Senior Dog Blog

Exercising Your Senior Dog's Brain by Ann-Marie Fleming

27 September, 2017

As dogs age they face many of the same challenges that we as humans face including cognitive decline. Like in humans, a dog's brain literally shrinks the older the dog becomes. The good news is that through research we have learned that there are ways that we can slow the aging process.Exercising your Senior Dog's Brain

With the recent ability to take MRI scans of a dog's brain we have come to realize how similar they are to our own brains and therefore dogs face many of the same changes as they age. Cortical atrophy (brain shrinkage) and ventricular widening occur, but it is also believed that the brain is particularly susceptible to damage caused by free radicals produced by the body's own metabolism. 

According to a 1997 study, "Aging and the production of free radicals can lead to oxidative damage to proteins, lipids and nucleotides that, in turn, may cause neuronal dysfunction and ultimately neuronal death. Normally, several mechanisms are in place that balances the production of free radicals. However with age, it is possible that these protective mechanisms begin to fail."  

Increasing the intake of antioxidants such as Vitamin E and C can play a big part in protecting the brain and nervous system from free-radicals, but there are also ways that exercise can help slow the impacts of aging.

Exercise that can benefit our senior dog's brains comes in 2 forms 1) physical and 2) mental.

Exercising your senior dogPhysical exercise has been proven to not only help keep a dog's body healthy, but it can actually help to grow brain cells. Research across a variety of species have shown that skeletal muscle cells secrete proteins and other factors into the blood during exercise that have a regenerative effect on the brain. 

Keeping your dog active also has the benefit of stimulating the mind and science has proven that exposing your dog to new experiences, scents, sights and sounds can alter the physiology of their brains. 

According to Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia,. "The brains of animals that have lived in changing and complex environments actually become larger. New connections develop between existing neurons in the cortex as a result of experience. Recent evidence demonstrates that it is even possible to grow new neural cells in important areas of the brain that are associated with learning, memory and the organization of behavior."

Notice he says 'changing and complex environments' which means we need to get them outside of our own backyards so they can be exposed to different sights, smells and sounds making our walks, in new places, a necessary component of their exercise routines. And if you need a little help getting out of your immediate area you can take advantage of travel products such as the Dogger stroller. I use my Dogger with my own seniors so we can go on long walks because it allows my dogs to get the exercise and stimulation they need, but it also gives them a chance to take a break so they don't overdo it. Without the Dogger I would only be able to go on short walks and we would not be able to be as active as we like to be.

Exercise has been shown to affect human brains in the same way. "Studies of senior citizens who walk regularly showed significant improvement in memory skills compared to sedentary elderly people. Walking also improved their learning ability, concentration, and abstract reasoning in people who walked as little as 20 minutes a day. Furthermore, research from the Salk Institute demonstrates that physical exercise has a protective effect on the brain and its mental processes, and may even help prevent Alzheimer's disease." describes Coren. 

Given that the brains of humans and dogs are so similar and that researchers are looking to dogs in hopes of better understanding how to treat or prevent dementia in people, the parallels are undeniable.

Exercising your dog's brainAnother interesting activity that can have a direct and positive impact on our dog's brain health comes in the form of problem solving activities. These 'puzzles' are another way to actively exercise your dog's brain keeping it sharp and protecting it against further decline. The same has been said for people.  

Fun and effective brain games can include: hide and seek either of their favorite treat, toy or even you; the classic shell game where you hide a treat under a cup then once your dog figures out how to knock over the cup to get the treat you can introduce additional cups as decoys to increase the difficulty level; and there are a long list of puzzle games sold on the market today that use similar concepts of hiding treats and creating different obstacles your dog must overcome to get the reward. If your dog is ball crazy then you can do a lot of these puzzle games with the ball as the reward. Food or toys both work well so just pick the reward your senior loves most and find creative ways to make them problem solve their way to enjoyment. Again changing things up is important to ensure the brain is getting the exercise it needs.

I find it empowering to know that there are ways that we as parents can help our senior dogs stay young and in the process it will help us as well. We need the exercise and the changing environments just as much as our dogs, so by pursuing an active lifestyle that exercises our dog's bodies and brains, we are reaping the same rewards. 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Facing the End with Your Senior Dog by Ann-Marie Fleming

21 September, 2017

This is by far the most difficult post I have ever written because I had to say goodbye to my Milo two days ago after a two month struggle and my heart is breaking. Sometimes we lose our four-legged family suddenly, but other times we are there with them as they slowly and progressively get worse to the point when you realize that you have days not even months left with them. Unfortunately I have been in this position with several of my previous dogs and it never gets any easier. 

Senior dogsMilo had been doing so well. I remember on his 14th birthday back in March commenting on how well he was aging. He did everything at his own pace speeding up only when food was involved and I felt that maybe his laid back approach to life would take him well into his senior years. But then a few months ago everything changed. 

The only senior challenge Milo had over the past couple of years was a sore front left leg. It seemed to every vet that looked at him that it was most likely arthritis. A joint supplement was suggested and that seemed to do the trick. Then in June of this year, even while still taking the supplements, his limp returned. He very quickly started getting weaker and since he was so front heavy this weakness started to cause him to fall. I have never had a dog with a front leg issue before, but when he would fall he would literally go head first. As the instability became worse and his limp looked painful we tried Cartrophen shots without success and then we tried him on Rheumocam, again no improvement. Then things started to accelerate. He was having issues not only with that leg, but he started to weaken in all his legs, he was rapidly losing muscle and was needing to be supported when he walked and stood. 

Dog wheelchairI ordered him a full support dog wheelchair hoping that if we could give him some support we could help him recover. Unfortunately after only one day of being able to use his cart he lost movement in what used to be his strong front leg. Then over the next couple of weeks he lost the use of all four legs. We tried Prednisone, new supplements but nothing helped. If Milo was stronger I would have considered taking him to a neurologist, but after talking with his vet it was clear that he would not be strong enough for surgery, if that was even an option, let alone being under anesthesia for the required diagnostics. At 14 1/2 years old in the condition he was in, this was simply not an option. 

