Walkin’ With Oz

When winter comes, even as meager as ours has been — that last day it called for three or so inches of snow? We got the same tiny skiff as the following day, when it wasn’t supposed to snow at all, but at least Crested Butte got about 14 — we run into a rather annoying phenomenon with Oz.

Or rather, we walk into it: trails in our neighborhood get reduced to single-track, and Oz wants to be the leader. Which would be fine, except that then he wants to walk slowly and stop every two feet, at which point whoever is behind him has to stop abruptly, bump into him, or try to walk over him. But he still needs to be in front, so he rushes past, or starts moving . . . only to stop once again right in front of you.

It’s not his most endearing trait and at least with me leads to several sighs of exasperation and out-loud complaints. But there are days, and this is one of them, where I would gladly swallow all my complaints and sighs just to have him upright and out in front, no matter how pokey.

Oz has not been having a very good year. I mean, right now, who among the entire world’s population is? But Oz’s life has definitely taken a turn, and it’s not for the better.

According to the chart in his vet’s office, which goes strictly by weight, Oz, who turns 12 in calendar years in a couple weeks, is the equivalent of a human in their late 70s. According to the American Kennel Club chart I just found, where they go by weight but also size (small, medium, large, XL), he ought to be a medium-sized dog but his weight somehow slides into that “large” category (I feel you, buddy), which puts him somewhere between 69 and 77 human years.

Through any of these measures, including the back of the hand seven years for every one that doesn’t really work but pencils out in this case to 84, Oz is a senior citizen, and this year his senior citizen aches and pains have ramped up.

Eight of the last nine checks I have written have been to vet offices. It’s not just Oz, because Na Ki’o, somewhere around 14, is also feeling the effects of age, but either way Lynn and I are dumping all our discretionary funds into a broad assortment of veterinarians. Vacation!

Oz’s odyssey started when his back legs began giving out underneath him. They just started sliding out, frequently when he tried to turn in the house, and he has been having a terrible time getting to his feet on the hardwood floors.

I took him to his usual clinic but not his usual vet, where she prescribed the gabapentin — which seems to be all the rage among veterinarians these days — that I had forgotten he was already on, placed there by Na Kio’s vet who makes house calls.

We ended up back at the clinic with his usual vet, and she took x-rays, so now we know: spondylolysis. Which is a big long word that means he has two or three massive bridges of arthritis along his spine, especially in the lumbar, or lower, end. The x-rays also showed about 20 stones in his bladder.

The first-step fix for the bladder stones was a urologically-oriented food, so I lugged home a giant bag of food (the only one in stock at the clinic) that cost $93. Which Oz didn’t seem to care for.

The fix for the arthritis, which of course can’t be fixed, was a lot more complicated. The easy recommendation is for something like Rimadyl or carprofen, an anti-inflammatory steroid that his vet felt would make him feel like a new dog. Problem: Oz is already on a steroid for his touchy digestive tract, and you can’t combine these two medications. Well, you could, but the end result is not pretty.

When Oz came to us, five and a half years ago, he came with a severe case of separation anxiety. Whether this led to his digestive woes or he already had an issue, we’ll never know, but we tried probably three local vets at two clinics before I took him to Grand Junction, where a vet put him on food laden with fish (omega 3 oils) and the budesonide. The happy result was he stopped throwing up every few days.

Now that he’s in a much better spot, digestivewise, his regular Gunnison vet and I decided maybe we could back him off the budesonide to start a different steroid that would focus more on the arthritis. We also started him on acupuncture, which he wouldn’t care about except for the part where he gets frozen baby food, which he loves.

So, diet change, medication change, alternative medicine. And then one afternoon at work he didn’t want a snack from his all-time favorite snack-giver, Gilly. By evening he wasn’t really moving, and by the middle of the night I thought he was maybe going to die. I rushed him to the vet clinic the next morning, where it turned out the vet also thought that might be a possibility.

We both thought maybe one of his bladder stones had moved and gotten stuck, but x-rays and blood tests turned up normal, so we decided this was a flare-up of his inflamed digestive system. A day of IV fluids, some Cerenia (for nausea), Pepcid (for heartburn) and a return to every-other-day budesonide, and Oz was back to his regular ol’ self. Even if that is old.

Lesson learned: digestive medication is going to have to take priority over arthritis medication, although he has been started on injections of adequan, which seemed to help along with the acupuncture.

The clinic took back the expensive urologic food he wasn’t eating, and we tried a smaller bag of a different brand, one whose cans of chicken stew have become a favorite for Oz.

Last week, though, his acupuncture and adequan didn’t seem like they were helping as much, and yesterday I missed the key warning sign: he didn’t want a snack from Gilly. Last night he refused his third consecutive meal of dry food. Although he had seemed quite happy with this new attempt at dry food (mixed with his fish omegas and his vet-prescribed GI tract food), we thought maybe he was giving up on that too.

But by our dinnertime, he was refusing plate leavings, and then he crawled half under the coffee table and just lay there unmoving, same as he did a couple-three weeks ago.

I haven’t rushed him back to the vet — yet. He is eating canned food, and drinking, and we got a Pepcid into him last night and his budesonide and a Cerenia this morning. Soon, here, I will attempt to take us out for our morning walk.

I’m not expecting to get him as far as any single-track, but I am beginning to recognize that there is going to come a time where I am going to wish for the days of walks behind a pokey dog who needs to be in the lead. I would just rather it be later than sooner.

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