So, our story has been on a bit of a break, because life just worked out to me. Since the last article, Dana’s story has of course continued, and is now basically forcing me to continue writing. Why? Because her development is so fast that I won’t be able to keep up with the writing otherwise. But first it’s time for part 7.
It’s well-known that being ill causes stress. A dog (or a human for that matter) who is ill won’t be able to handle environmental stressors as well as a healthy one. Of course it is important to keep any dog at optimum health, and this is also important for a dog who, like Dana was back then, is chronically stressed. We don’t want to be making the chronic stress any worse, obviously – we wanted to break that cycle. In order to have optimum health, we want a diet that works well for the individual dog, have appropriate physical and mental exercise, enough quality sleep and a minimum of environmental toxins, to name a few factors. In this post I want to address diet, because it has been a particularly large factor for us.
For Dana, a healthy digestion has always been a bit of a struggle – okay, at times it was more like a huge struggle. This was already the case when she came to us. At the time we didn’t realise yet that the dogs need to be with us at night, so they slept in a separate room. I would often find a pile of poo in the morning, and a hugely stressed Dana. One advice I got from a dog trainer was to “put her in a crate for the night, she will have to try harder to keep it in if she doesn’t want to lie in it. She’s old enough to be able to.” Wow! Can you imagine what that must be like? Desperately needing to go, not wanting to do it right then and there at all, but having no alternative? Granted, most dogs at 6 months of age can sleep through the night without needing to pee or poo. So why didn’t Dana?
We at least addressed the fact of her needing to eliminate at night when we opened our bedroom to the dogs at night. While Dana still chose to sleep next door for a long time, I was able to hear what she was doing. If she was pacing at night, I woke up and I knew she needed to go outside. I can’t count the times that I had to get up at night and stand in the garden with Dana for 20 minutes while she was eating grass because she was feeling ill, having a runny poo or even vomiting. For weeks, if not months, I barely got a whole night’s sleep. Sure, I wasn’t thrilled, but it meant that I was there for my dog, it helped her, so it was fine with me.
Starting to solve the puzzle
Obviously we consulted a vet – more than one, and on more than one occasion – and the result was always that there was “nothing physically wrong with her”. So frustrating! Eventually I heard about Nutriscan, a way of testing dogs for food sensitivities. While this is very expensive, I was definitely desperate enough to give that a go, and it was well worth it. We got the results in January 2016, and it turned out that she has multiple sensitivities, many of which are against things that are often contained in dog food geared at dogs with “allergies”: white fish, venison, potatoes, as well as some others.
So we eliminated these foods from her diet. To make it easier for her to heal, we also switched from feeding raw food, which she had been used to all her life, to highest-quality canned food, as cooked food is more easily digested than raw. From needing to go outside at night more often than not and feeling ill very often, she went to having these issues only every now and then, less and less often. A huge relief! She would still have days (or nights) with digestive issues sometimes, especially after a stressful day.
We also came to the realisation that she digests very quickly. We fed the dogs twice a day, at around 6 AM and 6 PM. Sometimes I would wake up at night just from the sound of her stomach churning. She was hungry! We can only speculate, but we think that one of the reasons she needed to go outside at night may have been that she woke up because she was hungry and her tummy hurt, and since she was awake, she also needed to eliminate. I think many people know that feeling themselves … So around March 2016, we started feeding the dogs more often: 4 times a day instead of two. The last meal of the day is at around 10 PM, to shorten the interval between the last meal of one day and the first one of the next day. We kept feeding them the same amount of food, of course, just spreading it over more meals. This was one more piece in the puzzle that was Dana’s health.
Do what works
Over time, I also learned a lesson that should have been obvious: do what works for your dog. I was and still am convinced that a diet with raw meat, balanced with some other ingredients, is the healthiest thing you can feed your dog. So after a few weeks with canned food, I tried switching Dana back to raw. It didn’t work. Every time she ate raw meat, she would get diarrhoea immediately. I gave up for a while, tried again in the autumn of 2016, by which time her digestive tract had healed enough to deal with raw food again. However, both on canned and on raw, she still had to wake me at night about once a week, and sometimes she would feel too sick to eat the morning after that. Something was still missing.
