Finding a new normal

I’ve had this refrain, practically a mantra, that I’ve been repeating over and over. “When things get back to normal…”

When things get back to normal, I’ll restart my running/training plan with Cooper. When things get back to normal, I’ll finally sweep the melted snow and sand and ice out of the garage. When things get back to normal, I’ll buy real food at the grocery store, not just something I can stick in the microwave. When things get back to normal, I’ll answer all these emails. When things get back to normal…

I realize now: I need a new definition of “normal.”

Lucas at Purdue March 24

Lucas is okay. Our most terrifying fear was that the cancer was in his lungs. That there was nothing we can do. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. Unfortunately, though, his leg is far gone and will be amputated. Even more unfortunate is that they think it may have spread already but that the cells are too small to show up on x-ray. Because that’s usually the case. We’re waiting on the biopsy result from the lesion in his ankle to determine if he can take part in a clinical trial they’re conducting with a chemo drug. If so, he’ll have the amputation, then he’ll have a series of four IV chemo treatments spaced three weeks apart. The particular drug that is part of this study has some GI side effects – like loss of appetite and nausea – but they prescribe a medication with it to hopefully counter those. By all accounts, pets tolerate chemo far better than we humans do. Having been through it, I wouldn’t wish it on my baby, that’s for sure.

He is in a lot of pain and struggling to hobble around. We can’t schedule the amputation soon enough. He’s on a whole pile of pain meds until then, but it’s no fun – he oscillates between woozy and disoriented to crying and pacing as they wear off. As far as the amputation, I’ll write about that separately when we have more nailed down. We’re just awaiting the biopsy results…

In the meantime, I desperately need to create a new normal. For self-preservation and sanity.

For the last week, we’ve been sitting and sleeping in the living room, mourning his pain and the situation. Staying close. Watching. Crying. Our reality is that Emmett has survived long past his initial prognosis, for which we are immeasurably grateful. I cherish every single second with him and find myself just watching him be him. But, we’re also waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s around the corner – we just don’t know which corner. And it’s terrifying.

Now, we’re in the same situation with Lucas. Waiting. Waiting to see what happens and when – not if – when he worsens.

While that is our reality, I realize it doesn’t have to be our normal. Today’s post on one of my favorite blogs, oh melvin (and yo jake), nailed it so perfectly. Please go read that post. I’ll wait…

Beautiful, right?

Each day, I move forward a little bit , I gain clarity and strength while still maintaining the sadness and fear.  It’s odd how that is possible, to still be as frightened as day one but to feel as if I can absolutely see him through this. And then I realize, that is what love is.  It can break you, in the same moment that it lifts you up.

I’m taking her words to heart. I need to move forward, not just in monitoring their health and scheduling their tests and administering their medication, but with life and love and all the joy that comes with being so intensely bound to my sweet dogs.

Before Wednesday, I had some fun posts lined up. After Wednesday, they felt frivolous. Well, I’m going to dust them off and post them because I need to continue moving. Sure, I’m going to let a lot of things slide until we have a plan to take care of Lukey’s leg. I’m working ahead on some client stuff so that I can take those two weeks after his amputation off to do everything I can to help him recover.

But, I need to move forward. I need a new normal of balancing living with grief. I need a new normal of going and doing despite the fear.

Thank you so, so much for all your kind comments, messages, and emails. I can’t even tell you how much they lifted our spirits as we navigated the murky waters of this last week. I’m so touched and beyond grateful to be a part of such a supportive community. Please know that if I could hug every single one of you, I totally would right this minute. I’m so grateful for you. Thank you.

And so it goes…

It’s pointless to complain about life being unfair. It is the simple, unrelenting truth about life.

Over the past few days, Lucas developed a small limp on his front left leg. Lucas limps often because his back hips are so bad, so it was noteworthy that this was on the front. Of course, he had been to doggy daycare, so I assumed an injury. Yesterday he could barely walk and his ankle was swollen. I iced it and called the vet.

They got him in first thing this morning.

Lukey being so good at the vet

First of all, he behaved impeccably. The dog who, early on, would require a separate entrance to the vet sailed through the wait in the lobby, the exam, and then the x-rays. My heart was bursting with pride.

But as soon as the vet opened the door, I knew.

My big baby, the big yellow dog who stole my heart the moment our eyes locked all those years ago, has cancer.

Osteosarcoma.

His leg is spider-webbed. He must’ve been in pain for so long but only just started to show me.

I am shattered.

We’re waiting to hear from the oncologist at Purdue. They’ll do a full-body scan to determine if/how much it’s spread. If it hasn’t, they may be able to amputate his leg. If it has, his prognosis is grim. We won’t know until then, though.

The crazy thing is that there are still all these normal things I need to do: run to pick up his medicine, finish work deadlines, go to Chicago for Pinups for Pitbulls, walk Cooper, wash the dishes, and on and on. But, for now, I’m just sitting on the floor with my babies. The stress of the vet took it out of him, and Lucas is zonked, snoring away peacefully.

