Thursday, June 23, 2011

Taj's Insectophobia ... Taj = 1 : (Dead) Bug = 0

So another of Taj's "quirks" is that he is nonchalantly petrified of various and sundry insects. Yes, he has canine entomophobia. This condition, of course, has only been heightened and intensified by the relative lack of stimulation as of recent days. If he detects any slight insect movement in the house -within his super sighthound visual vicinity- he will let me know that I need to take care of the developing "s-i-t-u-a-t-i-o-n" pronto.

I have tried to explain this to many people, and finally was able to capture a glimpse of this on camera today. Taj was on afternoon insect surveillance when I heard the warning whine of utter appallment. I grabbed my camera to find that an unidentified insect had DARED to land on his clear plastic roof tarp and then promptly proceeded to keel over in a final act of insulting provocation: The outrage! The torment! The disdain! I am sure with his super sighthound acuity, Taj could see the bug superciliously glaring at him through his dead bug compound eyes!

Of course, I find amusement in some of Taj's "trials and tribulations." So as Taj was aghast as this tiny insolent alien invador was in his territory, I filmed away:

I know I should not encourage him...! I am, of course, at fault for this phobia. Several years ago, a really nasty looking bug was on the wall and instead of being the mature adult that I should be - I shrieked and pointed at it, acting terrified, and it imprinted on Taj. He took it to heart and from that day forth has become the ultimate bug watch dog.

I love how Taj has to wipe away the disgustingness of the dead bug encounter, rubbing his head on the floor, also a concurrent attempt to de-muzzle himself so that he can SNAP at it. Luckily, right after this incident, Taj settled right back down and promptly went to sleep! :)

Week 7: His Royal Highness's Daily Routines

Week 7 has come and is almost gone! Taj is definitely starting to be able to start to put regular weight on his leg (maybe bearing 85-90% now). When we do our morning 'walks' (all of about 700-800 feet round trip), he walks the WHOLE time (he used to hop half his way back) and this is with the tail-end of his pain-killer medication in his system.

To my delight, he has also started to do his myriad quirky Taj-like things (these started back around 6-weeks which is likely the point he started to feel much better and more like himself). In the morning he does his doga: starting with "downward dog" (a looooong play bow stretch back -hold for several seconds) ... followed by (the disdainfully named) "cat" pose (arching the back up high and leaning slightly forward and stretching out those hind legs!). 

The all-too familiar sight-hound position that
Taj managed to roll himself into this morning
When I scratch his back above the base of his tail he'll do his "dance" now where he high steps back and forth with his hind legs. He now is "talking" incessantly again and letting me know exactly how he feels. He also sits and looks out the window in his Sphinx-pose for large portions of the day. He now is doing his "scratches" again after he marks his territory ("I am Taj... There take that... You want some of this? I own this place!".... and he insists that we walk to the absolute furthest part of the yard possible - of course. Overall, it feels good to have the old Mr. Taj increasingly back!

Taj commends himself:
Looking quite pleased at this feat
I captured a bit of his absaluki ridiculousness this morning. His majesty (interesting "Taj" means "Crown Prince" in Sanskrit) rolled into a very comfortable sleeping pose. Any saluki or hound owner will instantly recognize it: on his back, legs splayed in every direction - the upside-down position of saluki sleeping glory. Taj hasn't been able to do this in a long time as it's tricky to balance the fixator leg, and he was beyond quite pleased with himself.

If there is an expression of saluki glee this is it!
I had to get to work so wanted to give him breakfast before I left (how dare I attempt to disturb him - I know I am heartless)...otherwise he wouldn't eat until evening. I can't leave the food in his cage. Taj likes to 'bury' things and that means the crunchies would be 'buried" (aka sloshed all over the place) when I got back. I tried to get him up, which he absaluki refused. He looked at me as if to say, "I will only eat my breakfast upside down today, mommy. Can't you see how glorious this is?" I obliged, " you wish, your Majesty."

As if this wasn't enough - he actually had the nerve to give me "stink eye" when the bowl was not "easy access" enough. "Tilt the bowl more my way, you human slave! I said a 45.5 degree angle! Now pat the bowl so the crunchies fall towards the bottom!" Half-amused, I took this as a sign that he is indeed starting to feel much better. 

Upside-down watering too: "Tilt the bowl, human slave, tilt the bowl!"

