gluten-free: it's gone to the dogs

Have you gone gluten-free? These days, it seems like nearly everyone has, and I'm still not entirely sure why. Gluten seems to be the new devil, and people are eliminating it from their diets regardless of whether they are intolerant. This trend is now trickling down to our dogs, so I thought we'd take a closer look at whether or not going gluten-free is a good thing for our pups.

First of all, do we know what gluten is? The Jimmy Kimmel Show (bomb!) hit the streets and asked health enthusiasts about it in his "pedestrian question" segment. 

If asked this question, would you have been able to answer correctly?

I would have flubbed it. Though I know the definition, I feel like it's sort-of morphed into this diet-craze thing that has become ultra confusing. While gluten can be a real problem for people with celiac disease, we're only just now learning about "gluten intolerance," something I would guess would be more of a "processed food issue," but perhaps it's simpler to peg it on gluten. 

So what is gluten? You still don't know? Me either. I'm confused. 

Let's clarify.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some grains, including barley and rye. It provides elasticity to dough, giving it a chewy texture. 


And then I did some research.

is gluten all that bad for us or for our dogs?

Unless one has a sensitivity to gluten, it is neither particularly good (except for the fact that it is a source of protein) or bad for you. In humans, gluten sensitivity manifests in the digestive tract, causing stomach upset or bowel irregularity. The same holds true for dogs, but the most common and outward sign in the canine variety is poor skin condition. If your dog has itchy, dry skin, or maybe even a few bald spots, it could be due to a number of things, but gluten may be the culprit.

That being said, have you considered your climate or checked for fleas? Poor food quality (whether or not the food includes gluten) is the most common reason for these issues. 

how common is canine gluten sensitivity?

True gluten intolerance is actually pretty rare in both humans and dogs. PetMD states that "in a study of 278 cases of food allergy in dogs where the problem ingredient was clearly identified, beef, dairy, chicken, egg, lamb, soy, pork, and fish (none of which contain gluten) were responsible for 231 combined cases. Wheat, which contains a lot of gluten, was only involved in 42 cases."


The scoop on gluten-free dog food. 

As people become more interested in a gluten-free diet, the trend has trickled down to our dogs. Gluten is commonly in dog food as a binding agent. If your dog is experiencing tummy trouble or poor skin quality, it certainly doesn't hurt to try a gluten-free dog food and see if symptoms improve. If they do–great! Gluten-free dog food is readily available and becoming even more-so, so it's fairly easy to give it a try. 

Gluten-free dog food is often a higher-quality food with meat being the only source of protein. For this reason, gluten-free dog food is usually more expensive. Very inexpensive, poor-quality dog foods will typically contain a lot of grain as a filler since grain is much less expensive than meat. As with the foods we feed our human family members, it's important to read the ingredient list on your dog's food. If your dog is truly gluten-intolerant, you'll probably be saving money on veterinary bills by putting him on a gluten-free food, but, if not, you may be spending extra unnecessarily. 

is "grain-free" and "gluten-free" the same thing? 

Grain-free dog foods are just that–free of any grain. Gluten-free dog food may or may not contain grain. Since gluten is only present in some grains (the most common being wheat, barley, and rye), a gluten-free dog food will be free of those grains, but may contain other grains that do not contain gluten. In summary, a gluten-free dog food might be grain free, while a grain-free dog food will definitely be gluten-free.

Is your head spinning? Mine, too. Just remember:


GLUTEN-FREE may or may not = GRAIN FREE

how to make the transition.

Any time you switch your dog's food, it's important to make the transition slowly for two reasons.

1. Your dog will likely be more accepting of the new food.

2. Your dog's digestive system will have time to ease into the new situation, which is especially important for dogs with sensitive tummies.

I suggest a 1/4 over 4 days formula, which will gradually transition your pet over the course of 12 days. You'll switch 1/4 of your dog's food to the new food for four days, then increase the amount of new food by 1/4 every four days. It looks like this: 

the bottom line.

