Do dogs know they will grow old? Do they know they’ll start getting stiff when they stay too long in one position, that they’ll wake up with bodies that no longer respond immediately to the challenge of getting out of bed?
If they do know at some level, can they do anything more about it than we can?
Late autumn 2006: Greta stood on the veterinarian’s examining room table with her tail tucked as far down between her legs as she could manage. She was one year old, and life had already brought her from lost puppy to new home to surgery that would remove any possibility of motherhood for her. Now, she was at the veterinary clinic for her post-spaying checkup, and she was scared. She has always made it a point not to trust men in general, and men with stethoscopes who make her stand up on tables in particular.
“We rotated her hips while she was anesthetized. She has moderate hip dysplasia,” the doctor said. Hip what? I learned it’s usually a genetic problem and occurs often in large dogs. The soft tissues around the joint develop abnormally and the condition can eventually lead to arthritis. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2084&aid=444
The vet had two pieces of advice: don’t let her get fat, and give her a glucosamine chondroitin tablet every day.
So, every morning for the next five and one-half years, Greta attempted to spit out her Cosamin DS tablet. I put it back in, down the throat past the point where she could roll it forward on her tongue and shoot it onto the carpet. Every morning, she swallowed it with an expression that said I could expect similar resistance if I tried it again tomorrow.
The diagnosis stayed in her medical records, but neither she nor her person thought much about it beyond the daily pill. We had other things on our minds. Greta had to put squirrels back in the trees and Canada geese back in the pond. I had to learn widowhood.
Greta’s sleeping quarters were in the basement. Each morning when I went to get her, she danced a joyous greeting to the day, even when the day brought freezing rain or sleet. Then she raced up the stairs to go out for her morning walk.
It happened gradually. As time trickled by, Greta’s pace on the stairs slowed. She began to rise from a nap with deliberation, front legs pushing up, then hind legs rising gradually to support her. At six years old, she should be too young for arthritis. But a day came when she stood at the base of the stairs gazing upward. She could not reach the first floor.
“The dose (of glucosamine chondroitin) you were giving her wasn’t strong enough,” the veterinarian said.
Greta now has a glucosamine chondroitin pill of sufficient size that I wouldn’t want anyone to ram it down my throat. It is supposed to be chewable, so one just gives it to the dog and the dog chews. But the manufacturer apparently assumed that all dogs love liver flavored pills. Greta begs to differ. She loves beef, chicken, salmon and lamb. Not liver.
Offered the chewable tablet, Greta took it delicately between her front teeth, carried it to her personal rug and deposited it. It remained there all day. It would have remained there indefinitely, had I not coated it with olive oil to make it slippery and rammed it down her throat.
For a time, the morning ritual became: coat two doxycycline tablets with olive oil, ram down Greta’s throat; coat one Dasuquin tablet with olive oil, ram down Greta’s throat. She was on doxycycline just in case there was another infection contributing to her disability. The antibiotic made her sick to her stomach. Been there, but I eat yogurt to counter its effects. Want to guess how far yogurt spatters when flicked out by a long tongue?
Greta ate grass in lieu of yogurt. Can’t say it worked really well, based on the amount of thrown-up grass that appeared in various locations around the house.
Greta took glucosamine chondroitin shots, too, once a week for four weeks. She is now on a monthly maintenance schedule of shots. The doxycycline is gone. She is better. But what arthritis and heart failure have in common is that there is no cure. Greta can feel better, with glucosamine chondroitin. I can feel better, with a biventricular pacemaker.
But for both of us, better is as good as we get.