Yes I know, it's not best to feed your dog off the ground - let alone - UPSIDE-DOWN. But Taj was convincing (and he's fine now). I do use elevated feeders for the boys. My dad, a master craftsman, helped me engineer two feeding stations - which we built in his shop over a weekend. And yes, I actually measured the dogs to get the ideal height AND I decorated them. Fleur-di-lis for Taj of course and pretty blue flowers for Rumi!

Rumi and Taj's Feeding Stands

Close of up Taj's with Fleur-di-lys detailing, of course!

Otherwise, waiting, healing, waiting, healing... Our daily routine has become fairly set in stone now:

AM: Rise and shine, I let Taj walk to the stairs, then I carry him down. He walks outside and we do our ~800 foot "big" morning walk which consists of walking up the street one way (to the best vantage point) and then walking down the street the otherway (again to a good vantage point) and back inside (only allowed 10-15 minutes). Then it's breakfast in bed! After that is XPen time until early afternoon.
PM: Early afternoon, another bathroom walk. Back to the XPen. When it's cooler around 7-8PM we go on a 45-minute wagon ride around the neighborhood with Rumi - stopping to say hi to neighbors, neighborhood dogs, to smell bushes, look for bunnies, squirrels, and evil kitties. Another quick bathroom break and back to the XPen. Dinner Time!
Night: Then I usually take him out to sit with me in the evenings. Right before bed we do our half-hour pin cleaning session, another bathroom break, and then I carry him upstairs to his "bedtime palace" (i.e. upstairs XPen).

Occasionally we do fun variations when I have time that involve things like sitting outside on a blanket with a leash while I read books. We usually do 1-2 weekly field trips now where I'll either pull him down to Duffy's Outdoor Tavern or take a car trip with the wagon and then pull him around somewhere new.

I can't wait until we can start walking regularly again - hopefully we will see a nice big cartilage callous in our 8-week XRays next Tuesday!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

6-Week Recheck Appointment and Rumi the Zoomie Taunting

We made it to 6-weeks with no major (or even minor) incidents! Taj has had excellent care and lots of TLC from all the vets, his mom, and all his extended human and canine friends and family so far. Fortunately, I can say that this was a rather mundane visit - just another fixator check - but the pins are still tight and absolutely no infections around the pins so far!

Taj not too happy about his flexibility check 

We asked Dr. Rider about starting some more physical therapy work or walking, but Taj is still not allowed to go for short walks (beyond 10-minute bathroom breaks) until a larger cartilage callous forms. That means our next hope is the 8-week recheck visit where we take his 2-month post-op radiographs. Taj still has full flexibility in his leg and joints and decent muscle mass for not moving too often. After the accident he lost about 6 pounds, but I weighed him today and he is gaining a bit of weight back slowly. Dr. Rider said that although Taj is healing, the progress (as expected due to the nature of the break) is slow, and he likely thinks that the fixator will be on 16 weeks, possibly even slightly longer.
Testing pin integrity - all good!
We are allowed to bathe Taj if we cover the entire leg up with plastic securely. Apparently getting any water near the pins - puts them at risk for incurring an infection - an thus baths are only encouraged if absolutely needed. Luckily for me, my boys have very little odor - so we will hold off until the 8-week X-rays.

Rumi came along with Taj to the appointment today since he was due for his annual physical exam. Rumi has a totally clean bill of health! It is so fun to watch them in the office. Taj has to be constantly touching my leg, he sulks in the corner until someone walks in - then he totally stares them down, head half-cocked to the side - with his quizzical "well, why are you here?" look. Rumi investigates every single corner of the office for any trace crumb of a treat that may have been possibly dropped and then plunks himself down in the center of the linoleum floor and stretches out to take a nap. Taj was much calmer today, which I attribute to Rumi coming along.
Taj's View out his XPen to the Backyard
 Speaking of Rumi ... he has finally figured out that from the backyard he can access Taj's window. It is very cute, he will run around now to the back to "check in" on Taj - which typically involves staring in at Taj from the window and occasionally standing up on his hind legs, paws on the house, to directly look into Taj's pen.

Rumi about to launch into a Zoomie Taunt!
Taj of course interprets this as indecent taunting and will sometimes start the most creative vocal displays of frustration. Rumi then interprets that as "Look Out! We are under attack!" and he will do "zoomies" around the yard (aka "Border Patrol") to ensure that the evil cats, bunnies, and squirrels of Boalsburg stay away. Taj of course then gets even more frustrated since Rumi is hyper-excited outside and so the howling conversation continues and escalates until I either tell them both to calm down or until Rumi wears himself out and decides to take a random nap in the middle of the lawn. 

