Last week, my human, Hsin-Yi, took me back to see the Vet Opthalmologist at the Small Animal Specialist Hospital (SASH) for a follow-up check on my Glaucoma Sickie.
As usual, I always have to get on to the scales in reception first to check my weight – hey, even an old girl has to watch her figure, you know! I weighed 67kg (148lbs), which is good. My proper “adult” weight through most of my life has always been about 70kg (154lbs) but since I got older, my humans have been keeping me a bit underweight on purpose, because it’s less stressy for my joints and heart. It does make me look a bit more bony – my hip bones jut out a bit more and I don’t have my nice curvy bum anymore – but Hsin-Yi says “health before vanity!”
Hsin-Yi was actually worried that maybe I should be even lighter – like maybe 65kg (143lbs)? Especially now that I have my “puffy heart” (DCM) as well but she asked the vet and the vet said that I’m looking good now and I’m fine at 67kg. Because I’m a really big, tall girl (I’m about 35″ at the shoulder) – if I lose any more weight, the vet said that will probably be too thin for me. I am the more “solid”, European type of Dane anyway, so I always look more chunky compared to many of the Danes we see in Australia. This makes Hsin-Yi paranoid when she sees me next to all those slim, dainty Danes because I look “fat” next to them but the vet felt my body and said that it was all “hard muscle”, not fat at all!
Being fat is the worst thing that can happen to any doggie because it brings so many sickies and makes it so tiring & ouchie for us to walk around (we see so many fat doggies waddling around, panting and struggling to keep up) – and yet it is the one thing that is so controllable. You can’t really prevent Cancer Sickies or Heart Sickies or Bloat or lots of other scary things – but the one thing you CAN do is keep us at a healthy weight (it’s not like we can help ourselves to yummies, so it’s totally the humans’ responsibility whether we over-eat and exercise enough! ) – so it seems such a shame when humans don’t do that.
We always feel so sorry when we see pet doggies in the street that are overweight (and we see a lot!) because although we know their humans are probably doing it out of love, they are actually doing the worst thing for their doggies. We know it’s hard resisting the ‘PuppyDog Eyes’ but sometimes you’ve just got to be tough to be kind.
Well, I had a great check-up with the vet opthalmologist! First, she checked the pressure in both my eyes and they were both really good! My good eye was 12 and my “blind” eye was actually 10 (normal eye pressure is below 25; the day I had my acute glaucoma, the pressure in my blind eye was 67!!!!!) – so my eye drop medicines are working really well to keep the pressure down. This is great news because the vet opthalmologist said that it often doesn’t work for a lot of doggies – their eye pressure starts climbing again after a few weeks – but with me, it seems to be working so far and hopefully will work for a few years yet. Paws crossed!
The other GREAT piece of news is that I may not be totally blind in my bad eye!!!! The vet opthalmologist was really shocked because she said normally doggies who suffered the kind of high pressure I did would have too much nerve damage and wouldn’t have any vision left but…I’m a miracle! Hee! Hee! She tested my eyes and she said that I definitely still have some good vision left – although it’s hard to tell exactly how much since us doggies can’t read a chart. Hm…yeah, well, that’s only because stupid humans don’t know how to make an eye chart for doggies. If they made one like this, I’m sure all doggies could tell vets exactly how much they can see!
Actually, Hsin-Yi wasn’t totally surprised because she had been doing some testing by herself at home – she covered my good eye and then asked me to walk around, just using my “blind” eye – and I had no problems moving around through the house, turning around, without bumping into anything and I wasn’t really hesitating or anything at all.
She also asked me to do the “Touch” trick (touch the back of her hand with my nose) using only my “blind” eye – and again, I could find her hand easily, wherever she moved it. Of course. I could be using my nose to help me – but if I was totally blind in that eye, it would not have been so easy.