If your dog experiences tummy upset or suffers from poor skin quality, it certainly can't hurt to try a gluten-free dog food. Regardless of whether your dog is gluten-free or not, it is important to research the ingredients in your pet's food and choose a high-quality option. 

Is your dog gluten-free? Please share your story!


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helping your child cope with the death of a family pet

understanding death

It is often difficult for children to understand death, so their first experience with it can be a confusing time. It often occurs when a beloved family pet passes, perhaps a dog or cat, or maybe a fish or hamster. It's often difficult for us, as parents, to guide our children through this difficult time as they navigate new and uncontrolled emotions. How we handle it may depend on our religious and spiritual beliefs, but the general themes and questions are common when we have to help our children cope with the death of a family pet.

If the pet's death is sudden and unexpected, we don't have a lot of time to think about it before discussing it with our children. If our pet is on a slow decline, it can be even more difficult, believe it or not. Depending on the age and personality of the child, you may wish to discuss what is happening to the pet with the child so that they can understand and be prepared, or you may wish to shield him or her. I'm an advocate for being open and honest whenever possible, but there are occasions where the child may be too young to understand or too sensitive to deal with the sadness that comes from the anticipation of the situation. There is no right or wrong answer–only what is right for your family.

how to help your child grieve

Children are often unsure about how to navigate the emotional maze of dealing with death. Regardless of what we say, specifically, which will largely be based in our belief system, there are some things we can all consider. 

It's okay for them to be sad. Let them cry. And cry again. Over and over. Even if it's just a goldfish, the death of a pet is a very sad time, especially for children, who assign pets roles specific and powerful. Remember that your child may feel she is losing her companion, family member, and best friend. Be there to comfort and hold your child and let them know that though there will will always be a special place in the heart for their pet, their heart will feel better with time. 

It's okay for you to be sad. Don't be afraid of letting your child see you cry. Sadness is a human thing, not just a kid thing, and though you need to be strong for your child and not go off the rails, crying and showing outward signs of grief are healthy for you as well as your child, and it's healthy for children to know that their parents are sad, too. You don't have to be a rock.

It's okay for them to be happy. Though unlikely (and inappropriate) that your child will be happy about the pet's death, it's okay to be happy at times during the grieving process. The body and mind need a break, so take your child to the park or out for ice cream or let them have a friend over to play. A little laughter and happiness during a difficult time can be healing.

It's okay for them to be angry. Your child may be angry at the pet for dying. Your child may be angry at you for "letting the pet die." Your child may be angry at the veterinarian for not saving your pet. Though you can explain that everyone did their best, know that feelings of anger can be a natural part of the grieving process for some children.

Alleviate any guilt your child feels. Your child may wonder if he or she did something wrong, or if they could have done something differently to help the situation. He may recall the time he yelled at the dog for chewing up his homework, or she may think about the time she forgot to feed the hamster for a day. Let your child know that death is a part of life and that guilt should not have a place in the grieving process. That being said, don't shut your child down if he or she wants to discuss these memories. 

Talk, talk, talk, and let them ask questions. Though it's okay to give your child some space if they want it, talk about the pet's death as much as your child would like. Encourage them to ask questions about what happened to the pet and speak the truth as much as possible. You'll know the level of detail to share based on your child. Your child may ask the same question over and over, and that's okay, too. You can answer it over and over. There may be comfort in that for your child. 

You may not have all of the answers, and that's okay. It's okay to say "I don't know." You may not know exactly why the pet died or how the pet felt. It's okay to say "I don't know," if your child has a question you can't answer. 

Don't lie. I believe in honesty, especially when it comes to speaking to our children. You don't need to spell out all of the gory details, if they apply, but you can avoid taking the discussion to that level while still maintaining integrity and being honest. Our children deserve the best we have to offer, especially in difficult situations, and, to me, that means being truthful. 