Wishing for "Free-Range" Taj

So we've made a weekly tradition of wagon-ing Taj down to Duffy's Tavern at least once a week. Duffy's Tavern is one of the only local restaurants to offer outside dog-friendly patio dining (and the food is excellent too)! Luckily, Duffy's is just a short 1-mile downhill pull from our house. We managed to figure out the trick of pulling Taj down in the wagon and then driving him in the car back home.
Duffy's Tavern ... Yum!
Taj checking out the locals... and the chickens!
Taj loves all the attention he gets and the new change of scenery. Rumi usually comes along for the walk too! Boalsburg has it's own small flock of "free range" chickens that live downtown and literally roam all over the neighborhood. This seems provides endless entertainment for the dogs to monitor while we eat our meal - especially if the rooster is out strutting his stuff down Main Street.

The real "Free Range" chickens of Boalsburg

We savor the small, simple adventures with Taj while we wait out the long haul. From our daily wagon rides, most of the neighborhood now knows about Taj's story and are cheering him on. A special thank you to Roberta, Mat, Bronte, Liza, Leah, my Dad, and everyone else who has stopped by to help with the wagon rides. They are the highlight of his day and he loves when friends come along! 

Taj, Heather, Rumi, and Roberta at the Tavern
Tarrying with my Mom ... although I'd rather be on a chaise lounge.
(You must pardon her mere bourgeoisie gym clothes!)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tajs First Field Trip: Part 2

Taj at the Penn State Creamery
After walking through the Botanic Gardens at the Arboretum, at my friend Roberta's suggestion, Taj's first adventure continued....

Taj got pulled all the way down to the Penn State Creamery for a special treat! Taj had a very small dish of Peachy Paterno ice cream and a big water break. 

Taj enjoying Peachy Paterno

All Refreshed and Ready to Roll!

Taj enjoyed all the people watching for the day. He was very well-behaved in the car too - although of course he tried to use it as an opportunity to lick his leg!

Hopefully Taj will be able to start to take longer little walks around the neighborhood soon, but until then, the wagon adventures continue... 

A little video of Taj enjoying his dish of creamery ice cream:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tajs First Field Trip: Part 1

It is a gorgeous day in Happy Valley, so we decided to take Taj to Penn State's Arboretum to soak up some fresh air and sunshine. Technically dogs are not allowed, but since he was wagon-confined, we thought we could stretch the rules a bit. This was Taj's first big outing (aside from the Vet) since the accident happened just over a month ago. I wanted to keep his movement confined as possible until after the first radiographs (to make sure his leg was healing ok). Taj seemed to enjoy it and the change of setting, although he was not too thrilled with all the bumble bees and other "scary" bugs that inhabited the flowers. I guess when you spend the greater part of a month in a pen, everything becomes extremely stimulating and exciting! :)

Posing at The Lotus Pond
Taking in the New Sights
Flower Contemplation

Pulling Taj through the Gardens

One of the pretty highlights of the Arboretum is the big fountain in the gardens. Taj appreciated it's great "fountainy-ness" and liked to be in the slight cool mist that emanated out of it.

Big Fountain in the Botanic Gardens

Cooling Off in the Mist
Saluki Love

Week 4 Recheck Appointment

Week 4 Leg Inspection
We made it - Week 4! This was the first exciting recheck because we finally got to take new radiographs to see how the bone is healing. Dr. Rider inspected the leg again - flexibility and joint mobility still look good - pins look great as well. Dr. Rider also observed that the Taj's muscles are retaining decently - especially for such high mobility restrictions.

Good Flexibility, Clean Pin Sites!
Taj Being as Obstinate as He Can Be
 Taj was being a bit of a bugger for this inspection as you can see in the photos. He was being very obstinate and did not want to stand properly. Dr. Rider took him back for radiographs and he did behave appropriately finally. I said that he was such a brave boy when Dr. Rider brought him back; however, Dr. Rider offered that perhaps the more appropriate term might not be so much brave as compliant. Haha! 

We had a chance to look at the X-rays in the office. I have posted these to Taj's Monthly Radiograph Progress page. Cartilage callus formation is starting to form in between some of the fracture sites (it looks like a "cloudy blob" for lack of a better term). This is good news! The break doesn't look any worse, it looks slightly better; everything is still aligned as it should be. The callous will start to grow more rapidly and will begin to fill in the break sites and pull the bone fractures together over the course of the next two months. Because Taj's break was quite bad, it will take significantly longer to heal than other cleaner breaks.

