Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why would I want to know my dog is At Risk?

I had all of my dogs tested for the DM gene, and except for Merlin, none tested At Risk. This was a great outcome, and has already been helpful. For example, Janine had a few issues with her back earlier this year and we could immediately rule out DM since she is a carrier.

But what if you do the cheek swab test on your corgi and he/she does test At Risk? Are you doomed to a lifetime of worry or is there anything good about knowing? If your dog is At Risk (carries two copies of the DM gene) what can you do to prevent DM or slow its onset?

Well, we don't really know the answer to that, but here are some things I would consider doing. First, weight! A fat dog is going to have problems with all its joints, and if he develops arthritis before the onset of DM, DM may create more problems. Dogs need their front legs for a traditional cart. If he has developed shoulder problems due to excess weight, he'll have problems with a cart.

Second, train your dog. Obedience commands (and competition in obedience and rally) help prepare your dog to LEARN to use a cart. If he has a good heel command, he'll heel in the cart- and be walking in it.

Also train him to use a ramp. He'll need to use a ramp if he gets DM and you have any stairs. So train him now and make that an easy adjustment.

Make sure he is used to having his feet handled. If he develops DM, you will be lifting him into and out of a cart; this is much harder with a corgi that does not like to be handled or touched in certain places.

Make sure he is happy to go to the vet's office. If he's exceedingly healthy and never needs to go, take him along anyway and feed him treats while you are there. (Always a good idea, anyway, to socialize all your dogs to the vet!)

Get him used to medical equipment. If you don't, as I do, have carts lying all over the house, borrow a walker and stick it somewhere. Take him to places where people use walkers and wheelchairs. If he is touch-sensitive, get him used to a harness to help desensitize him.

And make sure you teach him to pee and poop on command! This isn't as hard as you may think, just give the commands at the time when he normally goes, and reward appropriately. A clicker can help with precise timing. Some people use commands such as "Hurry up" or "Make" but whatever you pick, make sure you are consistent and that you won't be embarrassed to say it in public. Later, if your dog ends up in a cart, you can command him to go and he'll quickly learn to pee and poop in the cart.

Can you prevent DM? Right now no one knows. But start with a healthy diet, maybe add some antioxidants, avoid noxious chemicals like herbicides and pesticides (particularly things sprayed in the house or yard), and who knows, maybe it will help your dog dodge the bullet. We just don't know yet.

I don't have any dogs likely to get DM. I do have two younger dogs that have possible back issues (IVDD) and I'm following my own advice for them as many of the issues are the same.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not a great end to a birthday...

Poor Merlin had a seizure about 9:45 PM. As it lasted over a minute I gave him rectal valium and within another 90 seconds or so he came out of it, but it took awhile. Now he is doing his usual barking and demanding food despite a bowl of yogurt I gave him (he wouldn't eat dog food.) Don't know what brought this on but maybe the burger? Sulfites on the lettuce? Excitement? Vibes? He didn't act too weird before hand but normally he doesn't until right before the seizure.. this time I think he was actually sleeping when it started.

His back legs don't kick anymore.

Happy 12th Birthday, Merlin!

Twelve years ago Merlin entered this world, the firstborn puppy (on the 57th day!) He arrived in front of the refrigerator, looking like a little wet skunk. (All black and white stripe; tris don't get their brown until later.)

As a young dog he had two personalities- the one for show to the public (well-behaved, quiet, heeling like he'd actually been trained, staying down off furniture and people) and the one at home (loud, stubborn, wild, crazed.) As an older dog he merged the two and became a grouchy old man both in public and at home.

He survived two ACL ruptures and three surgeries (ages 2 and 5) and started learning agility at age 7. His first trial was just short of his 8th birthday, and he got his first two legs in CPE Level 1 on that day. It wasn't to be a very long agility career, as he had reached Level 4 and was doing great when he started to slow down and knock jumps.

At the age of almost 10 he started having seizures (suddenly, clustered together) and was put on medication. Sometime later that year I started suspecting DM, but it took another year for it to become obvious. By September 2008 he was dragging a foot, and within six months was in a cart.

Today, he is happy to use his cart if food is involved, loves to ride in the stroller or car, and of course, still loves to eat. His front end is still quite strong, and the seizures are under control finally. Will he make 13? I don't think so... I think DM is going to catch up to him if nothing else does, but I didn't think he'd make 11 so we'll just see what life brings!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Walking the dogs

Often I take Merlin by himself, but just as often I take four corgis, two carts, and a stroller.

The first challenge is getting everyone "hitched up." This means putting Merlin in a cart (Candy is usually already in his) and leashing up Jack and Janine. Jack wears an EZ-walk harness which is connected to a two-fer (coupler) and that snaps to Janine and to a leash. Sounds simple, but Jack is leaping around, barking, snapping (not aggressively, its just what he does) at Janine, Janine is barking, and Candy is barking.) Once everyone is finally leashed, the next challenge is to get out the door and lock the door behind us. This involves letting Jack and Janine go out on leash, letting Candy out off-leash so he can go down the steps, and pushing Merlin out far enough that I can, while still holding Jack and Janine, lock the door behind us. Then I let them go down the three steps, wheel the stroller down, and help Merlin down.