The vet said that I definitely don’t have 100% vision but it’s pretty good enough! Most of the damage is to my peripheral vision – so if you come up straight in front of me, I can still see OK on my left side – but if you come up behind me on my left or straight from the side on my left, I might not see you and I might get a fright. But mostly, I’m coping really well! I will be going back in a month’s time for another follow-up check.
Well, Hsin-Yi had taken her camera machine and was hoping to make a little movie of me having my eye pressure checked with the tonometer, so that we could show you – but the vet opthalmologist was a bit “shy” and she didn’t even want us taking photos during the consult (although Hsin-Yi sneaked the one of me in the consult room above, when the vet went out to get something! ) – so I can only show you the pictures we got in reception.
As for my heart, that’s going great too. They had another listen again and my heart murmur is only “very minor” now – they think that it probably sounded a lot louder and more serious that day because I was in so much pain from the glaucoma and my heart was racing!
Hsin-Yi asked the vet about whether I shouldn’t be doing certain things – such as chasing my ball or training & dancing – because it might be stressy for me but they said no, it’s very important I continue to live life as normal and continue doing all the things I like doing. I’m not dying yet! I’m not even in heart failure yet – lots of doggies have “enlarged hearts” (DCM) and live for years & years without ever developing heart failure, until they die of something else. So as long as I don’t do anything stupid – like go jogging in the midday sun (DUH! Who would do that anyway??) – then it’s fine for me to just continue doing everything like before.
OK, and now I’m going to hand the blog over to Hsin-Yi ‘coz we had a few questions from our readers about my glaucoma and stuff, which I’ll let Hsin-Yi answer here.
Dorothy S from Michigan asked: “Sometime let me know if I should make a point of having my animals’ eye pressure checked?”
- and Jed & Abby in Merryland said: “We learned from Sissy’s mom about canine glaucoma testing. We now get it every year as part of our regular physicals. Honey’s onset was so sudden that annual testing probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but it might help other pet parents to be aware the testing is available to detect slower onset glaucoma.”
I asked our vet opthalmologist about the benefits of having regular glaucoma testing and whether this could have prevented what happened to Honey. She said that while glaucoma is usually a slow onset, chronic condition in humans, in dogs it is very different and is generally an acute condition which happens suddenly with no warning. Honey’s case is a classic: fine the day before, sudden onset overnight. There are a few cases of dogs’ eye pressures gradually increasing but it’s rare – there is just very little “slower onset glaucoma” in dogs – it’s mostly the acute kind.
The Pressure Test
So basically, while there is nothing wrong in testing, it will not guarantee anything – not unless you’re doing it EVERY day (even then, things could change in the course of 24hrs). Honey could have been tested the day before and her eye pressures could have been perfectly normal. In fact, if you’ll remember, Honey DID see a veterinary eye specialist in Nov last year – so only about 9 months ago – back in Newcastle, when they found those little benign iridocillary cysts in her eyeball and he checked her eye pressure then and they were perfectly normal. So that is not even a year ago – and so if you were just doing “annual checks on eye pressure” – you could still have what happened to Honey.
So just checking the pressure alone doesn’t tell you much and might not be worth doing, depending on hard it is for you to get hold of a tonometer (the instrument that measures eye pressure). I don’t know about the US & UK but here in Australia, most vet clinics don’t have that piece of equipment lying around (it costs about $6,000) – only veterinary opthalmologists have them, which means that if you want to have your dog’s eye pressure measured, you’ll have to make an appointment with a vet opthalmologist and pay the specialist fees (here, it’s around $200 per consult!). For a lot of people, this just isn’t affordable and even if you could afford it, you wonder whether it is worth the money when the test doesn’t really give you any guarantees. Sure, if your dog’s eye pressure just happens to be spiking at the same moment that you take him in to see the opthalmologist, once a year, then great – you’ll pick up the danger signals and be able to do something about it. But what’s the chances of that happening for everybody? And if you go to the specialist and have it measured – and it’s normal – that doesn’t mean that the pressure can’t suddenly spike the next day.
