Monday, May 17, 2010

Merlin the Wheelchair Test Pilot

Since I am the cart coordinator for CorgiAid's Cart Loan program I usually have a few carts around the house. Hence, Merlin has been able to move from one cart to another as need arose.

My first wheelcorgi, Wesley, had a Doggon Wheels cart. It was a great little cart for Wes, and the only thing I don't like about the Doggon design is that the cart is a pain in the bunny butt to adjust- nuts, bolts, and pipe clamps.

When I got Candy, a friend gave me her dog's K9cart made in Langley, Washington. I liked the design and ease of use, so I ordered this kind for Merlin. However, we ran into a few more issues with Merlin's cart. He is taller, and the initial cart was too narrow; he could tip it over as he turned a corner. So I took it in and they made wider struts for it. I had asked for 8 inch wheels to begin with, as we like the larger wheels for rougher terrain. Next, the back bar on Merlin's cart started sliding, and after multiple attempts to tighten the set screws, the piece holding it broke. K9carts sent me a replacement part, but later I went and got their newly designed all-metal back bar.

I never liked the fleece-padded stirrups on the cart, so on both Candy's and Merlin's I'd substituted neoprene stirrups from Doggon.

As Merlin's front weakened, he started wanting to lie down all the time, so I rigged an Eddie's wheels cart to fit him, and counterbalanced it. Merlin did not like the front strap so I removed that but added a strap under his arms the same as the K9cart has. We again wanted larger wheels and not having any spare ones from Eddie's, he got 8 inch plastic wheels from the other K-9carts (hyphen between K and 9) located in Oxford, Maryland.

Then Merlin got sick (liver disease) and didn't want to walk, and as in the meantime Liz Ridgely's front extension had come back in, I rigged it for Merlin. Meg had replaced the wheels with roller skate wheels, but they were small, so I replaced those with 4 inch Razor wheels. The front support band she used was too wide for Merlin (since he is a boy) so I borrowed one from an Eddie's quad cart. There was too much weight on the front wheels, so I used Velcro One-wrap to move the saddle back up against the metal back bar, effectively counterbalancing the cart. On cement, if he wants to, Merlin can run in this cart. (He mostly does not want to.)

But now we are worrying about walking on the dike and the macadam road up on Whidbey. The front-extension isn't going to work well for that. I'm exploring a K-9cart east cart as theirs seems to have a better kind of front swivel wheel.

The one kind of cart Merlin has not used is a Doggon, but he did test-drive a Walkin Wheels cart last summer when Mark Robinson generously donated one to CorgiAid. We love the Walkin Wheels design but it is a bit heavy for a corgi- it worked for Merlin then as he was fairly strong and he is a big dog, but I'm waiting for their light-weight version to come out. (Walkin Wheels is great for big dogs as one-size adjusts for all.. if anyone has one they want to donate to CorgiAid, we'll take it, regardless of what breed it WAS for, as we can get it adjusted to fit our bigger corgis.) But we also hope they will soon have a front wheel or counterbalance option as otherwise their cart does not work very well for a dog with DM.

Other carts: there are a LOT of carts on the market. Many are not worth the price even if it is half of what Doggon, Eddie's, WW, or K9carts charges. One I saw does not have ANY saddle at all for the dog!! Some are poorly made, some are very heavy, some are PVC and easily broken. Buyer beware- if you buy an "off brand" cart make sure you can return it and investigate the company as much as you can first. If your dog has a bad experience in his first cart, he may never be willing to try another one.

As for Merlin, he says he is ready to become a stroller Test-Pilot, but I'm going to try to keep him walking for a little while longer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Good news: DM-free puppies!

Despite the general reluctance of many Pembroke Welsh Corgi breeders to test for DM or to use the results if they do test, some are testing, and doing their best to defeat this disease. Right now I know of five litters either on the ground or well on their way in which not a single puppy will ever get DM. Some will produce carriers, others carriers and clears. And every one will be a quality pup with many generations of good breeding behind it.

So how are these breeders doing what others claim they cannot do, without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater?"

First, they tested. One lucky breeder found two clears in her own dogs, and has been able to breed them to produce more carriers and clears. The others found everything they owned to be At Risk.

But doesn't that mean they have to get rid of those dogs and start all over?

Not at all.

DM acts like a recessive gene, that is, a puppy must get it from both parents. An At Risk bitch bred to a Clear male (or vice versa) produces DM-free carriers. So with great effort- because very few other breeders are testing and identifying the precious clears that must be out there in our breed- the breeders with only At Risk bitches each waited to find a clear that they could use without giving up anything, and bred to him. They did not rush into breeding to just any male because he was clear, nor did they breed to a male who was NOT clear. One breeder waited three years to breed in order to find an appropriate clear male.

