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Archive for January, 2014

Out In The Cold

Texas weather has a reputation for being bipolar. The sun shines and all seems perfect, but by the time you get dressed and open the door to go outside, hail plummets from the black sky and a tornado comes roaring down on you. Okay, so maybe not that extreme, but this past week illustrates the fluctuation of Texas weather perfectly.

Early last week, the weather was pleasantly mild. The dogs even had a blast chasing bunnies and playing outside while I caught up on some yard work. By late Thursday, however, the weather people predicted that we would have snow. Snow! Yeah! We haven’t had proper snow in years…2010 to be exact. The neighborhood kids would get a snow day, traffic would be light on my way to work and Grimm and Rufus could experience the cold, pure flakes of frost for the first time.

The weather forecasters were correct in saying we would get frozen precipitation, but wrong in leading us to believe it would be snow. Instead of white, fluffy flakes we got hard, crunchy ice. Yes, technically it was still frozen precipitation, but ice and snow are not the same thing. For one, you don’t usually slip and bust your bottom while walking on snow covered ground. Ice covered ground, however, leads to lots of slipping and cursing and muscle pulls and cursing and falling and cursing and then bruises…in that order. Even though hard pellets of sleet and ice were falling from the sky, I was determined to make allow Grimm and Rufus to experience the joys of frozen precipitation for the first time.

"I thought you said this would be fun! This is not fun...this cold stuff stings my eyes and is, well, cold!"

“I thought you said this would be fun! This is not fun…this cold stuff stings my eyes and is, well, cold!”

 

Both dogs were tremendously excited at first when their jackets came out. They suited up, I opened the back door onto the porch, they bolted out and promptly slid and crashed into the rear portion of the deck. Both dogs started trying to stand and continued to slip. They looked a little bit bewildered and confused, but no way were they running back indoors. I was determined they would have their moment of icy fun.

 

"What in the world is this cold stuff? I can't sit down properly on my wooden bench without my butt slipping and getting cold!"

“What in the world is this cold stuff? I can’t sit down properly on my wooden bench without my butt slipping and getting cold!”

 

Grimm gingerly walked around the deck, sniffing at the ice. He kept lifting up his feet and frankly looked miserable. The ice pellets were blasting down and hitting him in the eyes and he begged to go back indoors. Rufus kept running in circles and slipping and falling, only to try again. I did not realize that he had to really go to the bathroom. I thought his frantic circling was due to the cold ice touching his feet and the frozen precipitation hitting his head. Finally, he found the one spot on the deck where there was an actual patch of what might have passed for snow and urinated on it.

 

The only small patch of snow around and Rufus pees on it. So much for my tiny baby snowman.

The only small patch of snow around and Rufus pees on it. So much for my tiny baby snowman.

 

Where was Zella while the boys and I were having so much fun slipping and sliding and trying not to fall in yellow snow, you ask? She was curled up on the couch, refusing to step one hair over the threshold into the cold. She much preferred the warmth of the indoors to the stinging pellets of ice. I don’t know why. Ice pellets in your eye and slipping and sliding on ice seems like awesome fun to me.

 

"Outside, you say? Um, no. I decline your invitation. But have fun and watch for falling icicles."

“Outside, you say? Um, no. I decline your invitation. But have fun and watch for falling icicles.”

 

Zella is not generally a fan of frozen precipitation, snow or ice. She’s seen and experienced both before and was in no hurry to repeat the experience. There was a reason she lived in Texas, she told me, and the current weather we were experiencing was not the reason why. She never expounded on why she lived here but it must be because of her excellent owner. I feel so blessed.

 

This was the last time Zella experienced snow and other aspects of frozen precipitation. She was not amused then, either.

This was the last time Zella experienced snow and other aspects of frozen precipitation. She was not amused then, either.

 

 

After drying paws, the boy woofers and I came inside to thaw out. They were never going outside again if they could help it. I don’t think they are fans of cold, frozen precipitation, at least of the variety we have here in Texas.

The whole city of Austin pretty much shut down and we made national news for being the dumbest drivers in the world. I was not one of the 150 plus people who got into accidents of some kind or another driving on ice, but I did experience the fun of slipping and sliding while trying to stay on a road and not run into other vehicles or trees or houses. I must say, though, it was pretty amusing to watch a few terrified drivers pull off the road, hazard lights fluttering as quickly as their pulses, and then wait in their cars in cold panic, determined not to drive any further until the ice melted. Since it was 6:00 in the morning and temperatures were not to get above freezing until early afternoon, it looked like they had a long wait ahead. They were probably wishing they had stayed inside, curled up on the couch. Being out in the cold was not fun. Zella had the right idea.

 

 

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I must have been out of my mind the day I wished Rufus wasn’t so lazy. You’re probably saying, “Well, you know they say to be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.”  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Like I said, outta my ever-loving mind.

The only reason I wished for Rufus to not be so lazy (mind you, I didn’t wish for him to be active, just to not be so lazy) was because I was getting tired of dragging him off the couch…and out of the car…and out of his kennel…and off of my bed.  My arms and back were threatening to mutiny if I kept using them to haul fat-boy Rufus around.