Consider your family beliefs and incorporate them into the conversation. Your family's faith and spirituality can be a powerful source of explanation and comfort during this difficult time. How you handle it is up to you, but in order to instill open-mindedness and acceptance of others for the future, I choose to tell my children "I believe XYZ, but others believe differently, and that's okay. No one knows for sure, so we can all choose what we want to believe. Isn't that amazing?" I feel that this approach is important, because I don't want my children getting into religious debates with friends on the playground. Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs. I even go so far as to tell my children that if they believe differently than I do, that's okay. Of course, you will need to draw from your own personal beliefs and principles when handling these types of conversations. Draw positivity and strength, regardless. 

Let your child tell their friends and seek support from peers. Chatting with peers and having an independent voice about the loss can be very comforting. Your child's friends may have experience with the death of a pet and can lend a sympathetic ear. The more your child talks about it, the faster he will heal. 

Your child may become worried about himself others dying. A child's first experience with death can be profound. It is common for children to feel insecure about the longevity of other pets in the house, their family and friends, or even themselves. It's important to discuss these matters with your child in whatever way you see fit. My father always told me "nobody ever gets out of this life alive." Though it may sound harsh, it was oddly comforting to me, and it was honest. Think about what you might say to your child if he or she becomes preoccupied with death.

Create a tangible memory in dedication to the pet. Though there is not usually a formal memorial service for a pet, you can honor the deceased in creative and positive ways with your child. This can help provide closure and can be comforting.  Some suggestions:

• Take a walk with your family on the regular route you walked your dog. Talk about the dog and share funny stories and memories. You can even take along some sidewalk chalk and draw memorial words and pictures together along the route.

• Allow your child to paint a picture of the pet. Frame it and hang it in a place of honor in the house.

• Print pictures of the pet and allow your child to create a collage to hang in his or her room.

• Work with your child to create a digital slide show set to music in honor of the pet.

• Have your child write and illustrate a book about the pet and have it printed as a keepsake.

• Make a stepping stone for the garden in honor of the pet.

• Have a celebration of life party for the pet. Make a special meal to have as a family and talk about the pet over dinner.

There is no timetable on grief. Remember that every child will grieve differently. Your child may seem to go on as if nothing happened, or she may be down in the dumps for weeks or longer. Allow your child the time they need to process the death and grieve.

The death of a pet is a profound time in your child's life. It's personal. It's heartbreaking. But remember that it's also a time of growth. It's an opportunity for your child to gain valuable life experience and grow and come to know him or herself as a person. It's also a time to bond with your child and get to know each other better. 

I believe that out of every negative comes something positive. 

Grow. Live. Love and appreciate every day. And miss your pet. It's okay. 

a personal side note

Since death is such an intimate matter, and you may wonder how I am qualified to speak about it, I wanted to share a bit of my personal story with you.

As a young child, I dealt with the death of a beloved dog and cat, Linus and Woody, a rabbit named Ernie, and too many fish to name. The greatest blow was when my mother passed away when I was eight years old. My family–as all families do–did a lot of good during those difficult times and also made some mistakes. We all make mistakes.

As a mother and professional pet sitter, our family has dealt not only with the deaths of some of our own pets, but the deaths of many clients' pets who we have grown to love (my children often accompany me on pet sitting visits). On one horrifying occasion, a client's pet died of natural causes in my arms as my children looked on. 

Every situation is different. Every family's set of beliefs is different. I hope this article brings you some source of comfort if you are going through this presently. If you are reading this in preparation, I wish you the best in the inevitable journey ahead. 

DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional. I speak only from personal experience. If you or your child suffers debilitating psychological symptoms following the death of a pet or other difficult circumstance, please seek professional help immediately.

This article, written by me, originally appeared on Brie Brie Blooms and is reposted here with minor changes with permission.