Senior dogs in their DoggerMilo needed 24/7 care which is something I would have done for him forever if it meant I could keep him with me. Milo was always challenging because he was a very vocal and dramatic dog which escalated as he aged, especially when he lost his hearing. It was also one of the funniest sides to him because the way he expressed himself showed so much character. Long before he started struggling he would literally scream at me for things like needing to be lifted down from the couch, or if I was late with his meal or if I was brave enough to have his nails clipped at the vet. You would swear he was being tortured. His communication method however made knowing what was really going on with him difficult to ascertain - was he crying out due to pain and discomfort or was he simply communicating as he has done so often before? Throughout all of his struggles he continued to be a food monster and when he looked at me I still saw light in his eyes so I hung on. 

When your dog goes through what Milo went through in losing his mobility it is common for people to not understand why we refuse to give up. Many times this is because they also do not understand the deep bond that we form with our four-legged family. I know there were people around me that felt that I should have let go sooner, but despite the complete betrayal by his body it was still Milo in there. No one knew Milo like I did and I had to trust that I could read him better than anyone. I felt that if I could have asked him what to do, he would have told me that he wanted to be here even given his challenges. 

In the past couple of weeks he progressively became worse and I questioned myself every single day, multiple times a day, if what I was doing was best and every time I'd be close to saying good-bye Milo would do something that made me hang on a little longer. This internal battle was the most difficult I have had to go through and it weighed on me heavily. 

Senior dog sleepingThis is the time with our seniors that I fear the most. I'd wake up every morning, open my eyes and for a moment I'd forget what was happening. When I would look at Milo sleeping he seemed like his old self and I'd smile, but then reality would kick in and I'd be overcome with a feeling of dread as I'd remember that everything is not ok. I'd try to never cry in front of him since I believe that dogs are incredibly intuitive and pick up on the vibes we give off, so I'd pull myself together and smother Milo with kisses as we'd start our day.

This is a time when we are desperately seeking a miracle and look for even the slightest signs of improvement to give us hope to carry on. Did he sleep a little easier today? How quickly did he eat his dinner? Do his eyes look a little brighter today? Anything to help us see reason to carry on.

I would talk to Milo often letting him know that he needs to tell me when he's ready to let go, when his battle becomes more than he can handle. He let me know two days ago. Everything that day seemed wrong. I had a feeling we were approaching the end when our nights were more and more difficult in that he would only sleep for a couple hours at a time needing more water and a new position to be comfortable. And then that horrible day came. Milo had a seizure and then after going into a deep sleep woke in distress. Normally if I held him he would settle down, but that day not even my touch could reach him. It was time.  

SoulmatesI had my sister come with me for support but also because I knew how much she loved Milo. I also made sure that Lily, the love of Milo's life, was with us so she could say good-bye. They had such a special connection to each other, they were soulmates and my heart breaks just thinking of them being apart. I have come to realize that in the end death is simply terrible. No matter how much you try and find the right time, the right place, with the right people (2-legged and 4-legged) it is incredibly sad, leaving a mark on your heart that will never disappear because a piece of you is now missing. 

Milo was one-of-a-kind. I know I will never meet another soul like his and my goal as I grieve losing him is to remember him when he was not struggling, when he would run so fast to get his meals that he would knock over his water bowls. I think of his 9 pm bedtime that he'd never miss, putting himself to bed and looking so adorable doing it. And I will cherish how in the middle of the night he would work his way under the covers to spoon with me. The house and my car are now too quiet without his voice. Our family is not whole, but I know he will always be with us in our hearts and in time we will smile instead of cry when we think of the amazing times we all had together.

Senior dogsI am eternally grateful to have had you in my life Milo. You changed me and everyone you ever met, forever. Thank you for the time we had, I am so sorry I could not prevent what happened, I tried my best and I know you did to. You were so strong and I am very proud of you for fighting so hard to stay here with your family. We never took our time together for granted. Every single moment was cherished and we had fun in everything we did. I hope that you will hang on to everything good and happy through our memories of our time together because that is how I plan on keeping you close to me always. I love you.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia - Lily's Journey (Part 3 - The Results) by Ann-Marie Fleming

21 August, 2017

Lily Recovered from Back SurgeryIt's now been 7 months since my senior pug Lily underwent a 6 hour procedure to repair a disc herniation and to secure 2 plates along her vertebrae to prevent further damage. Without this procedure Lily's mobility challenges would have continued to worsen, leading to eventual paralysis.

To recap a little for those that may not have read her story along the way, her spinal issues were the result of a congenital malformation referred to as caudal vertebral articular process dysplasia. Basically this malformation meant that one of her vertebrae did not form correctly and over time this created too much movement along her spine leading to the disc herniation and her resulting mobility and incontinence issues. (For a full description of her condition please see: Part 1 - Symptoms & Diagnosis and for more details on the surgery: Part 2 - Surgery). I wanted to share with you Lily's recovery and amazing results.

After her surgery Lily had range of motion exercises that we did at home several times a day. I also iced her back using a cold pack as often as possible. It was important that Lily be on restricted activity for the first few weeks. She did not need to be crate rested, but no jumping or running. After the first two weeks Lily was allowed on short walks with a leash making sure not to overdo it. Dr. Sharp had told me that the plates were very strong even before the bone has a chance to remodel, but I was so worried that they would somehow move or come undone.

To make my fears even more intense, on our first night home my French Bulldog Winnie knocked Lily right off my bed. My heart was in my throat, but thankfully my bed is very low and she fell onto a padded area and in true Lily fashion she seemed unfazed by what I am sure did hurt given it was so soon after surgery. Despite her seeming fine I was haunted by the fear that her fall in some way moved things around and I was nauseous thinking that she went through all of this only to have it ruined the first night she was back in my care. To avoid any further incidents, for the next 8 weeks we (myself and my dogs) all slept on the floor!

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia - 2.7mm SOP PlatesI took Lily back for her recheck in April with the express purpose of having X-rays done so we could check on her plates. Much to my relief they were exactly where they were supposed to be, they were perfect. I could breathe again. I should mention that her plates are actually quite tiny with only a 2.7mm diameter and 12mm screws - they just look huge in the X-rays. The other strange looking object higher up in her X-ray I later found out is an ID tag.

After the successful surgery Dr. Sharp told me that it couldn't have gone any better so now it was up to Lily. We weren't sure how much she would improve, but at the very least the goal was to stop further progression of her condition.

Over the past 7 months Lily has made me so proud and has truly exceeded my expectations. She still walks a bit funny, her right leg in particular, but she can walk at a much faster pace and even runs now. Her fecal incontinence did not improve, but they warned be about that and it's fine. I just use a diaper at night for that, but her urinary incontinence is a million times better. We used to go through at least 3 diapers a day with accidents and now she typically goes weeks without a single bladder incident.

