When your difficult dog becomes your easy dog*

*Alternate headline: When your geriatric dog has fewer health problems than your younger dog.**

**Then again, Leo is 9, so technically he is a senior dog too.

Last week, I marveled to myself that because of Mia’s mobility limitations, my “difficult dog” Leo has become the easier dog to take out into the world.

This happened with Isis, too, after years of struggling to fix her leash reactivity. Leo was not an easy puppy. He jumped up and bit our arms during walks. Tore several jacket sleeves.

I remember walking Isis one Saturday morning back in 2010, thinking how much easier she was to manage at that point than Leo.***

***Our life with Isis is the subject of this book.

Then Leo became super leash-reactive. While Mia was basically bombproof, constant vigilance was required to keep Leo from barking and lunging at everything that moved.

After coming to the conclusion that I could not cure him, I committed myself to a lifetime of management. And string cheese.

But it was the darnedest thing. All that careful management led to behavioral change!

We’re still Midnight Dog Walkers, metaphorically, anyway. I will never walk Leo peacefully midday through a crowded park full of children, scooters, bikes and joggers. (Who would want to go to such a place?) I can’t even imagine walking him down our own street midday on a Saturday like I did that time with Isis.

Most evenings will find us on a 20-30 passeggiata at dusk. We loop around a ball field where we have lots of opportunities to not bark at his triggers. It’s often the highlight of my day. Sometimes we sing whatever tune is running through my head. Sometimes Leo helps me work through the arguments in my head.

All of this is splendid progress and is what I was thinking when I composed the heading of this post: Leo has become easier to manage physically than Mia.

Then I was reminded that even though Mia is a million years old, and needs to be carried outside to do her business, she has fewer medical issues than spry Leo.

In addition to his two knee surgeries, Leo has an eye condition called pannus that requires daily eye drops for the rest of his life.

As I started dictating this post into my phone on our walk last week, I was under the impression that our biggest dog challenges always have been behavioral, rather than medical. Even when Leo had two knee surgeries, he was a model patient. The hardest part was during his first recovery when he started lashing out at Mia (I blame Trazodone), which I consider behavioral. Also, he refuses to swallow pills no matter what I hide them in, but again, that’s behavioral.

Then Leo went and had a seizure over the weekend.

You guys, it was so scary. We were watching TV and heard this sound like paws skidding on the floor, like maybe he was chasing a fly. Rob went to help him, thinking he had a leg cramp, but it was all four legs, twitching like he was trying to scratch himself with all of them. His eyes were bloodshot and rolling back into his head, and his mouth was open but not appearing to take in any breath. There was, of course, drool.

Later I read that you’re supposed to leave the dog alone until they come out of it (maybe because they’re in an unpredictable state and might bite?), but of course I held his head in my lap and patted his back, because what if he was choking on something?

After about a minute, he started to come out of it and we carried all 100 pounds of him to the car and headed to the emergency vet. I did not even take the time to change out of my Wonder Woman pajamas. (It was 3 pm on a Sunday.)

Within another minute or two, he was back to himself.

His bloodwork looked great, so now we just have to wait and see if it happens again. The vet gave us some liquid valium I can administer into his keister if he has another that lasts longer than a minute.

And… here’s Leo discovering I mentioned his keister on the internet.

I’m not super concerned about what this means going forward. Seems like seizures are a thing that happens sometimes, and maybe it’s a signal of worse things to come and maybe he’ll never have another one. Either way, there’s nothing I can do about it except never take my eyes off him for the rest of our lives.

During our visit to the emergency vet, I asked if there was anything we should do or not do to best take care of Leo’s knees and hips as he continues to get older.

She gave the best medical advice I have ever heard: “Well, you want him to have fun.”

4 thoughts on “When your difficult dog becomes your easy dog*

  1. I feel you on your heading. Phoenix was the most difficult one and she is the easiest to take out now. I’ve put the most work into her and she knows the most words, I think sometimes she even knows what I’m thinking. We have such a fantastic connection. Zoe has gotten super crabby with other dogs in her old age and doesn’t want to put up with anything from anybody and Alice is just learning.

    I’m sorry about Leo’s seizure. That definitely sounds terrifying. I hope it doesn’t happen again. Poor dude! ❤

  2. Seizures can come sometimes after shots so watch for that. It is in the side effects. That is why I never give shots to my elderly dogs. And not to get into it but shots are for healthy dogs only according to the vaccine inserts and a dog with pannus is not healthy. Dogs Naturally magazine is a great resource for all things healthy for dogs. CBD oil can help with seizures if it becomes a more than one time deal and arthritis. Inflapotion from Glacier Peak Holistics in Montana can help with mobility issues. Dogs naturally magazine has a shop with lots of good things she researches and is a healthier alternative to drugs, etc. My gsd had pannus show up when he was 5 years old. I had an animal communicator talk to him and he was seeing an area that was like putting your hands up to your eyes in an o shape. He could not take the eyedrops because they were steriods and made him worse in other areas. So the vet said the drops would not stop the progression so we just let the progression be normal and adapted to it. Because it will limit what he can see-don’t be surprised if he starts reacting again because things will look different to them. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/holistic-care-of-pannus/ for a good article.

    • His Pannus was well controlled starting in 2015, but I regret to admit that I got sloppy about medicating him following his second TPLO surgery. It just felt mean to put drops in his eyes in addition to having to force pills down his throat. We just saw his eye doctor the other day to get a refill on the drops, and she really shamed me for my “inability to care for him.”

      Anyway it’s been a while since he’s had any shots. I’ve been having titers done, although he did get a rabies booster two years ago.

      Thank you for sharing all of this insight.

      • Don’t let anyone shame you (especially a vet) into your inability to care for him. We take care of our animals the best we know how and it is not for any vet to tell you differently. We all make mistakes or the let things go that we could have done better. I am sure at home that vet has made mistakes too (and in her business as well but she probably would not admit it). Most vets (and there are some good ones out there that are few and far between) are in the practice to make money and if you are not buying stuff from them, they are not making money. Like I said-do your research about pannus and you will find a lot better things out there than the eye drops.

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