(Wordless Wednesday) Chicken Slushies

April 30, 2008


Journey to the Centre of the Dog

March 9, 2008

papasan puppy

This is my fourth and final entry focussing on canine megaesophagus. Today’s posting might be subtitled, Fun With Gravity.

After ruling out secondary causes, the veterinarian’s diagnosis was Canine Idiopathic Megaesophagus, which is apparently Latin for “the dog’s sick for some reason.” So, no meds, no thoracic surgery, just attention to the laws of math and physics was open to us as treatment for poggles. This arts-major momma has had to learn about…

1. Probability. The more a coin is flipped, the greater the chance of seeing its head. For an m.e. dog, the more often he’s fed, the greater the chance of food seeing his stomach. We began with five small meals a day: two in the morning, one at noon, and two in the evening. Also, the higher the quality of the food, the more nutrition the pooch will get. We were told to stay with puppy food for as long as he was regurgitating, because its protein content is higher than that of adult food. The vet even suggested a stint with cat food, the protein level of which is so high that it makes normal dogs sick.

2. Friction. Dry food doesn’t slide well in a damp digestive tube. We soak the kibble to mush. We used to place a day’s worth of kibble and tapwater in a lidded container in the fridge overnight, but lately have been simply pouring boiling water over a meal’s worth, right in the food dish, and covering it with a plate while we go out for a romp.

3. Density. Soaked kibble has a higher density than dry kibble, and so the force of gravity on it is higher. (Tinned food is just as dense, and makes a tasty addition to the kibble porridge.) Just as important to note is that kibble gives water a higher density, too. Our puppy would toss most of his drinking water, so all the liquid added to his food helps enormously in keeping him hydrated. 

4. Geometry. The closer to a ninety-degree angle something is, the longer the distance that gravity gets to work its magic. Sleeping in the papasan helps keep our dog’s head up and his food down. But long before we bought the oversized doggie doughnut bed, we trained our Cardigan to stand with his front feet on a stepstool and eat his food out of a bowl on a yet-higher shelf, giving him an angle somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees. At first we stood behind him with our hands on his ribcage, till he got used to the odd position. Then, as soon as he finished a meal, one of us would pick him up, dandle him upright on her lap, and stroke his back and tummy till he let out a good belch. (Sometimes I belched first, as a hint.) Because he didn’t like this last manouevre too much, we started getting him to remain with his front feet on the stepstool till he burped. Over time, he got the idea, and would just stay there himself, licking his emptied bowl and thinking happy unbarfy thoughts. Before reaching that level of expertise, his most celebrated lunch was probably the one on the Lion’s Head lookout on the Bruce Peninsula, where a group of puzzled rock climbers got to watch two middle-aged lady hikers burping a corgi.

5. Temperature. Heat makes things move. If poggles is panting, he’ll toss his drinking water faster than you can say get-the-towels. We try to build in cool-down time before letting him quench his thirst. Similarly, we’ve learned to feed him after, not before, a play session. If he eats just before going out, he gets taken for a nice calm walk instead of a vigorous game of fetch.

6. Praise. Okay, so praise isn’t a law of physics, but it’s definitely a rule of life. I was crestfallen to realize that treat-based training was suddenly a no-go; without treats, the clicker is just noise pollution. So I praised. I praised him for going potty outside, for catching a ball, for being quiet, for coming when I called, for not pulling on the leash, for finding his toy in the snow, for learning how to use stairs, for being nice to the cat… I’m sure he still thinks “good boy” is his middle name. We did try one military-style obedience course, but I’m unconvinced that growling at your dog is the way to go. It’s much more fun to stick to praising him when he’s doing something right.

It’s been exactly a year now since the diagnosis, and management of our dog’s condition has gotten easier over time. We’re extremely lucky; in some dogs, the condition worsens. Our pup is one of the few who has somehow managed to compensate, or maybe his esophagus has improved its elasticity — but I’m not going to order another x-ray to find out.

