A steep learning curve & a more natural approach

I wanted to write another blog trying to keep it a bit more general, about our progress so far with the treatment of Addisons Disease in our dog Donnie. As many of you know Donnie (my main bikejor partner) was diagnosed in early April with Addisons Disease which threatened to turn our world on it’s head. Addisons is a life long condition which will always need medication and so in the last 3 months I have been trying to find out as much as I can about the disease and what will give Donnie the best chance of a healthy, happy life. What I have discovered as part of my research may interest a number of dog owners, not just those with health-compromised dogs. Many people may already know a lot of this too but it is always worth reminding people.


Donnie at the end of February 2014 before the diagnosis - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost
Donnie at the end of February 2014 before the diagnosis – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost

One of the first things I did after diagnosis was to book in an appointment with Holistic Vet Nick Thompson, who came very highly recommended and has offices just down the road from us in Bath. His website for those who are interested is: www.holisticvet.co.uk

The appointment came through for early June (he gets very booked up) and so we journeyed down to see him with a list of questions I had prepared. I was ready to be told a number of things, to change his diet, to stop vaccinating him (he is immunocompromised now and the advice is not to vaccinate unhealthy dogs) and to prepare to accept his retirement from the dog sports. I was surprised to find that this was not the case. We discussed in great detail many things which I have had an interest in for a long time, as I do try to think holistically when it comes to my animals, and I have listed the points we discussed below:

Medication: this is more specific to Donnie so I won’t focus on it but unlike I had thought, Nick was very relaxed about the use of conventional drugs and supported them in many cases. The homeopathic approach he takes, is only when it is safe to use, alongside administration of regular prescription drugs and therefore his recommendations were designed to support Donnies’ current programme of drugs.

Donnie now has a range of medication including some more natural remedies to complement the conventional drugs he needs
Donnie now has a range of medication including some more natural remedies to complement the conventional drugs he needs

Diet: I was pleased to find the diet I had chosen for my dogs was a good one (I feed CSJ kibble mixed with meat) and we discussed the possibility of moving all the dogs onto something more natural (such as a raw diet). Nick had many suggestions for how to go about this in a way which suited me (I cannot bring myself to butcher up carcasses, it’s just not something I think I’d be able to manage on a regular basis, it’s a personal thing) and I think I have discovered a new product to the UK which is perfect for us to make the switch to a raw diet. I could discuss this a lot more but I’m trying to keep it brief. There are many arguments for and against raw diets, I have seen dogs thrive on both but one thing I am in agreement with, is that trying to keep any diet (human or dog) as natural and as unprocessed as possible, can only be a good thing.

Vaccinations: This is something I have had a personal battle with for a long time and again I want to keep it brief but because I believe that to protect my dogs from as much as possible, we need to vaccinate, I have always vaccinated them as recommended by the vets (ultimately the vaccine manufacturers dictate this advice, much in the same way the food manufacturers often dictate the veterinary advice given on diet). I have educated myself in the reasons why you might not want to vaccinate as recommended and now I find myself with a dog who ‘may’ have an adverse reaction as his risk is certainly higher now due to the Addisons Disease. The conclusion I have come to is that I will now be getting my dogs tested for their immunity before blanket vaccinating them and although this may end up costing me more, I feel it will be worth it. I also want to point out here that you must check with your insurance company the implications of not vaccinating as recommended by the vets.

Vaccination is the subject of much debate among dog owners as there are implications for your dogs' health whatever your opinion is
Vaccination is the subject of much debate among dog owners as there are implications for your dogs’ health whatever your opinion is

Worming: Again I have always taken the approach that I would rather have my dogs wormed than risk the damage caused by not worming, however I have chosen my own timescale for worming and not blindly followed the manufacturers’ recommendations. I have always thought it would be good to do for dogs, what I have done in the past with horses, send off a sample for worm counting. Happily I have now found a company recommended by Nick who will do this: www.wormcount.com and in future I will be collecting little samples for testing before I worm my dogs using the regular methods.

Travel: I was quite unsure about what Donnies’ illness would mean in terms of travel as we do a lot of events all over the country and I was hoping to be able to take him abroad later this year. The dogs all have their passports and are ready to go but I have to think about the amount of stress the journeys would put on them, especially Donnie. Long car journeys may seem like a doddle but in actual fact dogs can find being moved to unfamiliar surroundings very stressful. I’ve found a good article on stress in dogs here: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/3_1/features/Easing-Your-Dogs-Stress_5031-1.html and on reading it, I really feel I need consider what is best for my dogs in terms of how much travel we undertake within a year. It would be quite selfish of me to make a decision based purely on what I wanted to do and not take into account how it will affect Donnie now. For that reason, any European travel plans have been put on hold.

Travelling can be more stressful for your dog than you might think
Travelling can be more stressful for your dog than you might think

Exercise: Now this was my main concern with the Addisons – how much exercise could Donnie now do on a daily basis? After his initial diagnosis and having been told to keep him calm, I tried to lead walk him but it actually stressed him out more because it wasn’t his usual daily routine. I gradually began to get him canicrossing again as soon as the medication kicked in and his blood results showed he was stabilised. Getting back to his normal routine has meant he has shown remarkable progress in a short space of time. Nick Thompson was very complimentary about how well Donnie is doing and I’m sure it’s because we are just trying to keep his life as normal as possible for him and not withdraw him from the active lifestyle he is used to.

However, it was like beginning again, taking him out for a mile, then increasing the distance by about a quarter of a mile at a time until now, when we’re back up to about 5 miles. I have to say I have enjoyed this time with him, although it has been worrying waiting to see if any of the increase in activity would be too much. I have not pushed him at all and he hasn’t once shown signs of being adversely affected by the canicrossing. In fact I have to keep telling myself that he is allowed to get tired!!! There is a lot to be said for routines in keeping dogs happy, healthy and balanced in their minds and I feel the canicrossing has helped Donnie get back to being his usual self much quicker than if I had been too cautious and kept him rested. It is also a good indication for me of how he is feeling, as I know he will always be the first by the door to leave, as long as he is well.

I sometimes forget Donnie is allowed to get tired and it's not a sign of his illness, it's normal!
I sometimes forget Donnie is allowed to get tired and it’s not a sign of his illness, it’s normal!

The future: So in conclusion with a few changes to diet, vaccinations and worming we will probably be able to do the majority of what we were doing before with Donnie. There are a few exceptions to this, as I have mentioned about the travel and I may well decide to cut this down, particularly for European travel where I may not have the same control over the situation as in the UK. I also haven’t really ‘tested the water’ yet as to how he will respond to bikejoring again. The bike brings an additional level of excitement (and therefore stress) for Donnie, but I feel that properly managed, we will be able to get him back into it and it will be a case of baby steps again to make sure this is done at a pace suitable for him. I’m looking forward to the cooler weather now and what the 2014/2015 season might bring.



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