ buzz cut so that we can closely monitor his skin, and our vet Gill tackled the Malteser-sized scabs on his nose that had dried into hard lumps of ikyness.

He’s got his appetite back, and he’s even up for a play when the mood takes him. Walks are a bit more hit and miss and largely weather dependent. He’s been putting his foot down with a firm paw if there’s so much as a hint of rain. Boring walks from the house are also vetod. He prefers a swift buggy or car ride somewhere interesting and then he’ll pottle for ages.

His medication schedule (nine times a day) rules our life plus he has physio 3-4 times a day to try and limit the muscle weakness caused by the steroids. We’ve created a monster when it comes to food too. Having lost so much weight while he was ill, we’re now guilty of trying to tempt him with anything he’ll accept. The result of course is a smart little Bear who’ll hold out for what he wants. He’ll only take his meds on a small corner of Rich Tea biscuit, the pill hidden in crunchy peanut butter.

The specialist warned us that a relapse is likely as we reduce the steroids, but for now we’re just touching wood and taking it a day at a time. That we still have our Little Bear is enough. 💕

Bear at my writing group

Many beds Bear

A silly post tonight. We start Bear’s drug treatment tomorrow and, let’s just say ‘I’m a bit nervous.’ So, purely for my own entertainment, here’s Bear in his many and varied beds!

He’ll sleep all night on our bed. Then in the morning, it’s the sofa or beanbag. Once we start work, he’ll pick an office to snooze in. Come the evening, he’s flat out on the sofa until he decides it’s time for bed.

The last few months have been really tough for Little Bear. It all started with the mystery wound on his leg in September that elicited the trip to the emergency vet one Saturday night. Within days, he was gnawing at his feet and belly. The vet prescribed Piriton. It didn’t help. A second vet suggested medicated shampoo and oils to add to his food. That failed to stop it too. A third vet put him on Apoquel and, as I mentioned in my last post, the itching stopped, but so did Bear. He became a shadow of himself, not wanting to eat, play, or even walk. It was horrendous.

Here was our otherwise sprightly little chap, deteriorating before our eyes and we were just being told to ‘keep taking the meds.’ All concerns about the side-effects, poo-pooed. After reading about the drug myself and checking that we could stop it without ill-effect, I took him off it.

He brightened up in himself, but went back to chewing his paws in earnest. I also found a small scab on his head, but dismissed at as a one off. We took him to our groomers as he was so hairy it was hard to see what was going on with his skin. His paws, she said, were thickened. While he was being groomed, I was on the phone to the head vet, arranging for him to see her.

By the time we could see her later that week, his paws had gone from slightly thickened to puffy and sore. Whatever was happening, it had hockey-sticked in severity during that last 24-hours and it was no surprise that they admitted him on the spot for skin biopsies. With the warnings of ‘potentially something more sinister going on,’ ringing in our ears, we left him at the vets for four agonising hours.

There was good news when we collected him. Various scans had showed no evidence of any tumours, so the diagnosis was that of a common bacterial skin infection, easily treated with antibiotics. The working assumption was that the symptoms had been masked by the Apoquel, allowing the infection to run amok.

Still drowse from the general anaesthetic, his feet shaved to bare skin and still shivering from his medicated bath, he was in a sorry state when we collected him. However, with the help of steroids and antibiotics, he picked up quickly. By the following day he had his appetite back and was woofing at the postman. We were thrilled.

Sadly, the improvement didn’t continue. As his feet healed, the rest of his skin became covered in scabs. They’re now everywhere – even in his ears. With the biopsy results back, the vet now suspects Pemphigus foliaceus, which is the most common autoimmune disease in dogs. It can be treated with steroids, but until the right dose is found to put the disease into remission, it leaves them depressed, lethargic, and generally feeling unwell.

We’re off to see a specialist next week in the hopes that we can speed up the road to recovery. We have lots of questions – not least, what part Apoquel played in making an otherwise fit and healthy dog so desperately unwell in his golden years. We also want to know why this wasn’t suspected far sooner.

There are some glimmers of light. On Christmas Eve, he found a ball and decided to have a play. Today, he grabbed a teddy and we played chase around the living room for a few minutes. He’s enjoying his new diet of scrambled egg, fresh chicken and vegetables, particularly if I hand feed him. He’s more than capable of eating it by himself, but I think he just likes the improved level of service.