How has your family dealt with the loss of a pet? Please share your story so others can learn. 


green dog rescue project: inspiring change, educating, and saving lives

"These aren't prisoners. These dogs deserve a second chance." –Colleen Combs, President, The Green Dog Rescue Project

While browsing my Twitter feed last week, I stumbled upon an organization called The Green Dog Rescue Project. Being an environmentally-conscious animal wellness blogger, I was immediately intrigued. Now I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, so I was driven to check out what it's all about. What I discovered is truly remarkable.

The Green Dog Rescue Project, located in Windsor, California, is the nation's first predominantly non-kennel shelter and educational facility. When you think of a dog shelter free of kennels, do you envision chaos or peace? Having been in quite a few kennel-based shelters, I immediately had a sense of calm wash over me as I thought about the energy at The Green Dog Rescue Project shelter. I'm sure there are a few scuffles, a small price to pay for dogs getting freedom, exercise, love, sunlight, and interaction. Think prison vs. park. Where would you be happier spending your time?

This short video is an excellent snapshot of what The Green Dog Rescue Project is all about:

The dogs at The Green Dog Rescue Project live as a pack, teaching each other and interacting in a positive environment, a sharp contrast to a traditional shelter, where dogs are typically isolated in small, individual kennels. This pack environment helps them physically and socially and makes them more adoptable. 

And it's not just about this one facility. The Green Dog Rescue Project offers to consult with other canine rescues. They work with shelters on a one-on-on basis, and they also offer a workshop series to educate rescuers, trainers and volunteers. They are setting out to change the system.

The Green Dog Rescue Project's adoption process is unique. Potential new dog parents don't just pop in, point at the most attractive pooch and walk out with him. GDRP has designed an adoption process that allows for a more successful pairing between a dog and his new family:

We spend a great deal of time with each animal learning about their temperament, energy levels, disposition, and social skills. We also learn their quirks and characteristics, taking the responsibility of helping to make great matches very seriously. Consider us the '' of the dog-to-human world. We encourage a 'date night' once a match is made, allowing all parties the opportunity to get to know one another a little better in their own home environment, improving the chances of making a successful match.

Though GDRP accepts some private surrenders, their approach is unique. They first attempt to work with a family by offering advice and training, but if the dog is truly not a good match for a particular family, they will consider accepting a surrender or even allow a family to be part of their "exchange" program to help them find a better fit. GDRP's philosophy about education and finding that excellent dog-human match has proven quite successful.

What is GDRP's mission?

To inspire change, educate, and save lives.

The Green Dog Rescue Project introduces a nature-based philosophy to the animal welfare industry. Our interests are to educate the community and industry in the methods and language of animals in an effort to improve the manner in which we house homeless animals and minimize the lives lost as a result of behavior issues, poor social skills, overcrowding, and other traditional criteria.

We are a "realistic" organization and understand that, due to over-breeding, genetic disorders, health issues, irreparable injuries, chemical imbalances, and various other severe psychological or physiological conditions, not every animal can be saved. HOWEVER, with over 9,000 animals a day in this country facing euthanasia, we DO BELIEVE that the highest majority of those animals are being euthanized unnecessarily.

Through education and community outreach programs, GDRP teaches the language and social structure of dogs, mentors shelters willing to participate in pioneering industry-wide changes in housing methods, and brings awareness and assistance to over-breeding. We provide retention training and counseling for families struggling with the decision to keep their pet due to behavior issues, guidance and counseling to families during the process of adopting a new pet, match senior dogs with the elderly community, and social rehabilitation to dogs that have failed in traditional animal shelters. 

We spoke with GDRP President Colleen Combs to discover even more about their facility and mission:

Colleen Combs and part of her pack. Photo courtesy of GDRP.

Colleen Combs and part of her pack. Photo courtesy of GDRP.

WM: How many dogs do you have at your facility at one time, and what is the intake process like?

CC: Green Dog Rescue Project (as an organization) is still in 'Foster Care.' In other words, GDRP is currently hosted by a company called 'King's Kastle,' which is a dog boarding, rehabilitation, training, and day care center. They have been very kind to allow us to invade their facility and operate our entire program out of their building. As a result, however, we have agreed to limit ourselves to thirty dogs at any given time (solely GDRP)...which is why we generally have fifty dogs or so at any given time (laughs).

