Two years ago our Labradoodle Bernie was diagnosed with atypical Addison’s Disease. Since then Matthew and I have been learning strategies to effectively manage his symptoms. More recently, we’ve decided that managing our anxiety about his condition is equally important for the whole pack.
Our Bernie is such an emphatic pup that he senses our stress. He knows when we’re happy. He knows when we’re depressed. He knows when we’re stressed. The last thing we want to do is transfer any uneasiness to him.
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Assembling a comprehensive support team…
We feel incredibly fortunate to have found a group of animal professionals who we trust implicitly with our special guy.
Groomer: We found Jessica and Megan at Poodles and Pals Holistic Spaw first.
They offer doggie daycare as well since they allow most dogs to roam around while the humans work. To work at Poodles & Pals, you have to be a knowledgeable and compassionate groomer. They work at the speed of the pup, meaning if you have a special needs dog, they will take their time so your dog has a positive experience at their spaw.
Their dedication to Bernie is apparent every time we drive into their parking lot. Bernie starts crying in excitement because he wants to hang out with some of his favorite humans, Poodles, and other doggie pals!
Obedience Trainer: Next, we focused on training. Crystal with Ruff House Dog Training & Behavior Modification has helped us live more harmoniously with Bernie and his little sister Lizzie.
Having a solid foundation in basic obedience has helped us understand Bernie better. While we’ll never know exactly what he’s thinking, thanks to Crystal, we have a better sense of what he’s feeling.
Read more about how training has benefitted us:
Veterinarian: Finally, just before Bernie was diagnosed, we decided to switch to a different veterinary clinic. Our previous vet was fantastic, but the office manager at the clinic was decidedly not.
For one of Bernie’s routine puppy check ups, the office manager, who was also a vet tech, began talking loudly to us in a tiny exam room. When Matthew asked her to lower her voice, she looked offended and left the room. During the exam, she handled Bernie roughly, behavior I found unforgivable. As a former teacher, I’ve had plenty of parents criticize my teaching, but I didn’t treat their child any differently.
After Bernie’s second trip to the emergency vet, we decided we needed to find a new vet clinic. We wanted a clinic where all the staff had better communication skills in addition to a vet with plenty of experience and knowledge.
Since then we’ve found a trusted vet in Dr. Andrew Carlton at Sahuaro Vista Veterinary Clinic. With nearly 30 years of veterinary experience, he’s treated his fair share of dogs with Addison’s Disease. He’s also got an incredible support team. There are two younger vets practicing with him, so we know he’s passing on his knowledge to them. His customer service specialists and technicians are also top-notch. If I leave a message overnight asking a question, I’ll get a call back the next morning.
Knowing that Bernie is in such good hands, helps us rest easier.
The evolution of the analytics of Bernie’s atypical Addison’s Disease…
When we brought Bernie home, we followed some advice we received from a few different people and recorded basic information about when we fed him and when we took him out for potty. Mostly, we were recording times in shorthand.
Within a few months, Matthew changed jobs and began working overnights. Our recording system grew into a communication system. We started documenting even more, including walks and training sessions. Our notes were a little more detailed.
Once Bernie was diagnosed with atypical Addison’s Disease, our simple composition book of daily activity became one of our best sources of data for better understanding Bernie and communicating with our vet.
Most recently, last Sunday we took a pack field trip to a dog-friendly winery in Sonoita. The next day, Bernie had an Addison’s flare up while we were on our daily walk. We were just a few minutes into our walk, when he threw up about 1/4 cup of yellow bile with a speck or two of blood.
Looking back at our data for the previous week, we saw no fluctuations in his appetite. However, that Monday morning, Bernie only ate about 25% of his breakfast. He also did nothing during his potty time before I left for work.
While we can’t be 100% sure about our conclusions, Matthew and I sense that the almost two hour car drive down to Sonoita perhaps stressed Bernie out. He seemed more excitable on the way down to the winery. After the trip, he and Lizzie both slept most of the way home. Stress would account for his decreased appetite the next morning and his lack of focus during potty time.