While her once curly tail is still droopy, it has a lot more movement than prior to the procedure, especially when she is excited and can actually get it wagging.

Lily's back legs have become so much stronger and she can even work her way up our stairs now when I take too long to come and get her. Check out her determination in this video I took a few weeks ago. She hasn't been able to get up these stairs for at least a year, but now look at her! I still carry her up most times, but this shows that she continues to improve even after so many months.

The other surprise was her appetite. For months prior to her surgery Lily had gone from being a food monster to being a very finicky eater, sometimes refusing to eat altogether. I suspected it was related to her back, perhaps a response to being in pain, but none of the doctors could confirm that there was any relationship. The proof in my mind would be seen after she had recovered from surgery. And once she was a month or so into recovery sure enough her appetite returned and it appears to be here to stay.

Overall I am so pleased with Lily's results. She seems very happy and so much stronger now. She is often the one out in front on our walks and though she still takes breaks in the Dogger, she is able to walk much further than she used to walk prior to surgery.

While I am sure the pain must have been overwhelming at times during her recovery she never complained, she was always so positive and spirited, she blew me away. I think her great attitude is a big reason she made major back surgery seem like a routine procedure. Lily is the definition of trooper and I am thrilled that her trust in me was not misplaced. This surgery really has given her a second chance and we are going to embrace every moment we have together to enjoy it. 

I would also like to say thank you to everyone who supported Lily throughout this entire process. She never felt alone and neither did I.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Reducing the Risks of Anesthesia in Senior Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

21 March, 2017

Reducing the Risks of Anesthesia in Senior Dogs When it comes to senior dogs even the simplest of surgical procedures can strike fear in the hearts of dog parents because of the risks associated with anesthesia. Whether it is for diagnostics, a routine procedure or something more complicated, one thing is certain, the possible impact of anesthesia should not be taken lightly, especially when your dog is a senior. However, a wise veterinarian once said that "age is not a disease", so senior dogs should not be disqualified from treatment options solely because of their age. So how do we as dog parents help to reduce the risk of anesthesia in our senior dogs?

Testing

Before putting your senior dog through a procedure that requires anesthesia it is very important that you have some testing done to ensure they can handle such heavy sedation. Don't be afraid to ask for tests if your veterinarian is not suggesting them. In addition to a physical exam, pre-op bloodwork is a key diagnostic tool that all parents need to insist on having done.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Levy, DVM, CVA and owner of House Call Vet NYC, "Pre-op blood tests are used to determine the absence of underlying conditions that would make surgery risky or leave the patient vulnerable to the effects of anesthesia. Most important are kidney and liver values, hematocrit (red blood cell count), white blood cell counts, blood sugar for potential diabetes and a heartworm test."

Each bit of information retrieved from the bloodwork tells a story that can help your veterinarian evaluate the overall health and identify any risk factors they need to address.

"Elevated liver enzymes might indicate the pet has Cushing's Disease, liver disease, or a tumor. High or low blood sugar can indicate diabetes or possibly a pancreatic tumor. Decreased kidney function would alter the type of anesthesia used or make anesthesia too risky to move forward. Low red blood cells or platelets could indicate infection, inflammation, or possibly cancer." explains Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT, owner of two award winning practices and the Chief Medical Officer for Monkey's House Senior Dog Hospice and Sanctuary.

Additional tests such as an ECG, urinalysis and chest X-rays may also be wise and for invasive procedures with a high risk of bleeding, Dr. Jennifer Queiroz-Williams, DVM, MS, Associate Professor of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, LSU School of Veterinary Medicine recommends doing a clotting profile as well.

"Chronic anemia, indication of kidney disease, genitourinary infection or systemic infection, abnormal chest radiographs or ECG and abnormal clotting profile, independent of age, would be red flags to not move forward with anesthesia," states Dr. Queiroz-Williams.

When my senior pug Lily was going through her testing to ensure she could handle anesthesia to undergo an MRI, CT scan and the inevitable surgery, she underwent many of the above mentioned tests as well as an abdominal ultrasound. Having so much information available prior to undergoing the anesthesia gave her doctor and supporting team the necessary details to devise a clear plan and made moving forward possible. It was also incredibly comforting to me to know that all her results came in so positive.

Being Proactive

Ensuring that your dog is at an ideal weight can make a huge difference in how they respond to anesthesia. Overweight dogs have a much more difficult time breathing and this means their hearts have to work that much harder, especially when under anesthesia. Incorporating a healthy, active lifestyle will keep your dog as fit as possible, reducing risks should they one day need to undergo a procedure requiring heavy sedation.

It is also very important that you discuss any medication or supplements your dog may be taking with your veterinarian prior to any procedure since even a natural remedy can put your dog at risk during surgery.

Dr. Morgan explains, "Some supplements can cause prolonged clotting times and increase bleeding, so be sure to discuss any supplements you are giving with your veterinarian prior to the procedure. Also let them know if you are giving any over-the-counter medications, as many can interfere with anesthetic procedures or surgery. It's amazing how many pet owners give aspirin without a thought; this can cause pets to bleed excessively during surgery. Sedative or anti-anxiety medications may interfere with anesthetic drugs that are used."

Your dog will need to fast prior to the procedure and experts also recommend grooming and bathing your dog prior to any surgery. This will help to keep them clean before and after surgery.

During the Procedure

While many procedures are done in your veterinarian's clinic, you can request that an anesthesiologist be present. The more invasive a procedure, the more you need to consider this decision.

According to Dr. Queiroz-Williams, "Best practice is to have an anesthesiologist always present or at least available for consultation. However, specific health conditions (systemic diseases, pre-shock, unstable patients, all very invasive abdominal proceedings, cardiac surgeries, central neurologic patients, and many others) should have an anesthesiologist present. Some breeds can present challenges for anesthesia (e.g., brachycephalic breeds, breeds affected by the MDR1 mutation like Collies and Long-haired Whippets, and many other particularities of specific breeds)."

I have handled things in several different ways for my dogs. My first pug Mackenzie needed dental surgery when he was 15 years of age. Terrified, I made sure we did all the testing that was available and due to the risks, I requested that he have his dental work done by a specialist with an anesthesiologist present. With Milo thanks to his glowing bloodwork and other positive tests I felt that his dental work could be done at my vet's clinic. With Lily, since she was being treated by a specialist, all of her procedures requiring anesthesia had an anesthesiologist involved, especially given the length of time she was under. Now with my Winnie, my 6 year old French Bulldog who has noticeable breathing issues, I am going to ensure she has an anesthesiologist on site for any procedures she may need.