I’m going to take a break from blogging. If I miss replying to comments or updating or reading your blog, please forgive me for at least a short while. I’m not sure how to maintain normalcy right now, so I’m not going to. I promise to update when we know more – I suspect we won’t be able to get him into Purdue until next week, so it might not be before then.

All I keep thinking is how to handle two dogs with terminal cancer. I’m not sure I can. At least not now.

 

The trouble with table food

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I wanted to throw it out there and see what you guys think. It’s often-repeated advice, “Don’t feed your dog table food.”

Sure, there’s a list of stuff that dogs should never eat. But what’s really wrong with feeding your dog table food?

The trouble with table food
“The trouble with table food? I think the trouble with table food is that yogurt containers are too small to fit my whole face!”

I think there are two different issues:

First, there’s a legitimate concern that dogs might not get all their needs met from a diet of scraps. And I agree. If you’re feeding your dog “table food,” it’s needs to be healthy, nutritious food. Little bites here and there are fine as treats, in my opinion. Discounting Cooper whose food is 100% home cooked “table food,” the big boys are eating Petcurean, a commercial dog food, but also get lots of bits of veggies, some meat, scrambled eggs, the last bite of pretty much any sandwich I eat, and fruit – oh, how they love blueberries.

Second, there’s a big difference between feeding your dog table food and feeding your dog from the table. The latter results in unwanted begging behavior. The first, though, I’d argue isn’t that big of a deal. Table food is just… food. Right? And commercial dog food should just be food, too. All the ingredients in a bag of dog food should be whole foods (aka table foods). Commercial dog food is just processed “table food” ingredients made bite-size for convenience.

I suppose if someone’s table food consists of, I don’t know, Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, then feeding that to your dogs probably isn’t a good idea. (Of course, as much as I love brown sugar Pop Tarts, it’s not a good idea for me to eat them, either…) But if your diet consists of whole foods and you skip the stuff that’s on the toxic list, I guess I don’t get the hubbub about not feeding table food.

What do you guys think?? This isn’t a right or wrong, in my opinion, but I’d love to know your experience, ideas, and opinions on this!

Cooper’s gut

Who was well-behaved at the vet today? This guy!

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Which is rare, though I was grateful. I was already stressed enough! We’ve been cooking for him for months now and have his formula down to a science (I’ve gotten requests for those deets, so I’ll share that in another post). He hasn’t yet put any of the weight back on from his bouts of sickness, so he’s still almost 20% underweight. But his “business” has been stellar, something that wasn’t true for the first nearly four years of his life. We were thrilled. Thrilled enough we actually debated if it would be weird to snap a cell phone pic of his good poops. (We decided it would be.)

Then, it started up again (skip to the next paragraph if this stuff grosses you out): bloody, mucus poop. Plus, he was straining a ton just trying to go. And having accidents in the house again because he just couldn’t hold it for more than a couple hours.

We were still feeding him the same recipe that worked so well, so this felt like a major setback. I got him into the vet today, and she suspects inflammatory bowel disease in addition to his food allergies and intolerances. We’re starting him on a course of Metronidazole to settle his gut. And, turns out, there’s been a major outbreak of girardia at one of the doggy daycares in town – not the one he goes to, but the dogs who go to that one probably walk in the same park and such. So, they’re running a test for that but suggested we start treating anyway.

So, the real issue: Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is common, from what I understand. Or, at least, it’s not uncommon. She thinks this treatment will get his business back on track by Friday and to continue with his regular diet at that point. (Until then, we’re just feeding him boiled potatoes and a bit of quinoa.) It sounds like this is perhaps a “flare up” of the IBD, so if the treatment works and if this ever happens again, we’ll have a go-to solution.

Lastly, once all this is cleared up, we’re going to look into getting him on a probiotic. He can NOT eat yogurt, and I guess dogs need a different type of culture anyway. There seems to be imbalance in his microbiome, so the probiotics may help get his gut working again. {{Would LOVE any suggestions for brands/types that have worked for your dogs!!}}

I will say that it was wise of me to wait to write this post until after his appointment. Whooo, boy. I was a nervous wreck last night and all morning. I had convinced myself via googling (I know, I know) of all kinds of horrible scenarios. This, if the medicine works, is actually a relief. If I had written last night or this morning, this would’ve been a tear-soaked panic attack. So. You’re welcome for that. 😉

Have any of you experienced an IBD diagnosis? I’d love to hear what’s worked/not worked! And bonus points if anyone has suggestions for a probiotic!

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Home cooking for your dog: FAQs

Since I wrote the very first post about cooking for Cooper, I’ve gotten a ton of brilliant questions. I spent some time combing through the comments of the first, second, and third posts, and I decided to tackle the top 5 FAQs about home cooking for your dog. If you have more, please ask away in the comments, and I will happily answer them!

Homecooking for your dog FAQs

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I have two disclaimers: First, I am not a vet. I am not a nutritionist or a chef or anything that certifies me to give advice on this topic. All I’m sharing is what we did and what our experience has been. Yours may be completely different (and, if so, share yours in the comments, pretty please, so we can all learn even more). Second, this site is an Amazon Affiliate, so if I link to a product and the link is followed by an asterisk (*), you won’t pay a penny more for any products you buy, but this site will earn a teeny, tiny commission.