Of course, being home alone while I was at work probably further stressed him out. He did go potty as soon as I let him out once I got home that afternoon. But after several hours of stress, his body needed more Cortisol. While he did receive his regular dose of Prednisone Monday morning, he received an extra dose that afternoon after an abbreviated walk.
Realistic strategies to support our dog with Addison’s…
Matthew and I have different backgrounds that help us support our guy. Matthew was a helicopter paramedic responding to trauma scenes. He's also worked as an emergency department and ICU nurse. Currently, he’s a cardiac cath lab nurse. His sense of calm is greater than mine. It’s really annoying.
I’ve had various first aid trainings over the years of working with children, In the summer of 2017, I participated in an active shooter training geared for educators, but in general, I don’t respond well to blood or trauma or emergencies. However, potentially having to respond quickly to an Addisonian Crisis and drive Bernie to our emergency vet has become a reality for me.
What have I done to find my inner calm?
I took a pet first aid course offered by our local Humane Society. I highly recommend learning more about how we, as pet owners, can help our pets in emergencies. My plan is to take this course or a similar pet first aid class annually. Repetition is key to learning and being able to act quickly and effectively. And feeling more prepared helps calm my tendency to worry.
I have a few Google Alerts set up for Addison’s Disease in dogs. As a blogger, I regularly search Pinterest for articles about Addison’s Disease in dogs as well. I don’t find quality content frequently, but when I do, I save it. Learning about this disease, and other people’s experiences with their Addison’s dogs definitely helps me have a better sense of symptoms and stressors to look for. Follow us on Pinterest to see the information and resources I find.
When Bernie’s throwing up, I take deeper breaths, and focus on staying calm to keep him calm. He’s thrown up once in the garage, and this past week, he threw up on a walk. Both times, I found myself petting his back and talking to him in soothing tones. Once he’s done with throwing up, we sit for a few minutes chatting. If we’re at home, we snuggle on the couch. Lizzie really helps because she’s usually checking on how Bernie’s doing. Then he usually gets an extra dose of Prednisone.
We take daily walks where we focus on the world around us. After reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, I give both dogs even more time to sniff while we’re walking. I try to take time to notice the details around me as well. With school back in session, our late afternoon walks often end around sunset, so watching the various colors paint the sky is incredibly peaceful. On the weekends and during the summers, I try to get out early to avoid crowds so our walks are quieter. When I’m with the dogs, I don’t use any apps or devices, except the camera on my cell phone. I avoid texting unless it’s urgent. I’m trying to live in the moment with the dogs.
What are my plans to continue to find ways to cope with this chronic disease?
Last fall, I started meditating daily. While I found the practice refreshing, I have since fallen out of the habit. I need to begin practicing daily meditation again. Finding a few minutes of peace each day can only help my response to Bernie’s needs.
I have purchased several ebooks on mindfulness, meditation, and living in the moment along with numerous books about dog behavior, training, and wellness. I need to start reading these books. Even if I’m only reading a few each year, each one has the potential to empower my sense of calm, and my knowledge of dogs.
We’ve scheduled two private training sessions with our trainer Crystal. She’s going to teach us and Bernie some calming techniques she’s learned with Mark McCabe with Training Between the Ears. While the more noticeable benefit may be a decrease in Doodle enthusiasm when Bernie greets people, we’re also hoping that Bernie learns strategies to soothe himself. We’ve noticed he’s intermittently chewing at his front paws. We don’t think his chewing is related to allergies, so we’d like to teach him other ways to self-soothe.
Bernie is such a special boy to us. He’s so gentle with humans and other pups, especially the smaller ones. In the course of learning how to take the best care of Bernie, Matthew and I have become better humans. Taking the time to learn how to worry less about a chronic condition we can’t control, allows us to enjoy the time we do have with him.