During any procedure requiring anesthesia your dog's vital signs are constantly monitored. I find it comforting to ask exactly what they will be keeping an eye on which typically includes heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, CO2 and oxygen levels and if necessary, anesthesia may be adjusted throughout.

Recovery

If you have had a dog undergo a diagnostic or surgical procedure requiring anesthesia then you know how scary it can be waiting for that phone call letting you know how everything went. I remember that feeling of unbelievable relief that consumed me when I received the phone call from Lily's neurologist after her 6 hour back surgery telling me that she woke up like a champ.

Helping our dogs recover begins before the procedure is even completed. From a technical perspective Dr. Queiroz-Williams describes the impact that the proper administration of anesthetics and pain killers during the procedure can have on recovery. "Performing multimodal anesthesia and analgesia, while performing high quality anesthesia will overall improve the quality of recovery. Intense monitoring especially for the first three hours post anesthesia are vital to a safe anesthetic event."

Post-op there are also many things that we can do to help ensure a fast, healthy recovery. Dr. Levy reminds us to use our common sense, "provide a quiet, stress-free recovery area. Make sure the space is well ventilated and the temperature is comfortable. Handle her gently and protect your dog from being annoyed by children or other pets."

Block access to stairs and do not leave your dog unattended anywhere that they could fall or trip. In Lily's case I also needed to restrict her movement so I set up a comfy section in my room on the floor where she would be safe and where she could not move around very much until she was stronger. Some procedures require crate rest so that's something you will need to plan ahead for.

Adjusting their diet can also help with their recovery. "Many pets will be nauseous for a few days post-op. Have a bland diet prepared ahead of time. (I like 3/4 boiled lean ground turkey mixed with 1/4 canned organic pumpkin puree.) Extra fluid intake will help the body flush the anesthetic agents out of the body. Water flavored with a little no salt chicken or beef broth may encourage them to drink more," states Dr. Morgan.

It is important that we keep an eye on any incisions to make sure there are no signs of infection, but we also need to keep an eye on our dog's behavior and report back any signs that your dog is not getting back to their old self. Follow the post-op instructions provided by your vet and ask any questions you may have. Sometimes we are so caught up with the whole process that we cannot think clearly enough to ask all the questions we need to until we have returned home and can catch our breath. Don't be afraid to call your vet whenever you are unsure about anything with your dog's recovery. When it comes to our dogs it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Surgery is never something we wish upon our dogs, but there are steps we can take to reduce the risks as much as possible. Speak with your veterinarian and if needed a specialist, and together you will be able to do what is best for you and your senior dog.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

 

 

Help Your Dog Age Like Betty White by Ann-Marie Fleming

10 March, 2017

Betty WhiteI look at aging in a pretty simple way, having the same view for humans and dogs, that it's all a matter of perspective. I know people who age with the expectation for terrible things and low and behold terrible things would happen. Why can't we all be more like Betty White? Always smiling, always showcasing a positive attitude towards life and emitting incredible energy and spirit, Betty White is a perfect example of how we should approach the golden years for ourselves and our dogs.

Not only is Betty still acting, but she spends a good portion of her time helping animals, something she has been heavily involved in for more than 40 years, contributing both her time and money to many worthy causes, organizations as well as research. Never idle, Betty is not only constantly doing, but she is doing everything with enthusiasm even at 95 years of age. I wholeheartedly believe her energy and attitude is directly responsible for how well she defies age. By finding humor in everything, she never takes life too seriously and her healthy, happy life is a testament to how well this philosophy works.

Step 1 - It Starts with Us

"It's your outlook on life that counts. If you take yourself lightly and don't take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you can find the humor in our everyday lives. And sometimes it can be a lifesaver." Betty White

I believe that having the right mindset can help not just us personally, but also those around us including our dogs, so in order to help our dogs age like Betty White, we need to be like Betty White ourselves. We need to look at life through a similar lens and find humor, fun and happiness is everything around us. We need to expect the best case scenario and not the worst.

Having devoted my life to dogs, in particular seniors, I have learned a great deal about how our dogs react to the energy we emit. If we are angry, sad, frustrated or stressed they feel this negative energy and it impacts them in a negative way. If we are happy, positive and relaxed they feel that as well and you will see how they feed off of this. I can't think of a more important time to adopt a positive energy-filled lifestyle than when we are taking care of senior dogs.

A big reason people look at getting older in a negative way is because there is an expectation of poor health and overall decline. And while age will inevitably take its toll, I do wish people would recognize the power we hold inside us to slow down the decline, so we can live life to its fullest like Betty White. By learning to maintain a positive perspective as we age then we can in turn help our senior dogs embrace a similar outlook as they move through their golden years.

Step 2 - Embrace Change

"I'm a big cockeyed optimist. I try to accentuate the positive as opposed to the negative." Betty White

It is up to us as pet parents to see this stage of our dog's life as a very special time. Instead of seeing all the things your dog can no longer do, start noticing all the ways your dog does things differently. You will be amazed at how your dog adapts and if he/she sees that you react with joy and happiness, this will continue to motivate them to keep trying. If we give up or start feeling sorry for our dogs, how do you think they will respond? If we stop being active because we assume our dog can no longer be active, what do you think that will do to both their mental and physical state?

I personally find my dog's golden years to be a fascinating and entertaining time. I love seeing how they change and finding new ways for us to enjoy our time together. The adventures can still continue, we just need to change how we pursue them and you will see how much fun still remains.

For example your dog may not be able to walk long distances any more but may thrive on getting out of the house, so why not try a dog stroller? Give them a chance to still enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the outdoors. They can walk for as long as they can and then ride when they need a break, but in the end you have injected fun and adventure into their life. You may even find that you are getting more exercise as a result and this in turn helps you to live a healthier lifestyle as well.

Step 3 - Have Some Fun

"Love your pet every day throughout your life." Betty White (@BettyMWhite)

Start sharing photos and videos of your senior dog on social media such as Facebook and Instagram. If you already do then start sharing even more! Get creative. You'd be amazed at how fun this can be for you and your dog. As you are thinking of cute and humorous ways to capture your senior dog's behavior for others to enjoy, you will find yourself having a blast with your dog in the process. It changes your mindset so instead of being sad and inactive, you may find yourself doing more with your dog than ever before.