So I tried the one thing I never wanted to feed my dogs: kibble. There was only one brand of kibble I would even consider, and that is Celtic Connection. I always knew that it contains only good things: 70% ethically sourced meat, all of it dried or freshly cooked, so none of it is meat meal, great supplements, herbs, berries, no grain or other fillers, no gluten, no GMO. The one reason that kept me from feeding it to my dogs was the idea that it would be terrible for them to eat the same food every day. After all, they had been used to eating something different every day of the week all their lives. But it’s not about what I think is best, it’s about what is best for them. It was the one thing I hadn’t tried and I needed to give it a chance. So I bought a bag of Celtic Connection Lamb and Goat (the one recipe of the brand that doesn’t contain anything my dogs have a sensitivity for), and tried it.
The result is absolutely astonishing: Dana hasn’t woken me ONCE since she started eating Celtic Connection for all of her main meals in January 2017. She hasn’t had diarrhoea even ONCE. Both she and Corey are excited to eat it every day. Since we often share our own food with them, they still get bits of fruit, vegetable, yoghurt and occasionally a little bit of meat, so it’s not as if they never get to taste anything else than their kibble. Eating the same thing every day does not seem to bother them at all so far. We have found that last piece of the puzzle, despite my reservations. It shows not just in Dana’s stool, but also in her mood: She has been increasingly relaxed since switching to Celtic Connection. I guess this blog post is starting to sound like a dog food commercial now? So what! I’m just glad that a) I found something that works for her (and for Corey too, by the way!), and b) I got over my own weird idea that I know better. Nope. My dogs know better. And I sincerely hope that other will do the same: do what works!
On a side note, it also works for my conscience. I had always been trying to find a canned food or source for raw meat where I could be certain that the animals whose meat went into the food didn’t have such a terrible life as is often the case in factory-farmed animals. This is something that Celtic Connection provides, and I’m glad.
Yep, we’re kibble fans now …
Another positive side-effect of feeding my dogs kibble is how easily we can use it for mental stimulation now. It was always a bit of a struggle to find or somehow make treats that I could use for treat searches or food rewards. Not a problem any more. The lunch treat search has become a daily ritual. I just throw their lunch in the garden instead of serving it in a bowl. They are busy for 15 minutes, I get to watch them have fun and not do a thing, and they are tired out afterwards. Our garden is separated in two sections, so I can still be sure that they are each eating their own portion. Bonus: They like their Celtic Connection so much that I can even use it as a food reward. I know that some dogs will turn up their noses at kibble when it comes to rewards. Not my dogs 🙂
January to April 2016
Here’s some of our progress at the beginning of last year: Dana grew increasingly relaxed at home. Her urge to pounce on Corey lessened, the pacing in the evenings stopped, and she became interested in activities of us humans inside the house that would previously have frightened her. This is her “helping” us put together an Ikea cabinet in January 2016 … 😉
She would still get worried about seeing people during walks, whining and pacing as soon as they appeared, even if they were far away. BUT she would calm down much more easily.
It’s funny: when I read my notes from back then, I see that I wrote: “She was sniffing in a relaxed way”. Funny because I remember exactly what that looked like. Funny because I’ve learned so much about dog body language since then, and about her specifically that I can now say: I didn’t even know what relaxation really looked like on Dana at that time. What I categorised as “relaxed”, I would now call “borderline upset”, and the way she sniffed was obsessive rather than relaxed. Sucking up smells can help a dog shut out other things, and that’s exactly what she did. But hey “not quite as upset” is better than her running, running, running with empty eyes because it was the only behaviour she had under those circumstances. I sometimes got the feeling that she didn’t even realise that I was attached to the other end of her lead. But that was an improvement over not actually wanting to leave the house …
Our relationship outside started to change, slowly. She started to react when I asked her to come away with me as opposed to freezing when she saw people on the street. We had a breakthrough when meeting dogs she had no wish to interact with. She came to me and put me between her and the dog in question, on two separate occasions. Needless to say, this made me incredibly happy! And, like a good parent, I reinforced her trust in me by protecting her from those dogs.
Her relationship with Corey had a little setback in January 2016. He had a leg injury and was not allowed to exercise, and at one point he was so annoyed with her that he snapped, and a fight broke out. Her leg had a small puncture wound as a result. Things were tense for a few days, but improved after that. It was not the first fight they had, but I’m happy to report that we haven’t had one since!
We continued our work with the essential oils, but did so more and more rarely, as she needed it less and less.
By April, we had made a whole lot of good memories together. While she would still get stressed out incredibly easily while out and about, the good vs. bad percentage started leaning decidedly towards good. I watched her self-confidence grow, and I became more secure in guiding her in difficult situations.