The Kastle have been very supportive of our breaking the rules and continue to help us as much as possible. In any case, between GDRP and the dogs of King's Kastle's clientele (once the GDRP dogs pass health and behavior assessments, they 'join the pack' of all dogs on site, regardless of origin), there is generally an average of 150 dogs at any given time on site. Once GDRP raises funds to obtain their own building, we expect to host as many as 150-200 animals a day.

WM: How do you match families with dogs?

CC: Part of what separates us from traditional shelters is how we approach adoptions. We begin by spending thirty days with each dog, first. This time allows the dog to transition and 'settle' back into their personality. During this time, we get to know the energy level, personality, disposition, and behavior traits, such as social skills with kids, dogs, strangers, cats, etc. Once we have this information, we can better determine what type of family and home would give the dog the greatest chance of successful long term placement.

For example, we may determine that although this adorable Shitzu is a great size for a lap dog, they may, in fact, have such a high energy level that they will need a firm handler and lots of focused exercise in order to be a good family dog...thereby not being a great match for a sedentary family or elderly person. 

Once we have 'figured out' the dog, we can begin talking with adopters and coaching them into finding the dog that would better suit their lifestyle. We spend time with the potential adopters and share all we have learned about the dog, spelling out for them what they will need to do to make this a great match. 

Once that is accomplished, we send the dog home with the family for a 'sleep-over' for a few nights. We coach people in understanding that the dog is unfamiliar with what the end goal is, so we ask them to be patient, teach them to establish 'house rules' from the moment the dog enters the environment, and remind people NOT to throw a 'Meet the New Dog' party any time soon, as it becomes VERY overwhelming for the dog. We encourage people to 'date' and get to know the dog, allowing the dog to get to know them as well...BEFORE introducing them to all their friends and extended family. You would never wear your wedding dress on your first date and feel comfortable...don't expect your dog to. We ask them to put themselves into the dog's role and evaluate how they would feel if thrust into a new environment with a new family, new routines, new smells, and NO way to communicate to one another. It's overwhelming...let's SLOW DOWN and help the dog understand what we are trying to accomplish.

Once the overnight visits seem to be working, a final adoption process occurs, and all records are transferred into the new family's name, and adoption fee is paid, a picture is taken, and we provide them with a 24-hour emergency number in the event that the dog gets loose or they need support in some way.

WM: Your pack philosophy and methodology seem to be similar to those of Cesar Millan, who most people are familiar with. What are some similarities and differences?

CC: Yes, there are many similarities. We do believe that dogs are social creatures and are negatively impacted when housed in a 'prison-like' manner. Being housed in individual kennels, often accompanied by incessant and stressful barking, is simply not how dogs were meant to live. Nor were they intended to live in individual rooms/suites/bungalows, completely deprived of their major senses (smell, sound, sight). This type of housing has unintentionally added to the stressful results that manifest into unwanted behaviors such as fear-based aggression, withdraw, possessiveness, lunging, pacing, etc. These behaviors often become a death sentence to a dog. We are able to take a dog out of that environment and introduce them to the 'pack,' seeing a change in the demeanor of that dog within minutes. Literally. For those who are more severely effected by long-term damage (staying a longer time in a kennel), we may need a few more days–sometimes a week or so–but they generally ALL recover in a relatively short period of time with the proper influence and direction from the trained humans as well as the influence of the pack.

Perhaps one of the things that differentiates us from Cesar is that we are working to introduce this approach to shelters across the nation. We aren't using 'pets' for our examples. We are using dogs that have been deemed 'unacceptable,' who have no owner willing to stand up for them and learn what has to be done to make them a great dog. We are trying to convince shelters to let us have this 'bad dog' that can't be 'turned around' and then find its forever home. We also spend a GREAT DEAL of our time teaching, not training. The dogs are often the easy part. We spend a great deal more time teaching people than we do training dogs.