The more you share about your older dog, the more you see a million ways that they are so special. The thought that goes into picture taking helps you appreciate your dog on so many levels that you may have once never considered. I find myself noticing such small and wonderful details about my dogs which I try to capture and share. From how adorable their little gray faces become, to how they light up when they go for a ride in their Dogger or the car. The way they savor their food and drinks of water, the way they intensely stare at me watching my every move and the endless trust they place in me as I care for them.

I cannot express to you how special every moment becomes when you see them through the right lens. And like Betty White has taught us, it's good to laugh and our senior dogs do some hilarious things, so enjoy this time together with a smile not a frown. Stay active so they will stay active, stay positive so they will stay positive and be happy so you can all experience wonderful times together regardless of age.

Thank you Betty White, you are an inspiration to us all.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Pet Insurance for Your Senior Dog - Is it Worth it? by Ann-Marie Fleming

15 February, 2017

The question of whether or not to get insurance for my dogs was something I personally pondered for many years. Is it worth it? Putting money out every month, especially when your dog is healthy, is a difficult thing to get your head around, but it's interesting how quickly your perspective changes when you go through a serious health issue with your dog.

Pet Insurance for Your Senior Dog - Is it Worth It?

When my Paige suddenly became severely sick and her vet was unable to help her, I took her to Canada West, a specialist clinic. She was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and was fighting for her life. She ended up staying in ICU for a week and her vet bills quickly reached the $11k mark. I would have given my last penny to try and save her and I came very close to doing just that since I had to use every bit of money I had to cover the bill. While Paige rebounded and was able to come home for a few weeks this horrible disease eventually took her from me. I don't regret any of what happened because at the very least it gave me more time with my girl, but what it did make me realize was how fragile their lives can be and that I never want to be in a position where I may not be able to do everything possible to save my dogs because of financial challenges. It was time to take another look at pet insurance.

I began researching the different pet insurance companies, their rates and their policies for my three dogs Lily, Milo and Winnie. At the time Lily was 10 yrs, Milo was 12 yrs and Winnie was 5 yrs so I needed to be sure age was not going to be a factor. I found a clear winner in Trupanion and here's why:

  • They will insure senior dogs as long as you enroll them before their 14th birthday.
  • They cover 90% of your costs once the deductible is paid and not including some charges like exam fees. Most companies only cover 80%.
  • There is no annual limit so you do not need to compromise on your treatment options. I found quite a few other companies that did impose limits which was an instant deal breaker.
  • You can pay extra to ensure alternative treatment methods like acupuncture are included.
  • Your claim is cumulative so even if you do not reach your deductible initially they will continue to process your claims for that condition and will start covering costs once your deductible is met. Once the deductible has been met, it is met for the life of your dog's policy for the same condition.
  • You can take your dogs to any vet or specialist within Canada or the US. 
  • Aids such as dog wheelchairs and prosthetics are also covered along with diagnostics and treatment. They also cover hereditary and congenital conditions which some companies do not.
  • You can obtain pre-approvals so you only have to come up with your portion when covering the bill. This is huge if your dog undergoes an expensive procedure. In this case Trupanion pays the clinic directly.
  • Your premium does not go up because of claims.
  • Their customer service is outstanding. When you speak with them you know you are talking to dog people. Many of the people I spoke with shared stories of their own dog's conditions.

I decided to enrol my 3 dogs and I currently pay $326 per month in total which works out to just over $100 per dog, per month. This may seem expensive, but when you consider how quickly your vet bills can escalate, you soon see how reasonable it is. The counter argument to paying this monthly premium is to deposit these funds into a savings account, but let's do the math. Paige's treatment cost roughly $11k which at a rate of $326 a month would have taken me roughly 2.8 years to accumulate and would have been spent on helping one dog in the span of one week. What would happen if one of my other dogs needed treatment around the same time? I would have just depleted nearly three years worth of savings and it would take me many years to rebuild that balance. And this also assumes that I would be able to consistently make those deposits. Good in theory, but not a replacement for insurance.

I was enrolled for just over a year without any real need to use their insurance, but then Lily started to show some serious mobility issues followed by incontinence and then muscle spasms. She was diagnosed with Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia which caused instability in her vertebrae leading to a herniated disc. This herniation in turn was putting pressure on her spinal cord causing her growing list of mobility, stability and incontinence issues. She needed to see a neurologist at a specialist clinic (Canada West) who used x rays, an MRI and CT scan to diagnose and then surgery to correct. I was able to get a pre-approval from Trupanion based on the estimate I was provided by Canada West, which meant I was only responsible for paying the 10% plus any of the fees not covered, such as the initial consult less any remaining deductible. I purposely chose a lower deductible which does increase the monthly premiums, but allows the coverage to kick in sooner so I feel it's worth it. With Lily having gone through the diagnostics and now the surgery I cannot express in words how grateful I am that I had insurance. Simply put I would not have had the money for either if it was not for Trupanion.

There are some downsides to pet insurance which does impact senior dogs more specifically than younger dogs in that they will not cover any pre-existing conditions. Trupanion defines a pre-existing condition as a condition that first occurred or showed symptoms during the 18-month period prior to enrollment. In fact it is more affordable to insure a senior dog, which I presume is because the insurer knows that some conditions will be ineligible for coverage. Not covering pre-existing conditions is common among all insurance for both pets and humans alike, but where it really stings with our senior dogs is when it comes to dental. I have not had any success in getting dental covered because if there is anything in your dog's medical file 18 months before enrollment that even hints at dental disease, like the presence of tartar, then even if you put your dog through dental surgery to remedy the issue they will not cover any future dental requirements. Given that many dogs, especially seniors, often need repeated dental procedures this was disappointing. However if you go into insurance with the understanding that dental is a tricky area and use insurance as a means of protecting your dog against the thousands of other potential health challenges they could face, then you will quickly see that what they do cover far outweighs what they will not cover.