We have, I hope, many more Little Bear years ahead of us, so whatever we have to do now to return him to wellness will be worth it. If you’ve got some love and prayers to spare, please send them his way. x

Poorly Bear

It’s 4am and I’m on the couch with Bear. He’s whining softly and trembling, because he’s desperate to chew his itchy feet, but to stop him making his paws bleed, I’ve had to put his Buster collar on. I feel like a monster.

We’ve no idea what‘s sparked this sudden itchiness but it’s making him miserable. The Apoquel prescribed by our vet stopped the itching almost overnight but the side effects were too horrendous to continue.

Bear became a zombie dog. Refusing to leave his bed. Turning his nose up at his food and appearing weak and unwilling to walk, even around the house.

I’ve not heard him bark in weeks and you’ll know how big a deal that is. When neither a trip to his favourite pet shop or a hot playdate with two pretty lady Schnauzers raised even a wag of his tail, we knew there was something radically wrong.

I spoke to the head vet at our practice last night. Apparently such a reaction to Apoquel is rare (2-4%), so maybe we’ve been unlucky. What we need now though is a way to bring him comfort – fast.

The list of things we’re trying is growing by the day. Hibbiscrub for his paws, non-itchy herbal stuff in his food, a new home cooked diet, Non Stinky Stuff (arriving today) plus an attack on dust mights that apparently, are the most common cause of allergies in dogs.

He’s finally asleep. Tucked up in his new bed beside me, cwtched under a blanket. My poor little Bear. Please cross your fingers and paws for us. We so want our cheeky, barky, little lad back.

Bear last night. The face says it all.

Blue Bear

On Thursday, we took Bear to see a physiotherapist. He’s still not himself. He’s been refusing walks, sleeping all day, turning his nose up at his food, and intermittently limping on his front fore. 

Now, on the limping, Bear has form for fakery. Ever since puppyhood, he’s been adept at convincing us, well, mainly me, that he can’t walk another step on his soon to fall off leg. Pick him up and carry him home and the limp magically disappears the minute his paws touch the carpet. When it started happening at home though, we worried that our little Bear who cried wolf might actually mean it this time. 

Our vets had conflicting views, hence I booked the physio appointment to get him assessed. Enter the lovely and highly recommended Donna Wills. After a thorough check, we had our answer. Bear’s joints are in pretty good shape. He has a full range of movement in the paw he’s limping on and no obvious sources of pain. He needs to strengthen his core (don’t we all) but overall, his muscle tone isn’t bad considering his age. 

While the limp is something we need to monitor, there’s no physical reason to let him off walks. That we’ve been letting him sleep and dodge his usual exercise for fear of exasperating the sore leg has only been making the real problem worse – he’s depressed. 

I know a thing or two about depression and it breaks my heart to think of Bear being brought so low. With the okay to get back to his normal exercise routine, we’re now focussing on variety and doing all the things he loves. 

Friday he came with me to writing class. He was an absolute angel, and just napped on my lap after working his way through his Likki & snuffle mats. We walked by the river afterwards and, while he was far from enthusiastic at first, he warmed up to the idea in the end. On the way home, we stopped off at his favourite pet shop. His tail beat a tattoo when he saw his friend Chris – the deliverer of sneaky biscuits. That was lovely to see. 

After checking out the merchandise aisle by aisle (he’s nothing but thorough), and getting his biscuits, we left with a new bed and two tubs of frozen dessert – his new favourite treat. 

We walked in the woods with friends yesterday and today we’re off to a trick training class. I’m not sure how much of the two-hour class we’ll do, he still tires easily. That said, he loves learning and, if there’s one thing I know from experience, sometimes the best way through the dark tunnel is to be distracted enough to forget it for a while. 

Old Man Bear

Mini Schnauzer rests his head on the back of a sleeping red fox Labrador.

Yesterday, we took Bear for a blood test. Our sprightly senior, described as ‘fit as a flea’ by the vet at the end of June, seems to have aged before our eyes in the last few months.

He’s drinking a lot, sleeping a lot and, while he’s still playful when the mood catches him, he is, all of a sudden, no longer the Peter Pan dog people mistake for a puppy. I aged about a decade when I lost my mum, and I wonder what impact losing Annie has had on our Little Bear. He loved her from the moment he set eyes on her, even though she was lunging and barking at him like a thing possessed. He won her over in no time, and they were friends for eleven wonderful years, so I can well imagine how he must feel now without her.