WM: How do you consult and help other shelters apply your methodology?

CC: Currently, GDRP is mentoring two California shelters as they begin to implement a pack-based shelter model. We are seeking two more shelters to mentor for the 2015 year. Candidates must have the support of their Board of Directors as well as their Administrative Directors, as well as the willingness to remain patient and committed to learning new methods. These candidates do NOT have to be local. As a matter of fact, we are currently in communication with a shelter in Connecticut as to their request to be considered for our mentoring program. Once we receive a request from an interested shelter, there is a timeline that allows us to visit the existing shelter, meet with Directors, Staff, and Volunteers, and discuss requirements for commitment and resources, etc.

We completely understand the need for cost-effectiveness for shelters, as we are restricted by the same parameters. That being said, we assist shelters in using what they currently have by way of space, equipment, staffing, and finances and help them to re-think how they are using these resources, making them more user-friendly and beneficial for the animals in their care. We provide additional training to the staff and volunteers, invite them to participate in our 'pack' and learn from our professionals, as well as assist them in learning the language of dogs in order to apply it to other dogs in their facility. For these first four shelters, we have agreed to provide our services pro bono, as long as they cover our expenses for housing and transportation if not within reasonable driving distance.

Shelters, rescues, and other individuals  NOT in our mentor program can still learn the techniques and skills we use by taking any of our 'open to the public' workshops scheduled for 2015. Organizations not chosen for this year's pro bono mentoring program are also welcome to contact us and hire us independently to achieve the same goals. We do work on a sliding scale and encourage shelters to apply for educational and new programs grants to offset the fees of our services.

Surprisingly, we have received more requests from shelters outside of the U.S. than we do within the U.S. It appears that shelters outside the U.S. are more willing to accept these methods as a more natural approach than those in the U.S. that are convinced that food rewards and diversion tactics are much more humane...neither of which work well with a dog suffering from anxiety or stress...manifesting in the behaviors that lead to euthanization in traditional shelters.

GDRP believes there is a distinct difference between 'trained behaviors' and 'social expectations.' Dogs do not offer food rewards or diversions to one another if unwanted behavior is exhibited. For that reason, we do not believe food-based coercion is the quickest route to solving a behavior problem in a dog. On the flipside, dogs do not ask other dogs to 'sit,' 'stay,' 'shake,' or 'roll over' the way humans do. For those tasks, treats seem appropriate, for they are outside the natural expectations of the 'dog' social norms. 

Consider our own society. Highway Patrol does not offer a $20 bill to us if we promise to slow down and follow the speed limit. As appealing as that might sound, it simply isn't realistic, nor is it something we as a society might feel is impactful enough to change our speeding motorists. However, Highway Patrol will quickly pull you over and provide you with a consequence for breaking the social rules. Speeding = hefty fines. The officer does not walk away and lose sleep that night because they gave you a ticket. You, however, may still be seething that night because of the perceived injustice. The impact of that experience results in most people slowing down while on the road. The officer is simply an enforcer of our social norms, just as an Alpha should be the enforcer of a pack's social norms. Why this concept is so appalling to us humans when we apply it to our pets is beyond me.

We hope to help people learn the similarities between our species, as well as the differences, in an effort to gain a more effective and harmonious relationship between our pets and our own species.

Colleen invited us to visit GDRP the next time we visit the area, and we look forward to the experience. 

How do you feel about GDRP's pack-based shelter vs. the traditional kennel-based shelter?

Browse the GDRP web site.

Check out The Green Dog Rescue Project 2015 Workshop Schedule.

Connect with GDRP on Facebook and Twitter.