He still eats on an angle, but we were down to three meals for some time, and lately he’s made it clear that breakfast and supper are enough. We still give him well-watered mushy kibble, but lately he’s been getting dog biscuits as well. (Only at home, though; he needed antibiotics that time he strained at the leash and snorted bicky bits up his nose.) We still try to ensure a cool-down period; after about fifteen minutes of hard play outside, he’ll start tossing little blats of water (saliva-sweat?) in which biscuit crumbs are visible, but that’s usually all we see now.

I could try treat-training him again to see how that goes, but so far I’ve been too lazy. Seeing my dog generally happy, mostly healthy, and usually pretty-well behaved is good enough for now.

Mega What?

March 8, 2008

the flying squirrel

The little guy was a month old when we first met him. At that point he was indistinguishable from his littermates, a piebald collection of swollen bellies and stubby whiptails. I was more interested, in fact, in the adults. So this was what they looked like, so this was how they behaved. The sire was a contented suck of a thing, quite amenable to scritches and belly rubs. So far, so good.

Two weeks later we returned, this time bringing our friend and her son, our “almost son”, who lives with us part of each week while his flight attendant mum walks the aisles to England and back. The breeders were able to assess us as a family unit, to better choose the right dog for us. They could see how mild-mannered our friend is, and how gentle her 10-year-old. I was sitting on the floor when one puppy, a sable with a white spot on his nape, crawled into my lap and fell asleep. Three weeks later, he was ours.

We wanted a Cardi who wasn’t too headstrong, one who was more laidback than feisty, more sweet than sassy. The breeders knew that, and chose the little sable accordingly. He did not look sick, just quiet and good-natured.

We brought him home in mid-November, when he was nine weeks old. A few days later he started puppy preschool. I was a little disappointed that he kept getting sleepy and refusing the motivational treats before the 45 minutes were up, but he was the youngest and smallest in his class. Also, around this time, I phoned the breeder to say that poggles didn’t seem to have much of an appetite. She said not to worry, dogs are simple: If a dog doesn’t eat, he isn’t hungry. Fair enough.

Early in the new year, Puppy started tossing his food. Probably normal, I thought; sometimes young children toss their cookies because of a still-wimpy epiglotis.

Then Puppy started tossing his training treats. Then Puppy started tossing his water. Now I was getting frightened. I reported it to the vet twice during the month of February. She wanted to know whether it was vomit or regurgitation? Regurgitation, I replied. His drinking water would simply fall out almost immediately, but his kibble might reappear anytime after eating.

That was when my partner and I first heard about megaesophagus. The vet suggested a barium x-ray, we said sure, and at exactly six months of age our puppy was diagnosed.

We discussed the x-ray with the youngest vet in the clinic. He was almost as upset as we were; this was his first experience with megaesophagus, and he said the older vet had seen only three cases in 25 years of practice.

The young vet pulled no punches.  Our pup could possibly be dead in a few months. Besides not getting enough nutrition, besides the risk of dehydration, there was the possibility of aspiration. This means that poggles might regurgitate during his sleep, get the food up his pharynx and into his lungs, and contract pneumonia, or simply suffocate if he were already weak enough.


I wasn’t ready to watch a puppy die. Really, I wasn’t. I called the breeder to discuss bringing him back. She was familiar with the disease; she had had an Irish Wolfhound with megaesophagus once, but had never seen it in any Cardigan. But she assured me of two things: one, that megaesophagus can often be managed, with the dog living a full life; and two, that we had adopted this puppy in good faith, and that she would reserve us another puppy for free whenever we asked, no matter whether this one lived twelve more days or twelve more years. See if you can’t hold out a little longer, she said. So we held out.

As you’ll have noticed if you’ve looked at my earlier blog entries, text and photos, we now have one sleek, happy, muscled mite on our hands. We also have a much lower paper towel budget. Has poggles outgrown his megaesophagus? Well, he’s certainly outgrown the misery of it. While he still has the condition, it’s much less intrusive than it was a year ago. Tomorrow I’ll write about our experience in managing the malady.