I look at what Paige went through - all of that would have been covered and any ongoing treatment of her Cancer for as long as necessary would have been covered. With Lily, anything related to her spinal condition will be covered for life and since all 3 of my dogs have been very healthy, the list of what I know I can use insurance for is almost endless. So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post, yes, in my opinion pet insurance is completely and absolutely worth it. I no longer worry about being able to provide my dogs with the best care, I know I can thanks to insurance and that is a huge relief. I never want to let my dogs down and armed with insurance, I know I never will.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Managing Your Senior Dog's Incontinence by Ann-Marie Fleming

07 February, 2017

Dog Incontinence Can Be ManagedBefore I had senior dogs the thought of dealing with incontinence never crossed my mind, but when my first dogs started to face challenges in their golden years it quickly became front and center in my life. Sadly, incontinence (both bladder and bowel) is one of the main reasons people put their dogs down. And while sometimes the cause of the incontinence can be something more serious, more often than not it is just a leaky bladder and in the case of fecal incontinence, many times it is related to a spinal issue and not life threatening. It's like we forget that humans go through this very same thing as we get older. In fact a multi-billion dollar market has been created around products to support incontinence in humans, yet we give up on our dogs when they have these very same issues? I will never understand a decision to euthanize a dog for something so manageable.

In fact managing incontinence in my dogs is a big reason I started Dog Quality. Churchill, my first French Bulldog (and love of my life) was struggling with mobility issues and incontinence and I remember when I first tried a disposable diaper on him. Both of us were mortified. Churchill clearly did not like the crinkly material and I clearly did not like the fact that it would not stay on. I also missed trying to stick the tabs onto their correct positions tearing the diaper in the process. I knew this was never going to work for my dogs. I also knew that I could not be the only dog parent looking for a better solution; something that worked and was comfortable for our dogs so we could ensure that they maintained dignity regardless of their challenges.

Our dogs go most of their lives being trained to go outside for potty breaks. They know this pleases us and when they start to lose control and have accidents often times they are more upset than we are about the mess. A simple thing like a dog diaper or a dog belly band can do wonders, not only for your carpets and your peace of mind, but also for your dog's emotional state.

When we first introduced our Washable Wonders line of dog diapers and belly bands Churchill had already passed away so I was never able to help him with these products, but I have depended on them for all of my seniors that came after him. My Paige, who was the most intense cuddler you'll ever meet, became incontinent and our diapers allowed her to continue to sleep in my bed, under the crook of my arm where she always preferred to lay. Side note: Sleeping has never been the same without you :( 

My Milo, who is about to turn 14 yrs, is a mix between a marker and a leaker so he wears our belly bands with our pads 24/7 and Lily (11 yrs) relies on our female dog diapers to help manage her incontinence (both bladder and bowel) caused by a spinal condition. All of my dogs sleep with me in my bed, lay with me on my couch, ride with me in my car and come to work everyday and I would never want this to change so I am eternally grateful for our diapers and belly bands as well as our blanket pads for allowing me to combine quality time with maximum protection.

Dog Diaper & Belly Band Stretchable StrapsI feel completely immersed in our products not just as a business owner but more because they have and continue to improve the quality of life for my older dogs. So please, if your senior dog is experiencing any form of incontinence whether it be urinary or fecal please know that it can be managed. Depending on volume and their condition sometimes we need to get creative and that's ok. For example, with Paige I used 2 diapers, one on top of each other, to manage her volume. With Milo I use the bands with 2 of our washable pads and with Lily I use a diaper along with a pad as well as our blanket pads. Lily is also the inspiration for our new stretchable straps which help to keep our diapers and bands in place better. What happened with Lily is due to her spinal problems I was not able to tighten the diaper enough to keep it from falling off. She was just too sensitive in certain areas for the diaper to be made snug enough. I was desperate since her incontinence was quite severe and unpredictable. I started to play around with various ideas and then when I learned about stretch Velcro I knew we could create something very special. We created a Y shaped strap that combines the stretch characteristic of elastic, with the staying power of Velcro and they work so well that you can keep a diaper or a belly band in place even overnight, which is a monumental task given how much dogs roll, move, burrow etc.

With Lily these straps have been incredible. In fact I don't know what I would do without them. And after the success I had using them on Lily with her diapers, I now depend on them to keep Milo's belly band from sliding around. Big relief knowing the band stays exactly where it needs to stay! Some of the best ideas come from personal experiences and I can honestly say that each and every one of our products reflect challenges I have faced with my own senior dogs and the solutions that have changed our lives. 

Managing Dog IncontinenceOver the past few months, as I have been helping Lily with her condition and at the same time managing Milo's urinary habits, I have found a great rhythm. We have our routine down pat. I even made a special lift out of a Dogger basket and a duffle bag to help get Lily up and down stairs and we use it each and every day. My point being that with the right products and more importantly with an open mind, you too will find a rhythm. I speak to customers every day that show me what is possible with love, patience, creativity and persistence and the rewards are well worth any effort you put out. I look at Lily in her diaper playing with her stuffies or MIlo stretched out comfortable in his belly band and I know we are making the most out of life and making the most out of our time together. Life is good!

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia - Lily's Journey (Part 2 - Surgery) by Ann-Marie Fleming

22 January, 2017

This is a continuation of Lily's journey as we work towards treating her ongoing mobility issues. Lily is my senior pug (11 yrs) who was diagnosed with Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia which is the root of her mobility problems. I describe this in greater detail in Part 1 - Symptoms & Diagnosis The article below recaps all that happened with her surgery.

It felt like Lily's surgery would never come. We were originally scheduled for the procedure in mid-December. We drove the 6 hours to reach the vet hospital (Canada West Veterinarian Specialists in Burnaby, British Columbia). We went down one day early to have a urinalysis done since Lily started to have difficulty urinating and her neurologist Dr. Sharp was worried that she may have an infection and if so we would need to postpone surgery. So we did the test Wednesday evening and I brought Lily back Thursday morning. The results from the urinalysis showed no bacteria so the surgery was a go. 

I checked Lily in, paid and even had my panic attack over Lily going through such a long and invasive procedure only to be told an hour later by Dr. Sharp that he had a family situation happen and that he could not do the surgery because he could not focus enough. Given how challenging the surgery would be, while shocked at this turn of events, I appreciated his honesty since I wanted him on his 'A' game. 

3D Model of Lily's Vertebrae

The silver lining in all of this is that it gave Dr. Sharp time to use the very cool 3D model of Lily's spine to give me a visual of what the surgery would entail. I have to say the model looks way bigger in the photo than in real life. In fact it's quite tiny which made the procedure even scarier since there really isn't much bone to work with. The surgery itself would involve the securing of two metal plates into her T11 and T12 vertebrae using four very tiny screws. She also needed to have her herniated disc that was compressing her spinal cord repaired. This herniation is the result of having too much movement in her vertebrae for so many years, something the plates are going to prevent moving forward. 