So yes, if your normal vet happens to have a tonometer and your dog will hold still enough for him to measure the pressures in their eyeballs, why not? It won’t do any harm. But I don’t know if it’s worth you making a special appointment to see a specialist to measure the pressure, unless your dog is a high risk breed (see below).
The best defence…
The most important thing to be aware of is that the pressure test does not give you any guarantees so don’t get complacent just because the pressure was normal. Our vet opthalmologist said that far more important is how quickly you react when you notice something is wrong with your dog – because that is what will save vision in their eye and reduce their suffering.
It would be terrible if you got a result of “normal pressure” and then the next night when your dog started acting funny, you just didn’t think much of it because you felt reassured that their eye pressure was measured as “normal” yesterday… Doesn’t mean anything. They could still be getting acute glaucoma now.
So the best thing is to know your own dog really well – so you can tell that something is wrong. And watch out for the signs of high pressure in the eyeball, such as the pupil looking “blue” and opaque (not the same as cataracts) and the dog squinting a lot and unable to open their eyes, as well as acting like they are in a LOT of pain in the head area (biggest sign of glaucoma). The pain behaviour varies of course, from dog to dog – in Honey’s case, she was just very unresponsive and kept hanging her head down and I could feel her heart racing when I put my hand on the side of her chest; she was also nauseous and vomiting from the pain and had trouble standing and walking.
The Angle Test
Our vet opthalmologist mentioned that there is another kind of “gluacoma testing” which people may get confused by when they hear about it – and this is when they check the “angles” in the eye. If you’ll remember my silly diagram of the eyeballs with the analogy of the “slats” that open to drain the fluid out of the eyball – all dogs are born with these slats at different angles. If you have a “poorer” angle, then you’re more likely to develop glaucoma – although not necessarily. Again, there are no guarantees – it is just a statistical likelihood. It’s like saying if you have bigger breasts, you have a higher chance of getting breast cancer – but that doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely get breast cancer nor does it mean that if you have small breasts, you won’t get breast cancer.
There are many dogs who are born with “poor angles” who never develop glaucoma in their lifetimes – and other dogs that started out with good angles which then “collapsed” with ageing (such as in Honey’s case). So just checking your dog’s angle gives no guarantees. Besides, you have to consider also whether to keep subjecting your dog to these tests (especially if your dog is the anxious, panicky type which might get very stressed out and need to be sedated) when the results might mean very little.
Exception to the rule…
However, there are certain breeds which are considered at high risk of glaucoma, such as the American Cocker Spaniel. And so this ‘angle test’ is used by good breeders of such high risk breeds, when they are considering breeding from their dogs. If the dog has very “poor” angles in a high risk breed, then you probably shouldn’t breed from him/her, because you’re adding the 2 negative factors together – so increasing the likelihood of producing puppies who will suffer with problems. So the ‘angle test’ is really used more for good breeders to determine breeding suitability than as a test for pet owners to determine risk.
* (Again, this is why it’s so important to only buy pups from decent, ethical breeders who health test, as opposed to BackYard Breeders – think of all the suffering they cause to the puppies born, just because they don’t really care what they’re breeding together. And by the way, “registered breeder” doesn’t necessarily mean good breeder – it’s fairly easy to get registered and for puppies to “have papers” – doesn’t mean a thing. It all comes down to the health tests the breeders do; their experience of the breed and how well they select the parents and match the pedigrees (not too much inbreeding) and how honest they are about their own dogs’ faults.)
Note that our vet opthalmologist said that glaucomca can affect all dogs, including crossbreeds – she’s seen many mix-breeds with “poor angles” too – so it isn’t just a purebreed thing. So you can’t get complacent just because your dog isn’t a “high risk breed” or is a mutt. There are no guarantees.
2 brown dawgs asked: “Since Honey’s vision may become more impaired if the pressure rises in the other eye, are you using verbal cues for her for everyday things, like saying “out” when a door is open? I have heard that this is a good thing to do if you have a dog that might eventually have vision problems.”