Paper Towels Ad Nauseam

March 7, 2008

A good 25 per cent or so of my reading public — i.e. Cody Bear’s mum — has asked me to write a little more about megaesophagus. Cody Bear suffers from gastroparesis, which shares similarities in definition and symptoms to megaesophagus. Today I’ll just post a quick compare-and-contrast of the two diseases. Tomorrow I’ll go for the human-interest stuff, on how poggles and I have lived with his condition. Someone out there in Blogland has been looking for information on whether megaesophagus can be outgrown. I’ll address our personal experience regarding that question tomorrow.

Caveat: the information here is strictly googlesearch; I’m no expert. I had never heard of megaesophagus before our vet diagnosed it, and never heard of gastroparesis until reading Cody Bear’s mum’s comment yesterday.

But anyway:


Both gastroparesis and megaesophagus are a failure of peristalsis (smooth muscle contraction), resulting in food not moving properly through the digestive system.

Both gastroparesis and megaesophagus may be idiopathic (i.e. the cause is unknown), or they may be the result of an underlying disease.

Both g.p. and m.e. mean a lot of barf cleanup.

Both g.p. and m.e. can be diagnosed by barium x-ray.

Management for both g.p. and m.e. may include frequent small meals,  pureed or liquid diet, and in extreme cases, a feeding tube.


Gastroparesis is the lack of contractions of the stomach muscles, resulting in food remaining in the stomach too long. Megaesophagus is the lack of contractions of the esophagus, resulting in food remaining in the gullet. The esophagus stretches, and the food sits in it as though in a pouch.

Gastroparesis may be helped somewhat by medication. This is no picnic, since the meds produce side effects such as anxiety, depression, and (sigh!) vomiting. Megaesophagus cannot be helped by medication. Meds are available for the underlying disease that causes it, but there is nothing in the case of idiopathic canine megaesophagus.

Paper towels needed for g.p. are used to clean up vomit, meaning stomach contents. Paper towels needed for m.e. are used to clean up regurgitations, meaning food and water that never made it to the stomach in the first place.

The feeding tube in extreme cases will bypass the stomach of a g.p. patient. A patient with m.e. has a functional stomach, so a feeding tube would connect to it.

Okay, time for some ball playing before Mummy goes for more petstore training. Stay tuned for the human-interest segment tomorrow!

Corgi responsible for neighbourhood hiring

March 6, 2008


It looks even more sinister in its British spelling: megaoesophagus. Although a hyphen would have rendered Mr. Rogers’s elocution lessons much simpler — “Can you say ‘mega-esophagus’?” — it is, with or without the o, all one, long, ominous string of syllables.

Our Cardi has it.

In lay terms, megaesophagus is a condition wherein the dog has no swallowing muscles. Think of a tube sock that has seen too many wash cycles: no elasticity, unable to do its job.

When we first got our pup, I assumed that his regurgitation of kibble, treats, and water was something he would outgrow. It grew worse. By the time our vet x-rayed him and diagnosed his condition, she had had at least two reports of the puppy’s spit-ups, and the poor little dog was looking pinched around the face.

Because I haven’t had a dog since I was a kid (read: my mother cared for a dog while I was growing up), and my partner has had even less experience of the Fido lifestyle, we decided to get a purebred, so that we would know more or less what to expect from our new pet. We certainly didn’t expect rare diseases.

The folks at the local petstore got to know us. We were in there at least once a week, getting a new toy or experimenting with food and treats, looking for a car-ride harness or trying out roadsalt preventive products. My dog’s uncommon breed and even less common health problem made for immediate conversation every time we went in. I liked that place.

So when a sign went in the window asking for part-time help, I jumped at the chance and put in my resume. That was last July. Almost immediately — okay, last week — the manager called. He said the other employees thought I was the right choice, and could I come in for a talk? I could. I’m to have 10 or 12 hours a week, relieving the other employees who really haven’t had any wiggle room for too long now.

The store doesn’t sell pets, just products, and so it smells like alfalfa. The customers are local residents, some of whom I recognized during my first training shift on Tuesday. I already know and like my co-workers. And it’s part-time, which is all I want. It’s perfect, it’s ideal, and it’s because of the grace of dog that I’m working there.