Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Fair news and fowl

Aside from making sure Fargo recovers OK from his knee operation (see ‘Dog-leg diary’ entries in this blog), we’ve had some pretty exciting times around here lately.

First, there’s the kind of excitement that none of us needs, as last night Leicester fell prey to the idiotic violence, vandalism and looting that’s been sweeping the country. I’m utterly dismayed by it, but I’m not going to dwell on it here except to say look after each other, including your animals.

On a happier note, my September issue of Dogs Monthly magazine arrived last week, containing my feature about Charlie’s recovery from spinal surgery last year! This issue includes articles about older dogs and a breed profile of Whippets, so Charlie fits in perfectly there, being both an older gentleman and a member of that lovely breed. Charlie’s story is my first feature in a major monthly dog magazine, although I do also write features for Pet Friendly’s quarterly Out & About magazine. I really want to write more about dogs and, although I know there’s a lot of competition out there, I hope to get many more features into the dog press in the future.

Billy saying hello to the bravest hen
Last Saturday, we added three lovely hens to our family. They’re all different types – a Crested hen, a Copper Black, and a Coucou – and we haven’t managed to name them yet. Charlie, Billy and Fargo are still getting used to them, but they’ve been fairly good so far. Charlie and Fargo tend to ignore the chickens a lot, but then sometimes they’ll stare at them and consider a bark. Billy is by nature a bird-chaser. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see that, a lot of the time, he shows a keen but calm interest in the chickens. However, he also likes to chase around their enclosure sometimes, so I have to watch him when he goes out. The good news is that he doesn’t tend to bark at them, and if you tell him to move away from the enclosure he’ll generally go and find something else to look at in the garden.

The hens haven’t laid any eggs yet but they seem quite happy. I’ve been into their enclosure over the past few days with a handful of corn and they’re gradually coming closer to me. I haven’t got them to eat out of my hand yet, but the Crested one (she’s the bravest) took some grains off the toe of my boot just now and I know she was eying up my handful of grain, even though she didn’t go for it.

So what with writing, Fargo's rehabilitation and getting to know hens, things are quite busy here at the moment. I'll be back with another Dog-leg diary after Fargo's check-up at the vets. Until then, stay safe.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Dog-leg diary: Getting into stride

Fargo went for his second physiotherapy appointment on Friday, and while I knew he would enjoy it (he loves the physiotherapist), I must admit I approached it with a little trepidation.

Fargo's achieved the first goal in his recovery
Our first visit had revealed problems with three of Fargo’s legs, as his left hind leg and foreleg were suffering from the burden of compensating for his right hind. After a week of conscientious massage, stretching, ice packs and short, slow walks, I thought I could see signs of improvement in all three of Fargo’s poorly legs. But since I hadn’t even noticed some of his problems until they were pointed out to me, I knew that the professional eyes of the physiotherapist might see differently to mine. As things turned out, I needn’t have worried.

The physio noticed Fargo’s improvement straight away and he was really pleased with his progress. Fargo’s muscle is starting to build up. He’s lengthened his stride on that left foreleg and he’s putting his weight more evenly on his right hind leg, using a greater range of motion. Overall, his gait seems a lot more even than it was.

What a relief! Of course, we’re not out of the woods yet. Only three weeks after his operation, Fargo still has a long way to go and his bone isn’t even half-way through the healing process yet. But while this is no time for complacency, we have at least achieved our first goal.

Over the next week or two, Fargo’s routine will carry on pretty much as before. His three five-minute walks have now become two eight-minute walks and, as long as the vet is happy at this Thursday’s check-up, we can extend the walks to ten minutes. On the physio’s advice, at that point I’ll also start applying heat packs rather than ice packs to Fargo’s shoulder and knee. We’re seeing the physio again at the end of the month, and long as Fargo has continued to make good progress we’ll start thinking about hydrotherapy to help him build up his muscle.

The main challenge remains the same – making sure Fargo doesn’t overdo it. He’s extremely well in himself and I suspect that, given the pain he must have felt before his operation, he’s actually feeling better than he has for a long time. Add a brisk wind and some slightly cooler days than we’ve had of late (perfect weather for dogs), and you have a Labradoodle that wants to run for miles. I have to keep him on a lead in the garden to prevent any sudden bursts of speed, and I caught him sneaking up the stairs the other day. But despite his wish for activity, Fargo is enjoying life. He loves his massages and, with the improvements to his hind legs, he’s a lot more amenable to the stretching exercises too.

At this stage, nothing can dim my spirits. It’s hard work making sure Fargo gets all the rest he needs, as well as his massages and stretches. But it’s also lovely to spend time doing all these things with him and to see the progress he’s making. I’m really looking forward to seeing him improve more over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Dog-leg diary: One leg good, three legs bad...

Last Saturday, we went for Fargo’s physiotherapy session, which he found extremely exciting, since he hadn’t been for ‘proper’ walk for ages. There were a lot of questions about floor surfaces, diet and exercise, as well as a thorough assessment of Fargo’s gait.

Chilling with Charlie - Fargo takes it easy, for once

It looks like Fargo’s knee operation is healing well and he’s putting a decent amount of the weight on his foot. It’s early days as he only had his operation three weeks ago and the bone that was cut will take around 12 weeks to heal, so we literally have to tread carefully, but so far so good.

But nothing’s ever that easy is it? We knew that Fargo had lost a fair bit of muscle on his poorly leg, and he needs to build that back up through slow walks, stretching and massage. What we didn’t realise was that he’s also lost some muscle on his other back leg, the one that’s supposed to be his ‘good’ one. Worse, the physiotherapist spotted that Fargo wasn’t walking evenly at his front end either. He suspects that Fargo’s been using his left front leg to compensate for his right back leg and that’s put pressure on his left shoulder, which is sore now.

How can I not have noticed this? As soon as the physiotherapist pointed it out to me, it was obvious. But I suppose the changes to Fargo’s gait have come on gradually and, since I noticed he had a problem, I’ve been focusing so much on his back legs that I didn’t realise there was an issue up front too. Despite the fact that I can see the problem now, I know I still wouldn’t have spotted it if it hadn’t been pointed out to me. The physiotherapist clearly understood this, and I suppose it's to be expected that an injury to one leg will affect the others, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

What does make me feel better is that, now we've identified these problems, we can try to do something about them. Fargo now has a daily regime:
·        Five minutes of very slow walking, three times a day – this is to make sure he puts weight on his legs evenly and uses a full range of motion so he can gradually build his muscles back up
·        Massages to both his back legs, three times a day – this involves stroking and circling movements right the way up his legs. He quite likes the massages, but he’s not that keen on lying down for that long
·        Stretches for both his back legs, three times a day – he doesn’t much care for these, but he’ll tolerate them if you bribe him
·        An ice pack on his shoulder three times a day – Fargo’s quite enjoyed this in the recent hot weather, and if he’s lying the right way I can combine it with massaging one of his legs.

It's like Fargo's own private health spa, with me as the chief therapist. It's hard work, especially with two other dogs to exercise, but it's also quite a nice way to interact with Fargo. I think it's already making a difference, but that could be wishful thinking on my part. At this stage, the improvements are so small and Fargo’s exercise so strictly regulated that, like his shoulder problem, it may take a professional to say whether there’s really any change.

We live in hope though, and we’re off back to the physio on Friday, so we’ll find out then. In the meantime, Fargo doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with him. He's enjoying the attention, if not the stretches, and apart from not being allowed to bounce about and run around, he’s happy.