Not easy to wait, not easy to find the clear males, but they have shown us that it can be done. If only more breeders would test and make their results and pedigrees known so that these clears- and I'm convinced that at least 15% of the breed is clear- can be made available and the gene pool will not need to be narrowed.

Once carriers are produced, some breeders may opt for a carrier to carrier breeding. I hope they won't have to do that, but at this point it is an improvement over what happens if you do not test at all, which has a high chance of being At Risk to At Risk or At Risk to Carrier. If enough clears are produced or identified before that time, carrier to carrier breedings can also be avoided.

Puppy buyers need to demand testing! It's clear that many, many breeders are willing to ignore the availability of a DNA test and continue to produce dogs At Risk for DM. If you don't want your beloved corgi to die from DM, insist on testing, and only buy from a breeder who tests ALL her breeding stock, not just the puppy you want. There are a lot of health tests available for corgis. This is the ONLY test that will let you know if your dog is safe from a disease that is 100% fatal. So when the breeder argues that she tests hips and eyes and vWD, ask her what the fatality rates are for those diseases.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vet visit X 3

I am running out of time before leaving next week (my deadline is the NW Corgi Afternoon Saturday and not wanting to drive through Seattle on Friday or hit the ferry line on Friday afternoon.) So I have to leave no later than Wednesday. One week. So I broke my usual rule and combined vet visits for Candy, Jack, and Merlin.

Merlin was in his crate in the garage so I just had to load Candy and Jack in the car, try to convince Janine we would NOT be gone for three days this time, and then lift Merlin with crate into the back. We drove the 20 minutes to the vet's office and time to unload. I meant to take the stroller but didn't, probably a mistake, so I had to put Merlin in his cart to go in. He refused to walk so I towed him behind the other two dogs to the dirt potty area, where he went on his own.

Then inside, where I unloaded Merlin from the cart since he wanted to lie down in it. Everyone got weights, and off to an exam room, where Candy immediately hid under the chairs (at least the part he could get under it.) Jack got his temp taken, then Merlin, who was sitting in a chair barking, and I warned the tech he would probably poop. Sure enough, she pulled the thermometer out and Merlin started to do a big poop, so I hollered for her to get something to catch it (keep it off the chair.) She did, just in time, although by then Jack was prowling shark-like under the chair hoping to help with cleanup.

Then Candy got his rabies shot (since he bites) and his back nails cut before my vet arrived. Now we had to try to discuss one dog at a time. Merlin needed a KBr level and a liver enzyme test so the question was did he need a full blood panel. As white count was up last time and BUN low, we decided yes, so Rich tried to draw blood. He claims to be as good at it as his best tech but it took him a few tries before he got Merlin to donate.

Then Jack had to give blood, to see if his liver is okay, and we discussed lowering his dose of phenobarb and adding in KBr, which I will be doing.

Then additional requests: written scripts for Zonisamide and lorazepam to send off to Costco's online pharmacy (the cheapest for the zonisamide.) 15 mg size phenobarb for Jack so that once he is at half his current dose I don't have to try to break pills in half. Tramadol and Robaxin just in case for either one. Pickup Janine's prescription for Prednisone and Jack's rectal Valium, and three doses each of Interceptor for heartworm prevention due to our unusually wet spring and actual mosquitos.

Most of this time Merlin has been barking, by the way, so now at least Rich is quite willing to write all the prescriptions I need for anything to get him to sleep!

Finally a muzzle on Candy, two techs, and clipping the front nails while Candy snarled viciously at them for daring to touch his working feet.

Pay the bill (just about what I predicted, just over $500 thanks to three expensive blood tests.) Get a rabies cert for Candy and one for Jack since it shows his neutered status and I want to get him an AKC number and an APDT number, and we are finally off. Stop to have Merlin pee again, load everyone in, and home just over two hours after leaving.

I had my vet check Jack's back, he is a bit worried about lack of muscle and I've been worried that he often lies down when he is waiting for something, but I hope good exercise in Washington gets him back into better shape without any issues. Neither Jack nor Janine have great backs (ironically Merlin has the great back- the best my vet has ever seen on a corgi) so I'm always a little worried one or the other will go down. Janine has been fine since her muscles built back up, though.

Oh, then I got home, got to the front door, and Candy was in such a hurry to go in that when his wheel caught on the door frame he just left the cart behind- except his feet were stuck in the stirrups! Another Kodak moment that I missed.

We will really miss our current vet when I retire to Washington, but I am excited to see one of the two South Whidbey practices has been sold to a new veterinarian, a new guy, fairly recently out of school. Kind of like Rich when I first went there.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quality of Life time

It's that time again.

Mobility has gone down but as Merlin can still manage a four-wheel cart and loves the stroller, I'll rate that okay.

Hygeine has gone up. Since he quit crawling, he also quit peeing on his own very easily, so he doesn't soil himself or the floor or a diaper. As long as I can get him out at least about every four hours he is clean and dry.