It’s funny but we’ve always preferred using verbal cues rather than hand signals for communicating with Honey – and so in this respect, we won’t really have to change our routines too much. It’s actually something that has always got us in trouble in training class – because most dog training seems to move towards the dog only responding to hand & body signals, without verbal cues – whereas we have always focused more on Honey responding to verbal cues, regardless of our body language.
A lot of this has been because of our Dancing – in traditional obedience & other dog sports, it’s common to want the dog to always respond to a specific movement or gesture of your body, without you having to say anything. So for example, a dog that will Sit as soon as you raise your hand in an upward movement or a dog that will come when you wave your arms wide…etc…but in dancing, that would be a disaster! I need Honey to still do HER moves, regardless of what I’m doing with MY body. Because in one routine, I might need her to Sit while I’m swaying around her – in another routine, I might need her to Sit while I’m in front of her, waving my arms above my head – and in yet another routine, I might need her to Sit while I’m facing away from her…she needs to learn to ignore all those different physical cues and just listen to what I’m telling her to do, even if it contradicts the body movements. If she doesn’t then it would seriously hamper my creative freedom when I’m making up choreographies for our dance routines because I would always need to move a certain way to get her to move a certain way. How boring and restrictive!
So I have always aimed for Honey responding to me verbally only. I only consider our dance steps “properly trained” when she can do them on verbal cues only, without any hand signals. For example, a lot of people can only get their dogs to spin if they do that huge arm movement waving their arms around – whereas I have worked towards getting Honey to spin even if my arms are folded or even if I’m facing away from her! We haven’t achieved this level with all our dance steps yet but I’m always working towards it.
So yeah, I don’t think I would have any trouble communicating with and guiding Honey even if she was totally blind – based only on giving her verbal cues. I sometimes play this game with her anyway where I hide in another room and get her to do things just based on the verbal cues I’m calling out to her – even if she can’t see me at all! I’ve also tried it for fun when she can only hear my voice through the phone (eg, when I’m overseas) – it’s so funny because she looks around the room, wondering where my voice is coming from! – but she does still respond to the verbal cues I’m giving her, even if I’m just a disembodied voice coming out of the Skype screen!
dmdeedee said: Please don’t stress this poor old girl and make her do tricks and dance. She has aged and is entitled to spend her remaining years quiet and relaxing, just like old people want to do!
Well, I have to say that I found this comment very hurtful and offensive. And I think a lot of “old people” would be quite offended too at the suggestion that they all just want to spend their “remaining years” sitting around “quiet & relaxing” – and waiting to die!
I don’t “make” Honey do anything – we do things together as a team and one of the things we happen to enjoy doing together is “tricks & dancing”. But it is always done with Honey’s voluntary participation and I am always careful to make sure that the experience is not “stressful” for her. In fact, one of the reasons I pulled out of competing in Canine Freestyle since moving to Australia (in spite of all the positive attention we receive as the only Dane in the sport) is because they are so much more competitive here and take everything so much more seriously. I don’t enjoy that kind of intense, over-competitive atmosphere and I don’t think Honey does either, based on my observation of her behaviour – I feel that it puts too much pressure on her. So despite a lot of urging from people and the promise of “titles” for Honey, I have kept out of the competition ring. I’ve always cared more about my dog’s “happy attitude” than letters after her name.
Similarly, we have been asked for 2 years running to take part in Australia’s Got Talent. We have had the organisers calling me and begging me several times but I have always said no, as I felt that it would put unfair pressure on Honey. If I was the kind of person that you seemed to be suggesting, who only cared about ‘using’ Honey for my own ego, then I would certainly not have turned down the chance to appear on national TV and all the associated celebrity attention!! I have also turned down various offers and opportunities overseas- such as when Jimmy Kimmel in the US called me on the phone to personally invite me & Honey to appear on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE (with all costs paid) – because I felt that they would be too stressful to Honey. So I find it incredibly insulting and hurtful that someone would make such a comment in such a tone.