That said, let’s dive in, shall we!

Question 1: Where do you find your recipes?

We started with a ton of research online about what ingredients in what proportions made up an “ideal” diet. All that initial research is in the second post in the series (linked above). We also had a few books on hand, and I ordered one additional one off of Amazon. They were useful and had a ton of fabulous information, recipes, quantities, etc. IF you have a “normal” dog. Even one of the allergy-friendly diets in one of the most popular books gave him an extremely upset stomach. In fact, that was our first major setback in this journey. I’ve linked to my favorite books in the resources question (#5). I know this doesn’t really answer the question, but what I mean to say is: Experiment. Figure out what works for your dog. Then craft your own recipe. Here’s ours (this is per meal): either lamb or salmon, boiled potato, steamed apples, quinoa, steamed green beans, a scoop of pumpkin puree, and supplements. Which leads me to the next most frequently asked Q…

Question 2: What supplements do you use?

This was setback two: We purchased two different supplements after extensive research. Neither worked for Cooper. Both made him VERY sick. Of course, both had small amounts of flavoring (liver in one, turkey in the other), which I hoped would be trace enough not to affect him. Nope. The big boys are getting them, though, so it wasn’t a total waste. Anyway, I found two vegetarian supplements. They are NOT as complete as the others. He’s been 100% fine on this one for a month now, so we’re going to rotate in the other. They’re slightly different from each other, so I’m hoping what one’s missing, the other can make up. In addition to the multi-vitamin/multi-mineral, the one thing that came up in every resource was that calcium deficiency is a real risk with a home cooked diet. The number one recommendation (after raw bones, which we clearly can’t do) is a bone meal supplement. I worried that it would be too much for him since it’s an animal source, but the one we picked (from the Pitcairn book below) KAL Bone Meal Powder* is fabulous. It contains nothing but bone meal, and he’s done perfectly on it! We’re considering adding coconut oil back in but want to wait until he’s put on at least a couple more pounds, just in case. Next in the queue:

The next ingredients to try

Question 3: How much do you feed your dog?

I wish I had an easy answer for this. So much depends on which ingredients you’re using, how active your dog is, how old your dog is, etc. Also, for Cooper, we’re desperately trying to put weight on him – after several intense GI problems in a row, he’s significantly underweight. Here’s the best suggestion I have: Before you start a new diet, weigh your dog. Feed your dog the new diet for a week, then weigh him again. Repeat weekly until you know if he’s gaining/losing/holding steady. Adjust up or down as needed. We may actually be adding lunch back in for Coop because the amount he needs to get enough calories for his high-energy level AND to gain weight exceeds what is reasonable for one single meal!

Question 3: Should I rotate proteins?

I think so, which is why we alternate between salmon and lamb. We do for the big dogs with their kibble, too. I think it helps cover some bases for fat/protein. If we could get a third protein in his rotation, I’d be thrilled, but I’m starting to realize that may never happen. And that’s okay. Two is good.

Question 4: How much time does it take?

If you have a dog with a strong stomach and no health problems, it’ll take you no time at all! You can whip up a month’s worth of food for the freezer on a Saturday afternoon! If you have a dog like Cooper, though, be prepared for a huge time commitment for the first few months. Every new ingredient required a trial period, so we couldn’t shop or cook in bulk. We were cooking for him nearly every day for the last three-ish months. Now that we have a solid recipe that works, we make a week’s worth on Saturday – the quinoa, potatoes, apples, and green beans go into one big jar, the meat is separate (this week is salmon) so we can monitor it more exactly, and the pumpkin is in a glass storage container. So, we scoop from the three containers and two supplements:

Cooper's meals

Yeah, it takes up a whole shelf in the fridge, but once a week has been a lifesaver! Also, we’ve been shopping for his ingredients about every other week at Sam’s Club and freezing them (uncooked) in batches.

Question 5: What resources are you using?

Truthfully, at this point we’re just sticking with what I outlined above because we can’t risk another bout of GI distress. However, the three books I used for the foundation and research are:

  • Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats*: I’ve had this book for years and reference it all the time. Unfortunately, the allergy recipe in this made Cooper super sick. However, it’s full of useful advice for all life stages, conditions, etc. so I highly recommend it, even if you aren’t cooking for your dog!
  • Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats for Dogs*: I ordered this one after the allergy fail from the first book because it has a section on allergy-friendly meals. We haven’t been able to try many recipes yet, but all the “info” sections, like nutrients and conversions and quantities, have been incredibly useful. My copy has a million sticky notes popping out of every chapter!
  • The Healthy Hound Cookbook*: We got this book for review last year, and I really enjoyed it. The recipes are super simple to follow and use easy-to-acquire ingredients. I’ve dog-eared all the salmon and lamb recipes to start trying on Coop once we’ve put a few pounds back on him. 

Also, early on we met with our vet, which I strongly recommend for anyone considering this. Beyond that, I started a Pinterest board to gather online research, especially for treats, but that’s about it!

There ya have it! I really hope I addressed your questions, but please don’t hesitate to ask anything else that comes up in the comments below! And those of you who are home cooking, please share your insights, too!!

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