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part four (the disease and the end)

So what is Addison's Disease, exactly? PetMD describes it:

Mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids are hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands, which are located near the kidneys. Both of these hormones are critical to the healthy functioning of the body, and an abnormal increase or decrease of either of these hormones can lead to serious health problems if not addressed in time. Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's Disease) is characterized by a deficient production of glucocorticoids and/or mineralocorticoids. Deficient production of both these hormones can cause a number of symptoms like weakness, dehydration, low blood pressure, depression, heart toxicity, vomiting, blood in feces, and weight loss...

A sudden and severe (acute) episode of hypoadrenocorticism is a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization and intensive therapy...

After the initial recovery, your veterinarian will calculate the dose that will balance your dog's hormone deficiency. The dose of these hormones may need to be increased occasionally, especially during periods of stress like travel, hospitalization, and surgery. 

After being diagnosed with Addison's Disease at the age of four, Kermit did quite well on his meds. The vet would adjust them up or down depending on what his blood work said. Giving Kermit meds became part of our routine. The same time every morning, and the same time every evening. 

When we knew he would experience stress, we gave him half a dose more leading up to the event and during the event. The stress could be positive or negative. Having out-of-town guests stay with us for a few days was always a happy, exciting time for Kermit. But the thrill of it all could send him into an Addisonian Crisis, so we'd have to up his meds a bit. Overall, his quality of life was great for a couple of years. We could do this thing.

We thought all was as well as it could be, but then Kermit suddenly collapsed one day. We initially thought it was an Addisonian crisis, but this time, it was different. His body stiffened, his mouth froze open in an ugly attack-like position, and then he started convulsing. It seemed to go on forever, but he came-to after a few seconds, stood up, wandered around a bit, pooped, then drank a ton of water. Then he ran around, perfectly happy. 

We rushed him to the vet, despite his seemingly perfect appearance. Seizures are not normally a symptom of Addison's Disease, so they ran test after test. They found no cause of the seizures, so on top of the Addison's Disease, Kermit had "Non-specific Seizure Disorder," which is a fancy way of saying "we don't know what the hell is wrong with your dog." They speculated that the seizures could be his body's way of reacting to the toll the disease was taking on him, but they couldn't be sure. They said he might never have another seizure. Or he might have many. They couldn't predict what would happen. They kept him on his course of meds and said that if his seizures became unmanageable, we could look at treating them, but that treating them would be invasive, likely consisting of regular injections. 

Over the next couple of years, Kermit's seizures were inconsistent. He would have one every now and again. We'd call the vet, and they would tell us there was really nothing we could do besides comfort him, unless we felt it was time to treat him. We didn't want to subject him to the treatment, and since his seizures were so sporadic and he seemed fine, otherwise, we opted to leave him untreated.

N.A.S.H.A. would often keep Kermit company when he wasn't feeling well.

N.A.S.H.A. would often keep Kermit company when he wasn't feeling well.

As his life progressed, the seizures became more consistent. Unpredictably, he would have cluster seizures, a group of seizures that would occur over the course of a couple of days. We couldn't understand what would set these off, but we noticed a pattern. N.A.S.H.A. would stick to Kermit like glue periodically. And she wouldn't stop licking his eyes, but only sometimes. When we started to really take notice, we recognized that she exhibited this behavior for a day or so only just before a seizure cluster. N.A.S.H.A. could predict Kermit's seizures! 

Still, there was not much we could do, but at least we knew, and there was some comfort in knowing what was coming. And I'm sure Kermit was somewhat comforted by N.A.S.H.A.'s care. He always tolerated her eye-licking, and even seemed to enjoy it. A little love goes a long way.

Kermit's seizures also followed a pattern: He would suddenly drop to the ground, stiffen, seize, then moan and lay there for a minute and wet himself. Then he'd get up and wobble around a bit, falling a few times, then he'd walk around in a daze (the seizures caused temporary blindness for a few minutes), and then he'd poop, drink water, and be fine again. Our role: to keep him from hitting objects that could cause injury, comfort him, and then try to escort him toward the back door so he could relieve himself outside rather than inside. The seizure clusters happened approximately monthly, and he would have five or six seizures over the course of two days.