Now we head down our narrow walk to our hill. Too many steps to the street, so we take the steep lawn down. At the bottom we reconnoiter. Candy's leash in hand, Merlin's wrapped around the posts of his cart so I can grab it easily, Jack and Janine's looped over my hand so they can't easily bolt.

And off we go! Sometimes Merlin makes the decision as to which way but usually, when all of us go, I make it. Today we head up Van Ness towards the main road; four blocks there is a good walk for Merlin and there are no curbs as the road is at sidewalk level.

Now it is time for Merlin to stop and sniff and finally, when he finds the right spot, pee. We have to wait patiently. Usually Janine poops, too, early in the walk (and sometimes two or three more times.) Our progress is very slow during the part of the walk where Merlin walks. When he is alone with me I can speed him up with carrots, but in a group walk he brings up the rear.

Next, Janine has to find a place to roll. There are some beautiful green overwatered lawns on our route, and she likes to find a slightly odorous spot to take her roll. She has perfected the art of doing this while on a two-fer with Jack, who just waits patiently, his eyes peeled for the big three: squirrels, cats, and birds.

On we go. Jack and Janine hear a squirrel or even better, spy one, and both freeze, staring at it as if they think they can use their telekinetic powers to make it fall from the tree. If they see a kitty, they lunge. Kitties beware! Birds, Janine ignores, but Jack becomes intensely distracted as he watches them fly.

Candy, on the other hand, is enamored of one thing: people. He wants to be patted and admired. A walk is not complete without the chance to greet at least one stranger like an old friend.

All three are delighted if a corgi stalker appears and flags us down, because now they don't just get sedate pats, they are allowed to fling themselves on the friend (what corgi stalker can be a stranger?) and enjoy unlimited admiration.

All four dogs are also intent on finding lawn fudge, or kitty krispies. Enough said about that- we avoid several streets where the kitties apparently lack litter boxes or flower beds, and stay on the main street.

Somewhere around midway or near the three-quarter mark, Merlin fades, and is lifted into the stroller for the remainder of the walk. Jack is also tiring by now, and walks as slowly as possible in front of the stroller, getting bumped in the rear periodically as he fails to move. Non-plussed, he strolls along.

Finally back at our home, we climb the neighbors driveway to our lawn, and roll up to the front door. I unleash Candy and lift his cart back so he can climb the steps, unlock the door, and loop Jack and Janine's leash on a doorknob. I go back to the stroller and roll it up a board to the porch, the lock the brakes and lift Merlin out. Another walk is over!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Corgi puppies

Whenever I read a litter announcement I look at OFA records to see if the parents are tested (usually I recognize the names if they are.) Usually they aren't, or if they are, came out carrier or At Risk and the breeder didn't want the results made public. This is WHY puppy buyers need to ask about DM testing- because it may have been done and hidden, which is just as bad as not doing it at all. Remember, if the parents haven't been tested, you can have the puppy you plan to buy tested, it only takes a week or so and costs $65, which I can tell you now is a LOT less than the cost of dealing with DM.

What are your chances that your At Risk puppy will get DM? Nobody knows, but somewhere between 10 and 20% is my best guess right now.

If your breeder of choice IS testing, and discloses the results, and the puppy comes from a "good" breeding (no worse than carrier to carrier) I would probably take a chance on the puppy. That breeder is trying to help the breed, and as a responsible, caring breeder is also likely to help you if, in ten years, your dog is showing signs fo DM. But by 2012, I wouldn't buy that puppy, either- if by then there aren't clear and carrier puppies available the breeder isn't doing her share to remove DM from her line.

Remember the breeder should also have tested the hips of the parents. You can also ask about health of siblings and half-siblings and other dogs in the puppy's line. You can never get a guarantee of perfect health, but if your breeder has 12-15 year old dogs running around in good health, its a good sign!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Monthly update on DM Dogs

Merlin has been kind of up and down this month. The heat was not good for him or for getting him out to walk, and the last few days he has been much more active. That has its downside, too, as he tires out quickly, but I'm hoping with two good walks a day (which means about 4 blocks each) he will regain some endurance. Sometimes I think he is ready for a counterbalanced cart, but other times he seems just fine. We go about four blocks, then he quits and rides home in the stroller.

It's a challenge with four dogs and the stroller; once I put Merlin in it we can speed up and I just have the other three to worry about.

Today was tricky as Jack was fixated on birds and not at all watching where he was going so kept getting in the way of the stroller.

Last night he did wake up at 4:30 to pee, then pooped at 5 (due to
eating something that didn't agree with him, made a big mess) and then barked until 6:30 when I gave up and got up. Other than that the GABA has worked and he's been sleeping all night for a couple of weeks now. This morning he didn't have to poop early, but since it has cooled off he has been taking himself outside in the morning again.