He showed me where the plates would be placed and he even showed me his practice holes for the screws. This 3D model is amazing because it gives him so much more visibility into Lily's vertebrae than he could ever have during surgery and a chance to practice so he gets the placement of the screws and plates exactly right. I love technology! He explained that he was going to sterilize it so he could bring it into surgery with him and use it as a guide. The biggest risk of this surgery surrounds the placement of the screws. If they are not precisely placed then the plates would not be as stable and we may not have the long term benefits we are looking for.

The surgery was then rescheduled for January 12th. Everything about this day felt better than the last attempt. Lily ate much better this trip, the weather was nicer, the hospital seemed more organized, there were no worries about infection and I felt much more confident - this was the day. I dropped her off at 8:30am and then had to wait for a call to let me know when they would be starting the surgery. The procedure itself would take about 6 hours which is terrifying. Of the 6 hours roughly 4-5 would be on the plates itself and then the disc repair was something that would go very quickly since Dr. Sharp has done this many many times. Lily is only the third dog that has had this plate surgery done by Dr. Sharp at Canada West since it is such a new procedure. 

I received the call at about 10:30am from Dr. Sharp telling me they were about to begin. I felt instantly nauseous. I knew in my heart that this was the right thing to do for the long term health and quality of life of Lily, but all I kept thinking about was how Lily would feel when she woke up confused about what just happened. Anyways it was happening and now I had the excruciating task of waiting 6 hours to find out 1) if Lily was ok and 2) if the procedure was a success. The one thing that had me very hopeful was that Lily had been under anesthesia twice in the last 12 months, including about 3 hours for all the diagnostics done for this condition and both times woke up like a champ, so of all my dogs I knew she would do well even with being under for so long.

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasis - Plate placement CT scanThursday truly felt like the longest day of my life. As each hour passed I kept trying to picture what they were doing to her. And then finally I received the call from Dr. Sharp. My heart sank as I answered the phone. Within seconds of saying hello he explained that the surgery went extremely well and that it's the best he's done this surgery to-date. I could hear the smile on his face and I felt like the luckiest mom alive. He said the screws were placed in an excellent position, right down the ideal bone corridor. This was later confirmed through a CT scan shown here. He then asked me if I wanted to hear something funny - I said ok. Well apparently Lily's 3D model melted when they tried to sterilize it so he didn't end up having that as a tool. So glad he told me this afterwards! 

He was also successful in removing the disc material that was compressing her spinal cord by performing small corpectomy/mini-hemilaminectomies on both sides just over the T11/12 interspace. The CT image here shows her spinal cord uncompressed as a result of this disc repair.CT Scan of Lily's T11 corridor - uncompressed

I then received another call a few minutes later that Lily once again woke up like a champ and was doing well. That's my girl!

I was not able to see her that night, but was able to visit her the next day. Apparently Lily would not stop barking in her kennel until someone sat with her so they made a bed for her under their desks so she would not feel alone. This blew me away and when I visited her I could see how much everyone cared. They were so sweet to her and everyone took a moment to tell me how great she's doing. Canada West is a very special place!


Lily Right After Surgery for Caudal Articular Process DysplasiaRight after the surgery Lily was still feisty, but was unable to walk on her own so they needed to use a rear sling to support her rear legs. She still managed to motor down the hallway to see me though and the tech had a hard time keeping up! She was moving her legs well, but was severely knuckling which is why she needed the extra support. This was a little shocking to see since she was now worse than when she went in, but because of the inflammation from the surgery and the shock to the system from having such a major procedure performed, the body needs time to adjust. Lily stayed in the hospital for 3 nights to give her enough time to regain some of her strength and to ensure that there were no complications and I was able to pick her up Sunday morning. When I picked her up she still needed the support of the rear sling, but by the next morning had improved so much that she was walking on her own again.

I brought my girl home and for the first two weeks she is on restricted exercise so I have her spending most of her time in my bedroom. We were given a set of range-of-motion exercises to do 3 times a day plus pain medication taken every 8 hours. I am also doing cold compression several times a day to help with her healing. We are one week into her recovery and she is making me so proud. She is still not back to her old self, but is sure on the road to recovery. Dr. Sharp told me that it would realistically take 6-12 weeks for her to show improvement from the surgery, so we have a long way to go.

I will write another update on Lily's recovery as we work through the next several months, but overall Dr. Sharp has done everything possible to give Lily the best chance of improving or at the very least at preventing further decline and I will be forever grateful. It is now up to Lily to take it from here and me to help her gain back as much strength as possible so we can take full advantage of this impressive procedure. I am hoping that Lily will be a posterchild for this procedure and given how strong her spirit is, I am extremely optimistic that she will exceed all expectations! There is no keeping this little pug down :)

 Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

 

Looking Forward to 2017 with My Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

04 January, 2017

There is something refreshing about beginning a new year. I find hope in putting the old year behind so I can begin a new journey and since at Dog Quality so much seems to happen, starting a new year is very exciting. Even more importantly, I look forward to becoming a better pet parent. As I reflect on 2016 I find myself conducting a self-assessment in how I spent my time with my dogs Lily, Milo and Winnie. Did I do enough? Did we have fun? Are they happy? And then I start thinking about what we could do differently this year.My New Year Promises to My Dogs

We will be starting this year off with a major event. Lily (my pug) is having back surgery later this month. For those of you who may not be aware, last year Lily started to struggle with mobility issues that gradually became worse leading to rear weakness, loss of balance and eventually muscle spasms and incontinence.

After being evaluated by a neurologist using a variety of diagnostic tools including X-rays, MRI and a CT scan it was determined that she has Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia which is a malformation of one of her vertebrae, most likely since birth, that allows for too much movement. This movement over her 11 years has now caused a herniated disc which is putting pressure on her spinal cord. There is a new surgical procedure that will stabilize this section of her spine to prevent future problems and at the same time they will repair the disc to take the pressure off her spinal cord. Other dogs like Lily that have had this surgery have done extremely well so we are all optimistic that she will be much better off having this surgery than she would be without it. So a major part of my plans for 2017 is to see Lily through this procedure and to help with her recovery so she can get back to enjoying life the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Once Lily is fully recovered one of my other goals for 2017 is to take some trips with my dogs. Dog Quality had a very hectic year in 2016 and I did not have much time to go anywhere with my dogs and there is so much to explore that I simply must get us out on some road trips. This will be one of my priorities this year and I'll be sure to share our adventures through this blog!