The one time I took him hiking with the other dogs, I had to help him climb up some of the boulders on the hike out. Before this, I had never had to help a dog climb up a moderately steep incline–usually they were the ones pulling me. Let me tell you…it was quite awkward, trying not to slip while pushing Rufus’ derriere in front of me. He basically would just put his front legs up on the boulders and look back at me, waiting for his push. I tried to see if he could do it on his own, but he just rested his head on the rock and looked at me like I was the cruellest person in the world for not helping him. Finally I gave in (because if I hadn’t, I would have been there all week) and hoisted him up the rest of the trail until the area levelled out and he could make it on his own. Needless to say, since all the attempts I have made to get Rufus to really exercise seemed to end up with my arms falling out of their sockets, I gave up.

Rufus Before...

Over the last few months, Rufus has battled ongoing skin issues.  It started as soon as I rescued him.  He had road rash from being run over and was on antibiotics to help his skin heal.  Even after his skin healed, though, he never seemed to grow new hair and was losing what he did have left and right.

I scraped him several times looking for mange mites.  I never found any under the microscope, but because he was a pit bull type dog (they are notorious for getting demodex mites) and because he was itchy (pruritic) and because sometimes you don’t find the mites, I treated him empirically with Ivermectin for three months.  The missing hair around his eyes (an area you can’t really scrape without sedation) grew back, but the rest of him stayed as bald as ever.

I changed his food to grain free and only fed him a fish based diet. I added fatty acid supplements to his food, antihistamines to his medication routine and bathed him with oatmeal-based shampoo. His pruritus continued to worsen and he started to stink really bad. He had horrible seborrhea (oiliness to his skin), developed comedones (fancy term for blackheads) and continued to lose hair. I performed skin cytologies and more antibiotics and anti-seborrhea/antipruritic/antimicrobial/antifungal shampoo were tried. He became less itchy, but the comedones were so bad that he looked like he was growing mold. Through it all, he continued to lose hair. I could either have his skin biopsied and/or start allergy testing or see the veterinary dermatologist.

Instead of putting him under anesthesia for the biopsy, I decided that I would see the dermatologist first. In preparation for that visit, I decided to go ahead and perform a complete blood profile on him. I remember joking with one of the veterinarians at work:

“Wouldn’t it be funny if he just had a low thyroid?”

“Well, it would be an easy fix, but juvenile hypothyroidism is just so rare. One can always hope,” she replied.

Then I really started to think about it. Maybe he DID have a low thyroid. Other than the fact that it is very rare for a dog to have juvenile hypothyroidism, he did fit the other criteria:

  • Poor hair coat with lack of growth and general alopecia–Yep.  With his patchy baldness, he was starting to look like a chupacabra mixed with a hippo.
  • Lethargy–Check. It he was any lazier, people were going to start assuming he was just a weird dog-shaped pillow.
  • Mental dullness–Uh oh. I was pretty sure his IQ was well below normal for a canine…or a rock.
  • Heat seeker–Yep!  Rufus hated the cold weather and I had to give him Charley’s old jacket to wear else he trembled uncontrollably, even in 68 degree weather.
  • Gain in body weight–This was the whole reason I was trying to get his lazy behind off the couch to begin with. He was definitely becoming more rotund.
  • Neuromuscular signs–Hmmm. Rufus had been observed to do some weird head bobbles and tremors at times. I thought maybe it was just because his head was too heavy.
  • Myxedema of the face–Also known as thickened or swollen skin, this leads to the tragic expression seen in dogs with severe hypothyroidism. Rufus definitely looked tragic, with thick eyebrow folds and drooping skin.  I thought he just looked sad because I made him get off the couch every once in a while.

Rufus’ bloodwork came back with a few discrepancies:  he was slightly anemic, his cholesterol was elevated and his free T4 and total T4 were both very, very low;  all of these tests displayed biochemical trends that are usually seen in true hypothyroid dogs. In fact, his free T4 value was so very low, it was reported as “less than” the lowest number they record. I had my solution to his skin issue (and his other issues, as well). All I had to do was supplement him with thyroid hormone, no need to see the dermatologist just yet.

Rufus After

Fast forward one month. Holy mother of dog! Rufus is a new canine.  His hair coat has almost completely grown back in, his oiliness has disappeared, he lost eight pounds without any change to his diet, his tragic expression has almost gone away completely and, in answer to my wish, he has become turbo-charged. Whereas before he would only play for a few minutes, now he wants to play ALL DAY LONG. Grimm is worn out, Zella is worn out, I’m worn out. And guess what? Rufus can actually run and gallop and jump up into the car on his own. He drags me out the door by his leash rather than the other way around. AND he can go outside in 60 degree weather (like today) and not shiver at all. Now, he still likes the couch, but these days he uses it more as a springboard to jump off of rather than a bed. At times I’ve almost been tempted to stop his supplementation, just to have lazy Rufus back for a bit. But…then his hair will fall out and he’ll stink again.

The only symptom that hasn’t gone away is the mental dullness. Thyroid hormones did not make him a genius overnight. He will probably always be a little slow mentally. Puppies who don’t have enough thyroid hormone during development can have impeded mental function and retardation of growth (they call this “cretinism”). They  can  still grow once supplementation is started, but they can not catch up mentally.

So there you have it. I got exactly what I wished for (a less lazy dog with better skin) but found out I was not yet prepared for all that entailed. Now I guess I need to wish for a magical way to exercise and entertain Rufus so Grimm and Zella don’t become worn out. Then again, if I wish that, there is no telling what cruel joke fate would play on me. I just might get it.

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