February 19, 2008 by Marj Hatzell
H.R.H. Shad Roe the Dog is nearly nine years old. Once dogs hit the magic age of seven (forty-nine in dog years, for those of you not good at math) they are considered to be “senior” dogs, meaning, “Your dog is old.” We celebrated this milestone by switching to senior formula dog food, which costs as much as our outrageously-priced maintenance formula does. And yet somehow Shadow gained more weight. Hmmm…
Shadow was never skinny but she was always healthy. At six months she was already forty pounds and we knew we were in trouble, especially since the vet told us that dogs her breed(s) tend to top out at around forty-five pounds. She was sixty at a year and eighty pounds at two years (!), which is about the time they told us she needed to get off of the puppy formula and head towards maintenance. She managed to lose a few pounds (thanks to doggie Jenny Craig formula) and stabilized at seventy-four pounds, where she currently weighs in.
So why am I giving you the privilege of learning my dog’s weight woes? For a Border Collie/Black Lab mix (as well as we know anyways, there could be something else in there. Like chihuahua.) she is going to be somewhat stocky. But this stocky? This muscular? When my relatives saw her after three years they were shocked. They joked that she must be juicing (aka using anabolic steroids) because her shoulders were bigger than Mark Maguire’s. She was, and still is, a big dog. Not Great Dane big, just dog-large-enough-to-use-as-an-ottoman-big. An ottoman that keeps your feet toasty warm but alas, you cannot wear khaki pants when you use it for fear of NINE INCH BLACK HAIR covering your legs. The end.
The past two years Shadow has been in excellent health. She is playful, eats well and is very happy (of course she is, we spoil her rotten). She will do anything for a carrot (organic baby carrots only), including sit, shake hands, lie down, put her head down, give high-fives and sit pretty. Then we make her balance it on her nose and tell her not to eat it. She’ll sit there for a few minutes before her droopy eyes beg us to release her and then she’s allowed to eat it. We’re mean, but it’s fun.
Before we moved two years ago we noticed Shadow limping in the winter. We took her to the vet, and after extensive x-rays (and hundreds of dollars) they declared she had arthritis and needed to stop camping out on the concrete in the yard. She took a glucosamine supplement and improved in days. We moved to our new home and she was fine. Fast forward two years…
Last summer Shadow began to slow down. We figured, “Well, she’s eight. She ain’t a spring chicken.” and took her in to be checked out. She seemed to bulk up again, according to the vet. They took bloodwork and detected elevated liver enzymes. After extensive testing (and a few hundred more dollars) she was cleared. She’s an older dog, just keep her weight maintainted, make certain she takes her vitamins and increase her daily exercise (two walks a day instead of one). No problem. Except that she began limping worse. Then she started having trouble getting up the stairs at night. Three time she wet herself in her sleep. She began draining her water bowl five to six times a day, when previously we filled it up twice, if that. She could no longer sleep on the bed with us, since she couldn’t make it up there. She seemed to pant more, tolerated less walks and slept most of the day. Most days she looked sad and in pain. Last week I knew she was due for her six-month checkup and decided that her arthritis was getting worse, much too bad for us to handle. We went back to the vet.
The doc (whom we love, and loves our spoled Shad Roe) noted that Shad has a few lypomas (fatty tumors), which are not uncommon for a dog her age. Her hair was shiney and perfect. Her teeth looked awesome, her ears were clear, her heart and BP fine, her temp fine. What the heck is going on? He asked our permission to do an extensive panel because something just didn’t seem right to him. Sure! What’s a few hundred more? I mean, she’s our baby and we’re going to be financially responsible for her, just as a pet owner should (next time, I get pet insurance!). They did the panel and gave me a new glucosamine supplement. She seemed right as rain the next day. I mean, back to chasing squirrels and prancing about the yard with her rubber chicken. She made it up the stairs for the first time in two weeks. She was improving.
Last night the vet called. I knew when he was calling me personally that the news couldn’t be that good, since the tech usually calls me with results. The doc explained that Shadow has extremely high levels of Akaline Phosphatase (ALP). This is a hormone in the blood that normally appears at about a level of 130. Shadow’s is 1400. Yes, 1400 not 140. Meaning, hers is way out of whack. And how did this happen? The doc’s best guess is that since ALP is excreted by the Adrenal gland and is a hormone that acts like a steroid, Shadow’s body is producing ten times the amount she needs. It has been for a few years. In fact, her excessive thirst, weight gain, achy joints, fatigue, extreme hunger (stealing garbage, knocking over trash) and wetting are all signs of this. In essence, my dog’s body is juicing itself. Weird, huh?
Today we go back in for more tests. This is something that could kill her if not treated. Funny thing is, the treatment is simple (antifungals, believe it or not!) if it is just an over-active adrenal gland. But 80% of these cases end up from tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands, which need more extensive treatment. And she’ll never be cured. Our best case scenario? Shadow will have something called Cushing’s disease. It is treatable with a 60% success rate. Fab, huh?
Sorry to prattle on about the dog. Honestly, it has been the best few days my family has ever had. We’ve enjoyed each other’s company, relaxed, had fun and Bugaboo was great. Bug Boy is having some sort of allergy attack and is home today (hives, swollen eye) but really, we’re great. Shadow? Not so great. My $45 shelter special is costing more than a pure bred dog with papers these days. But she’s worth it. I mean, how can you NOT want to love this dog?
Best Shadow in the whole, wide world.