I mentioned grief as a possible catalyst for the washing list of ailments we were presenting with, fully expecting the theory to be poo-pooed, but to his credit, the vet said that depression could certainly have played a part. My poor Little Bear.

The good news is that his bloods are no cause for alarm. He’s back for a liver scan next week, as one of his results was slightly elevated, but the vet was clear that he wasn’t expecting to find anything untoward. Once that’s done, we can work on his itchiness and investigate his mysterious leg wound that heals and then reappears.

As to healing his grieving heart? Sadly, I know from experience that that’s not possible. All we can do is try to make sure that his days are filled with as much fun, love and distraction as we can cram into them.

P.S Apologies to subscribers for the random way the gallery of the photographs in my last post appeared in emails. I’ve no idea what WordPress tweaks caused that but I’ll investigate.

Holiday Bear

I’ve written before about the challenges of holidaying with a reactive dog. Not all of our attempts at a break have ended well – I’m still scarred by the experience in Hay-on-Wye. Part of the reason I invested in our own dog-friendly holiday let business was so that our fur babies could stay somewhere familiar to them. Sadly, even before the pandemic, Annie’s deteriorating health and discomfort travelling meant we couldn’t spend any time there. Precious days with our girl were far more important that a holiday. After losing Annie in July, we had a bittersweet return to Wales this month for our first holiday since 2017 and our first trip to Wales together for almost two years.

At fourteen, Bear is still reactive to other dogs on lead, but he is also advancing in years, so our trip centred around making sure he was comfortable. Enter the ‘Bear Mobile’, an off-road dog buggy that is, without doubt, our best purchase of the year. He refuses to sleep in it, preferring to take it all in and tell us in no uncertain terms when he wants to hop out and explore. It gave us the freedom to explore places too, and we did some wonderful walks around the area. Link below if anyone’s interested.

He was a complete star all holiday, even tolerating a couple of pub lunches, a night in a Travel Lodge, and trips to visit family. There were days when we stayed home just to allow him to rest up, but on the whole, he loved his trip. One of my loveliest memories is how we woofed and wagged his tail when we arrived at the house. He might not have been there for almost two years, but they say Schnauzers never forget, and he certainly seemed pleased to be back on home soil again. 💗

More info on walks: The Dramatic Heart of Wales

Annie would have been fifteen today. The knowledge of that unachieved milestone has hung, spectre like in the air all day despite my best efforts to drown myself in work.

Last year she wore a home made party hat at a jaunty angle, wagged her tail and ate birthday cake as I snapped 101 photos and made Other Half sing happy birthday at volume. Bear barked at our silliness, but Annie wagged her approval as she looked hopefully for second, and then third helpings of cake.

Two glasses of wine, a bone fide ‘binge’ for lightweight me, have done little to lighten my mood. I miss sunshine dog and I probably always will.

Happy birthday darling girl. You will be forever loved. Forever missed. x

Help! I think I’ve created a monster!

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rare piece of luck. While searching online for a dog buggy for his lordship, up popped one for sale on Marketplace. Not only was it the off-road type we need for trips to the woods, but it was being sold by a lady in the next village whose own dog had only used it twice. The listing was just six minutes old – it was meant to be! Fast forward twelve hours, and Bear was the proud owner of his own set of barely used wheels.

As Other Half commented wryly on the way home though, ‘It’s only a bargain if the little bugger will use it.’ Quite.

The logic behind the buggy is quite simple. Although he’s still very fit, at fourteen, Bear can’t do the long walks he once did. We love walking though, but they’re slightly ruined by having a carry a 9kg lump of dog who will insist on sitting in your arms like a ventriloquist’s dummy. The backpack experiment was a failure, so Plan B is the buggy. Plan C is a personal trainer to help me work on my biceps!

Our fears that he wouldn’t tolerate being pushed around the neighbourhood were, thankfully, unfounded. He absolutely loves it. So much so, I’m starting to worry whether I should be insisting he walk a bit more. Once in, he shows absolutely no inclination of wanting to get out again. He lords it up, woofing self-importantly at passing dogs and cats from the safety of his chariot, his ears flapping in the breeze as I march up the hill on our evening walk, looking for all the world like a dog who’s finally got his humans where he wants them. Then again, I suppose he has!

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