So now begins the long haul! We have another pin recheck at 6-weeks and then another radiograph appointment at 8-weeks.

We are still not allowed to take more than a few brief 'walks' (bathroom breaks) per day. I usually get him out now about 5X per day for 5-10 minutes a piece.

Hopefully at 6-weeks, we can start more of a physical therapy routine! Still lots of rest for now!

Analysis of the Dreaded "Anti-Licking" Devices: Elizabethan-Collar (E-Collar) vs. Comfy Cone vs. Muzzle

Aside from the exercise restrictions that come with most orthopedic surgeries,the worst part of having an external fixator is the no licking rule!  This, of course, is nearly impossible to follow 100% of the time - especially when your dog has nothing better to do than to sit in confinement and scheme how to conquer any and all "anti-licking devices" that you dare to subject him to - as if the look of total dejection and why are you doing this to ME? glares are not enough!

Below I'll illustrate my experimentation with all the icky - "no licky" devices that we've tried and summarize the pros and cons of each method. If you have a hound with a looong snout - you are definitely in for a challenge!
The E-Collar: Doom & Gloom Prevails!
Attempt 1: The E-Collar

To many dogs the E-Collar (Elizabethan Collar) is the absolute harbinger of death, doom, gloom, and destruction. Our Vet Clinic, VOSM, gave Taj a clear plastic e-collar as part of the surgery package to take home. To function properly, the E-Collar must extend beyond the dog's furthermost nose tip. This particular version had many nice features including: it velcros together, has softer black padding around the neck, and is made of clear (not translucent) plastic. Taj, of course, despises it's existence.While he won't try to actively take it off, he let's me know through myriad visual expressions how much he loathes it.

Comfort: C-
     Of all the devices, we've tried, this one is definitely the least comfortable. There's little give in the design. It works relatively well for warmer weather, the plastic stays relatively cool.
Cleanliness: B-   
     The plastic gets dirty with nose smears and has to be cleaned frequently. It is not kind to Taj's ear feathering which gets snagged in velcro & dirty from the nose smears.
Effectiveness: B
     After about 1-week Taj figured out how to use the fixator ring to push the E-collar back far enough to let him lick the four pins on the lowest ring. Also while not a problem with Taj, it looks fairly easy to slide off unless you attach it to a regular collar.
Safety: A
     There is no way that this lampshade is getting snagged on anything in the XPen or on the fixator. It seems very safe to leave on the dog totally unattended.
The "Clunky" Factor: D
     This is by far the most cumbersome of all anti-licking devices out there! Navigation is definitely an issue. .Taj clunks his head on all the XPen walls trying to turn around.
Food Factor: A
      Your dog can eat / drink with this collar - depending how you position the bowls.
Cost: A
     It seems to retail around $16.
     Definitely would recommend a clear version compared to an opaque version.

The Comfy Cone: A Milder Version of Necessary Evil

Attempt 2: The Comfy Cone

Taj's best buddy, Richie, came to the rescue and sent Taj a "Comfy Cone" in a gift pack. The Comfy Cone is a fairly sturdy, stiff-cloth version of an E-Collar made of nylon fabric which is laminated onto a 1/2 inch of foam. There are elastic hoops that use to attach it to your dog's collar (allows for about a 1" collar). Taj definitely despised this less than the plastic E-Collar and seems to tolerate it fairly well.

Comfort: A-
     This is a more posh and cushy version of the E-Collar. It acts as a giant foam pillow and seems to be more comfortable for him to sleep on. It is not the best option for hot weather! We had a few warm nights, and the foam definitely retains body heat.
Cleanliness: A-   
     The cloth version does not get nearly as dirty as the plastic version. It can be easily wiped down to clean. This version also closes with multiple strips of velcro (have to watch the ear feathering).       
Effectiveness: C-
     After about 1-week Taj figured out how to overcome the Comfy Cone. The Cone is much more malleable than the plastic E-Collar. Taj has mastered being able to push it back to assess most of his pins. To overcome this, I place two 2" collars on Taj to prevent the cone from slipping down his neck. This only somewhat works - he can usually still lick the pins on the lowest ring. 
Safety: A+
     There is no worries here with snagging - the Cone is very soft and I feel fully confident leaving it on him completely unattended.
The "Clunky" Factor: B+
     This is much less clunky than the plastic collar. Taj has no problems navigating in it (even with the black color). He will occasionally hit a pen with with it. Overall the Cone actually seems to soothe him.
Food Factor: A+
     Your dog can eat / drink with this collar - no problems! The cone actually folds back easily to allow the dog to eat/drink and then you can fold it to the original position.
Cost: C
     It retails for around $40.
     It comes in solid black and solid tan.Another nice feature is that is has a reflective strip around the outside of it for night trips outside. 