Kermit would occasionally hit something on the way down and bleed from the mouth...his gums had begun to deteriorate, and the vet advised us not to put him through the anesthesia it would take to treat it. His tooth decay was likely a result of his weakened immune system.

So why did we choose to prolong his suffering? Because other than the two days he was having seizures, his quality of life was wonderful. He was normal Kermit. He ate and played and cuddled. It was really hard to think about euthanizing him when he was seizure-free. 

Kermit started to show signs that his mind wasn't all there. After so many seizures, his brain was damaged. We affectionately called him "mashed potato brains." Perfectly potty-trained Kermit would now stare us straight in the eye and lift his leg on the corner of the couch as if it was a fire hydrant. He had just lost his mind. We purchased him some reusable belly band "diapers," and after hearing our story, the lady who made them sent Kermit a custom band with Kermit the Frog on it. Kermit wore a belly band all the time to prevent our house from becoming a urinal. He came to enjoy the attention a diaper change brought, and when we'd release him from them for a naked romp outside, he'd prance around, free. Kinda like taking a bra off at the end of the day, I suspect.

Everyone always says "you'll know when it's time."

We knew it was time when Kermit's mashed potato brains led him to injure himself. He began to chew on his left front leg. At first, it was a little nibble, as if he had an itch that wouldn't go away. When he drew blood, we bandaged him. We took him to the vet, and there was nothing wrong with his leg. He would chew the bandage off, so we put him in a t-shirt. It seemed to help, but he could still get at the leg. He chewed and chewed, and chewed. And he wouldn't snap out of his daze. Our Kermit was gone.

It was time. We all cried, and we all hugged Kermit. My husband honored the agreement we made when we married. I told him "there will be lots of animals in our lives, and I won't be able to 'do the deed' when it comes time. If you marry me, you have to agree to take care of it." Brennen scooped Kermit up and put him in the car. The littles and I watched out the window as they drove away.

For weeks after, I didn't know what to do with myself in the mornings. There was no medicine to administer and no diapers to change. There was just nothing.

Kermit was a special dog with a rare disease that had a huge impact on our lives. Was it all worth it? Without a doubt. I hope he'd think so, too.  

Further reading:

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part one (the adoption)

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part two (our lives before the disease)

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part three (the diagnosis)




only the great die young: a tribute to bambi

We've been taking care of Bambi for a couple of years, now. When we started, her brother, Chunk, was also in the picture. Great (in every sense of the word) Danes. Chunk passed a while back, and Bambi became a big sister to her new cocker spaniel brother, Koko. He's feisty...all puppy. 

We were supposed to take care of Bambi this weekend while Koko went to burn off some wild energy with his parents at the lake.

But we got the call.

"Our beloved Bambi had to be put to sleep today. Her left lung was full of fluid, and the vet suspected cancer...we're so sorry." 

You're sorry? The thing is, these awesome pet parents knew the bond we had with Bambi. She was unique, and so was our relationship with her. It was often a family affair, but it was actually my husband who took care of her most, and it was the two of them that had the most special bond. She would eat well for him, romp with him, and get over-the-moon excited when he came around. She'd let me take care of her as second fiddle, and she'd allow me to cuddle with her on her bed (which was large enough to accommodate the both of us) out of some sense of obligation, I presume, but it was with Brennen that she was truly in love. And he in love with her. I knew it was a source of pride that she favored him. Our clients knew that, and while I did my best to send my condolences her way, she sent just as many to us, recognizing our loss. 

Bambi was a sweet girl to the core, though quite camera-shy. I would try my best to photograph her but not violate her space. She seemed to know if I was fake-texting in order to capture her image on my iPhone. Brains and beauty, that one had. 

We last saw her two weeks ago, and I was able to capture her with her jumbo-dog toy, which is about the size of my four-year-old daughter. 


We talk about what a shame it is that Great Danes have such limited life spans. Such big hearts, so much love, yet so little time. Bambi, you were one of the greats.