I also don’t understand why there seems to be this snobbery towards “tricks & dancing” – as if it is some un-natural embarrassment and an unworthwhile activity for a dog to be engaging in. I’ve had similar attitudes in the past from other Dane people – especially Dane breeders & showers – who accused me of insulting Honey and their “majestic breed” because of our dancing and all the other training that Honey has achieved. Somehow, they seem to feel that a vacuous couch potato is a more “majestic” representation of the breed…go figure.
Humans are a pretty ego-centric bunch. If a dog is doing something to “help” man – like guide him when blind or herd sheep for him, oh, that is a “noble” activity and worthwhile doing – but if a dog is doing something which doesn’t seem to have any practical value to man – that’s “just for fun” – then that’s seen as a waste of time and somehow degrading.
Well, let me shatter your illusions: to a dog EVERYTHING is a “trick”. Do you think it is normal, natural behaviour for a dog to always be walking attached to a leash by our side? Do you think it’s normal, natural behaviour for a dog to be expected to round up prey animals like sheep but then not attack them? Do you think it’s normal, natural behaviour for a dog to stand stacked in a show ring, with his head held up, while a stranger comes to feel his balls? Do you think it’s normal, natural behaviour for a dog to be sniffing for drugs all day? Do you think it’s normal, natural behaviour for a dog to have to put up with being mauled by strange children and expected to “play” with all the strange dogs thrust into his face at the park? Do you think it’s normal, natural behaviour for a dog to keep chasing a rubber ball and bring it back??
NO! They are ALL “tricks” that we have trained our dogs to do for our own benefits and pleasures. So I don’t see why you should get snobby about a dog who is trained to watch and communicate with his human so well that they can move together in harmony to music Vs. a dog who is “trained” to hasssle his human for attention and treats by jumping up or barking incessantly or hogging the couch. Oh, but I guess you would say the latter example is a dog who is not being “stressed” and is allowed to “relax”, huh?
I made a specific point of asking the vet whether we should be refraining from doing certain things now or cutting some activities out of Honey’s lifestyle – and yes, I mentioned the dancing & training – and the vet was adamant that we should just continue life as before. She said the worst thing we could do for Honey was to treat her like some dying old invalid, just because she has a few “issues” now – which are all perfectly normal and expected at her age. In fact, Honey is in very good condition for her age with better muscle tone, fitness, flexibility and mental abilities, than a lot of Danes younger than her. The vet said that they usually expect to see problems in Danes long before Honey’s age – so she is doing very well to only start showing it now. And part of the reason she has remained so fit for so long is because she has always had such a full life, with so much physical and mental stimulation through her social experiences and training. If anything, the vet said that the more physically unfit a dog becomes, the more mental stimulation they need from “training type activities” to help keep them happy.
As for Honey dancing – well, I think she has answered that question herself. I set up the video the other day to film me clicker training Muesli a new trick (oh yes, there goes another accusation: training cats!!!!! My poor abused animals and the terrible lives they lead with me…) – but before I could do anything with Muesli, Honey decided SHE wanted to get some action! I had put on some music in the background and was just boogie-ing around by myself as I set up the room – and Honey suddenly started “dancing” with me. It was very sweet and funny – and I was delighted that the video happened to be rolling already so it was all caught on camera.
So you can see for yourself – does this look like a dog who is stressed and being “forced” to do anything?? Or is this a dog telling me that she is ready and able to get back into doing something she loves?
If the movie doesn’t play, try here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v0CUzt0vR8
* We have been noticing that Mozilla Firefox is having a lot of trouble with Youtube videos recently (“Flash plugin crashed”) – if this is happening to you, try viewing it with Internet Explorer. There should be no problems on IE. We always have both browers on our computer and whenever a website doesn’t work on one browser, it will usually work on the other.