The Muzzle: The Lesser of All Evils?
Attempt 3: The Muzzle

While the Comfy Cone was the clear winner over the E-Collar (except when heat-issues are a concern), I still was not thrilled with the Comfy Cone. It was still a tad clunky, and with the summer approaching, heat would be a factor in the upcoming months. I researched several websites and found one last feasible alternative - the greyhound kennel muzzle. Please be aware that there are a ton of muzzles out there, so do your research! The greyhound muzzle would obviously not work for a pug! In my opinion, basket muzzles are the best. Make sure there are adequate vent areas for air-flow to allow the dog to breathe properly; plastic frames seem to be softer and more comfortable than wire frames. A dog can likely lick through the basket, so you need a plastic guard (often called a "stool guard") to prevent this. The muzzle actually seems to be the most humane option - Taj doesn't mind it at all (despite the photo above - which was taken when I first put it on). I bought Taj's muzzle from Greyhounds Only and ordered the Stool Guard option; they donate profits to their greyhound rescues too!  

Comfort: A
     Of all the devices, we've tried, this one is definitely the most comfortable. The halter strap easily rests behind the ears, there is a broad, soft plastic pad that rests on the snout. I have not had any problems with the muzzle rubbing yet (Taj wore it 2-weeks so far). In regards to heat, the dog can fully open it's mouth and pant with the muzzle on. The stool guard does block some air flow a bit, so I elected to drill extra holes through the stool guard (see below for images).
Cleanliness: A  
     The muzzle only needs to be cleaned infrequently. The halter strap does not upset the ear feathering.
Effectiveness: A
     This is by far the most effective device to stop licking. After a multitude of creative attempts, there was no way Taj could find (initially) to get around it. After 2-weeks with the muzzle; however, Taj - in a moment of absolute frustration - did manage to conquer the muzzle. He was able to snag the big side hole on the bottom of his fixator - which allowed him to lick through the lower side of the muzzle and just barely get to the pins on the bottom ring. The problem is that he couldn't get the muzzle un-snagged which could be a bit dangerous as his head was then attached to his fixator leg!
Safety: B
     Therefore - I would only recommend that you use the muzzle if you are home - in a semi-supervised situation! I would not leave the muzzle on if you are not in the house. If your dog is as determined as Taj and manages to snag the muzzle on the fixator - bad news if you are not home to free him!
The "Clunky" Factor: A
     The muzzle is awesome - absolutely no navigation issues!
Food Factor: B-
      Your dog can only drink with the muzzle on.
Cost: A-
     Muzzle: $14, Stool Guard $7.
     There are lots of lovely colors to pick from!

Other Alternatives to Stop Licking
I have not tried these alternatives as I know they will not work for Taj's situation; however, for other breeds and for dogs with other surgicial issues they might work well. 

- Dog Leggs Therapeutic & Rehabilitative Products
- Procollar Inflatable Collar or Cloud Kong Collar (dog collars that look like air-filled donuts)
- Bite Free Collar (looks like a neck brace)
- Anti Lick Strips or Taste Deterrent Products

The Winner!

After over 4-weeks using all these products, I would have to declare that the "winner" is using a combination as appropriate. I prefer to use the muzzle during the day and when people are at the house. At nights, I actually prefer switching to the Comfy Cone. Taj has humored me and now passively acquiesces to using all these devices. Unfortunately until we get the fixator off (at least 2 more months to go), we will have to continue using these devices. I do give Taj periods without any restrictive device; however, when he's left unattended, he will default immediately to lick mode.

Putting on the Muzzle for the First Time
(I used treats to coax it on him).
Bucking the Halter Strap - Very Horse-Like!
One minute post-muzzling: "Excuse me... What? I can't Lick?!"
Three minutes post-muzzling: Saluki Resignation

Five minutes post muzzling: Totally Asleep

These are the extra holes I drilled to allow more air flow;
the guard comes with 6 holes, we upped it to 24 holes!
(Thanks Mike & Brenda!)