Other issues: getting off one drug, onto another, has been smoother than anticipated.

Sleep is STILL an issue but it comes and goes.

More good days than bad, yes. More good nights than bad?? That's a toss-up.

Is he still engaged? Yes, I think so.

He's eating and drinking well, appetite back. Sleeps a lot but that's okay at his age, even without the drugs. But he's only still really himself when he's content, which is in the car or the stroller or walking for treats.

I didn't do this numerically, but I think its a wash from last time, due to hygeine improving.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Geriatric Corgis"

One breeder said there was no need to test for DM because it was a "disease of geriatric dogs." The following is a video of a "geriatric corgi" running agility 1 week short of her 14th birthday.

She is a DM carrier.

That's what a geriatric corgi should look like. Not this.

A responsible breeder? Health testing corgis

I'm going to have to paraphrase this bit I lifted from a so-called responsible breeder's website. Now I have to say that I've seen a few of this breeder's dogs and they are, in fact, wonderful dogs.

She states that not only do they do hips and eyes and vWD but they consider much less important problems such as skin allergies.

All very well.. except that she does not do DM testing, which tells you that she puts it as less important than skin problems. In fact, she is probably breeding two At Risk dogs together to get better skin!* Worse, since the genetics of skin allergies can't be done with a simple cheek swab, she may not even be getting rid of the allergies.

Several other breeders offer four and five year contracts against "disabling hereditary defects." Safe enough- DM doesn't affect dogs at four or five, and very few puppy buyers are going to give back their puppy because it has hip dysplasia.

So just a word to the wise- when the breeder you are considering says she does "health testing" find out what this means.

*I know skin allergies in dogs can be very serious- they can require a lot of time, attention, and sometimes even rehoming of a dog to a less allergenic environment. But they are rarely fatal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Update May 1

Well, this has not been a good month for Merlin, lots of downhill "progress". It started when he wouldn't eat or walk in early April. I took him to the vet and they did blood tests and said his ALT was high. Probably the phenobarbital, which affects the liver. So after some discussion we did a bile acid test, where you fast him, then draw blood, then he eats, and two hours later has another blood draw. The idea is to see if the bile acid that is released for the meal is reabsorbed by the liver afterwards as it should be. Not only was it not, but his fasting bile acid level was too high, meaning that even after overnight it wasn't absorbed.

Liver damage due to phenobarbital is reversible if you quit phenobarbital, so since then he's been transitioning to KBr. As of Wednesday he's down to half the phenobarbital he'd been on (which is possibly why he's sleeping less and less soundly) and his KBr should be starting to reach therapeutic levels. In a week and a half we get it checked again and recheck his liver.

Anyway, his initial not feeling well made me pull out the four-wheel cart, as he would not move at all in the counterbalanced cart. He walks in it on walks, for treats (the front extension cart) but not in the house, it is too hard to maneuver over or around things. So he walks at most two blocks a day and I carry him out to pee and poop and set him in the stationary cart.

If he ever seems more energetic again I'll try the counterbalanced cart again but I'm not hopeful, he isn't that thrilled to walk at all.

The sleep issue goes on, again, possibly worsened by reduction in his phenobarbital dose. He sleeps at most about two hours without turning, often more like 30 minutes. He usually wants out during the night and won't let me just express him lying down on a pee pad. In the morning, once he gets his pills, he starts barking and does that non-stop until breakfast, then he would keep barking except I put him out in the car to sleep.

Same thing in the evening- he barks from coming in until going to sleep. He wants food, he wants to go out, he wants something, he's anxious- who knows?

He's happy in the car, he's sort of happy walking for treats, he loves riding in the stroller. But he sure acts miserable inside, whether he is or not is another story.

The upside of all this is that, being less mobile, he doesn't pee in the house. Well, also, he has more trouble peeing on his own- he needs a manual assist. So diapers are no longer an issue- if I put them on they stay, if I don't, he holds it anyway.

We leave in just over two weeks for the summer in Washington, where he can sleep in the car all he wants (windows rolled down when it is warm) and where he will (hopefully) sleep on the bed. I am hoping he will have a good summer and maybe even be motivated to try the Eddie's cart again, but he was stumbling in it and lying down a lot even before this.

The problem with the K9cart (west) with front extension is wheel size- they won't go over even a small bump. It's very easy to put him in and out, great to use when expressing him, and great on the sidewalk, but it isn't going to work to walk in Washington as is unless I take him somewhere with sidewalks. (Nearby towns- but hard to find level sidewalks in any of them.)

When we get up there I may take his cart over to K9carts and see if there is a larger caster they use for larger dogs. I did order some 4 inch scooter wheels that should be a bit better than the 3 inch ones in the video or the 4 inch flat spoke wheels.