Last year I made focusing on natural ways to treat my dogs a big priority and this will continue in 2017 especially throughout LIly's recovery. In 2016 I started an aromatherapy course and created some blends that turned into lotions, balms, muscle rubs, skin remedies and even a solution to use with wipes in-between diaper changes for Lily and Milo. I will continue to explore more in these areas and expand my knowledge to embrace new methods of natural healing.

This year will also be a big year for Dog Quality. Last spring we moved to a new, bigger location so we could expand our operations as we continue to bring more production in-house. Ths was incredibly challenging, but now with this in place we plan on introducing some new products for 2017 including our Big Dogger stroller for large breeds (or for those who wish to use it for several small dogs), stretchy straps to better hold our diapers and belly bands in place and our super sized Blanket Pads to help protect larger areas from unwanted urinary accidents. My own dogs help to test everything, from prototype to final product, to make sure they truly make a difference in the quality of life for older dogs, so they will be busy working hard throughout 2017. 

 And as always I will continue to remind myself to embrace every moment with my four-legged family because it should always be quality time wherever we go and with whatever we do. Life is too short and no matter how stressful things can get I should never forget to take those special moments to hug, kiss, laugh and cuddle with my dogs. To appreciate every second of every day I have with them and to be grateful for all that they teach me about life, love and family.

I wish each and every one of you a fantastic 2017! May it bring you everything you hope for and more.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia - Lily's Journey (Part 1 - Symptoms & Diagnosis) by Ann-Marie Fleming

26 November, 2016

Over the past year my senior pug Lily ( 11 yrs) has been facing some challenges. At first she was walking with her right leg showing signs of stiffness and she was starting to scuff the toes on her right paw. I thought it was arthritis. She had a previous knee injury and I was told by her vet that she would most likely develop arthritis in this joint as she aged. In addition she began to lose control over her bowels. In fact her poop would just pop out and surprise her as much as me, but I knew from my previous pug and from many customers that this is not uncommon in senior dogs so I was not too concerned. 

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia - Pug

However things continued to get progressively worse. Her left leg started to show similar issues so now both legs seemed stiff, both back paws were scuffing and over time her rear legs have become very unsteady and weak. She falls very easily and can no longer go up or down steps. And perhaps the most telling sign was the fact that her tail, once curled like a typical pug, was now limp. She was not exhibiting classic signs of pain, which was comforting, but I also feel that this could be my desire to stay optimistic or Lily's desire to be heroic. Looking at all her symptoms I suspected that she had Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) which I knew had no cure.

Things started to change when over the past 6 weeks her condition worsened and new symptoms appeared. She started to have muscle spasms when she would get very excited. For example if the door bell would ring or if she fought with her sister Winnie over a carrot, she would go into a muscle spasm that would shoot her rear legs forward and she would urinate uncontrollably several times and in some cases would also poop. Her tail would curl up and wag at a rapid pace clearly not being controlled by Lily.

In fact during these episodes I often can only stop her spasms by placing a warm compress onto her muscles to relax them. Eventually I would see her tail stop wagging and fall limp once again letting me know the episode had passed. I now knew that this was more than simply getting older and I no longer thought she had DM, but I did know that she needed to see a neurologist so we could find out what was going on.

That week I took her into to see her vet. I knew from past experiences that there is not much a veterinarian can tell you when it comes to spinal issues. Even with x rays they may not be able to diagnose so my main goal was to get Lily a referral to a specialist. Her visit went as expected in that he really couldn't say what it was only that a spinal tumor was a possibility. I was disappointed though because even with me asking for the referral and explaining that Lily has insurance, her vet tried to discourage me from spending the money to see a specialist since he did not feel they would be able to do much for Lily. I explained that the reason I wanted to find out what is causing her problems is not only to see if we can fix it, but to also understand even if we can't fix it, what I can do to help keep her comfortable. Some spinal conditions do well with exercise, some do not. Some conditions have pain and she'd need pain management, but others like DM do not - how would I know how to take care of her to the best of my ability if I do not find out what is wrong?

Caudal Articular Process Dysplasia - PugRegardless of his hesitancy I did get the referral and took Lily to Canada West Veterinary Specialists in Vancouver, British Columbia for a series of tests which included x rays, an MRI and CT scan. When the results came in there was clear information explaining her condition. Lily has a congenital malformation referred to as caudal vertebral articular process dysplasia. With this condition Lily was basically born with a malformed bone in her vertebrae that would normally be responsible for stabilizing that vertebrae. Without it there is too much movement in that area and over her 11 years this movement has caused constrictive myelopathy in the form of a herniated disc which is putting pressure on her spinal cord.

The good news is that this is a condition which can be addressed with surgery. In discussions with the 2 neurologists involved in Lily's case I have learned that in the past surgery was not effective because the focus was on correcting the damage rather than addressing the cause. Over the past couple of years the surgical procedure now focuses on stabilizing the vertebrae with the malformation by inserting a plate. The dogs that have undergone this new procedure have shown remarkable results. In Lily's case not only would they put in a plate, but they would also remove the herniated disc. As scary as this sounds, she should have almost immediate relief.

The risks of this procedure center around the placement of the screws used to secure this plate. However thanks to technology they are going to be printing a 3D model of her vertebrae so they can plan the exact placement of each screw prior to the surgery. This will be key in ensuring a successful procedure since every dog is slightly different even when of the same breed, so knowing how much bone he has to work with ahead of time, as well as the shape and positioning, will allow the surgeon to be incredibly prepared.

I was also relieved to learn that Lily will be able to walk right after the surgery. While she will need to stay in the hospital for at least 2 days, she will not need crate rest and will be encouraged to walk, but of course no jumping or running until she is fully recovered. I will also be able to do most of her rehab at home.

Right now we are waiting on the 3D model to be completed so the surgery can be planned and scheduled. I will discuss more details about her surgery and her recovery as we go through this journey. To be honest I am terrified, but I know this is her best chance to have a higher quality of life and to be as pain free as possible. I look into Lily's eyes and I ask her to trust me. I ask her not to be mad at me and that we will get through this together! I hope she understands because she means the world to me and all I want to do is take care of her and give her the best life possible.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

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