Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Locked out of my own blog!!

Through a series of password mishaps, I've been locked out of my blog for the last few weeks. I'm thinking if I did have any loyal readers, they've now given up all hope of my ever posting again....Well - finally I'm free...and can update what's been going on since we got back from FL.

As I'd said, as the weather got warmer, we were noticing an increase in Jack's itching without changing anything about his diet, which was concerning and discourging. Also Amos was/is scratching as well. The specialist we see is in MA and only travels to ME once per month, so sometimes getting an appt with him is tricky but we can communicate via email.

We wrote and expressed our concern about Jack as well as our concern that the 60 day elimination diet time period was just about up. We were worried about reintroducing "regular" food again as we would not be able to tell if his increased symptoms were due to the external allergens or the new food. He agreed with us about staying on the diet, but as the diet is not 100% nutritionally complete, and is only intended to be used for a set amount of time, we need to add some supplements. We're consulting info found on for what's needed.

Additionally, his scratching got so bad week of 3/22 that we resorted to a steroid shot to give him some relief. Unfortunately those only last so long - I expect to see it begin to wear off again in another week or so, poor guy.

We've discussed all of this with the specialist and he does want us to continue with the injections but we are also going to do a skin test for allergies, either to cooberate (sp??) results of the blood tests or get clearer info on what exactly the poor guy's allergic to! We're doing weekly oatmeal baths to help keep the allergins from accumulating on his skin and he can be rinsed off daily to accomplish the same. Right now he's rinsing himself in the muddy stream that runs thru our property in the spring! He "rinses" a couple times daily....

We're not quite ready to tackle Amos' issues but when I do move to a regular (albeit likely home cooked) diet for Jack, we'll move Amos to the same food, and that may help.

So kind of nothing conclusive to report - long, sort of frustrating process to deal with....stay tuned to see where we go next.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Just checking in - back in ME

Got back today, lots of rain here and no snow...grass is likely to begin doing it's thing. Let's see what that does to Jack's scratching. I need to contact the dermatologist vet this week and will post what direction he gives me regarding timeframes for continuing the elimination diet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In FL - Still Itching...and some new tips on recipe prep

Not much worse though - the house we're in does not have a lot of grassy landscaping, lots of bark instead so no grass to roll in and make things worse. Jack loves the beach and rolling in the sand, and while we know that's probably not the best thing, he's having so much fun doing it, that we hate to stop him. He also may be scratching from the salt water of the ocean. We do rinse him off after each swim but w/all that fur, it's hard to be sure we're getting him totally clean. Since he swims every day, fruitless to do a full bath each day.

Unrelated to the itching, last time we cooked up the ostrich, things went much smoother. No quicker, but smoother. I decided to brown the meat on the stove top a few lbs at a time vs. trying to do in the oven. Definitely worked better - consistency of the meat was much more even. We ended up doing the sweet potatoes 1st - getting them roasted and then peeled and cut, and then doing the oatmeal so it was ready to go. As the batches of meat were cooked, we'd dish up portions a few pounds at a time. Worked much better. I've also given up using the tupperware containers, as they take up too much space and the stuff freezes to the consistency of granite. In the zip loc bags, it defrosts better and it's easier to mush everything together before putting in the bowl. I hate the idea of filling up the landfills w/all that plastic, but sometimes I guess you have to go with convenience.

When we get back from vacation, I'll check in with the allergist and see what next steps are on the elimination diet - we'll be about 60 days in at that point and should see where we go from here.

Off topic a bit - while down here, we're seeing more signs of what our younger dog Amos will be like as an adult. He'll turn one tomorrow so his full personality is emerging more. He seems to be less confident and more skittish than Jack. He barks a bit more and is a bit timid. We're using this trip as opportunity to socialize him further around new places, new people, etc. He's sort of your typical second kid - why do anything when the older sibling will do it all for you - get the bumper, pave the way...I'll just sit back and take advantage of his work.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Warm weather = Itching Jack....

Trend of seeing increase in Jack's scratching does not seem to be a coincidence. He's definitely scratching more...I'm kind of bummed about this. Snow fell yesterday and more is expected maybe today but it's been really warm and he's definitely showing an increase in needing to scratch. Dewey gave him a bath yesterday after a swim in the ocean, thinking it might help a bit but we're not noticing a change.

Staying consistent on the diet, which does help. Off to FL at the end of the week where everything is green....we'll need to monitor whether he starts scratching more or not. Also Amos is scratching a bit as well. Please don't let us have TWO allergic doggies!

Need to make more of Jack's food today so we have enough to bring with us on the trip. Trying a different method on the cooking of the meat this time. I'm going to brown in batches on the stove and see if it's a bit easier.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Less snow - more itching....

UGH! It's been so warm and spring-like, that there's a lot of bare grass and fact in the warm spot along the foundation of my kitchen, poor little tulips and crocus are trying to emerge. Hello - it's February!! It still could snow (a lot!). Don't get me wrong, I love the warm weather, the last two days or so, Jack has started scratching a bit again...A bit frustrating - while we think we may have the food allergy somewhat under control thru the special diet, we still have the external allergens to deal with. If when spring fully hits and he's scratching like mad still, we will have spent a full year doing the allergy shot injections possibly for nothing.

We leave for FL in 10 days or so - all green grass down there - it'll be interesting to see what happens to him. Does he resume itching like he did all fall? Or fingers crossed, maybe no....we'll see I guess. BTW, how many dogs get to go on vacation(s) with their family? Montana & Wyoming last summer, FL this spring....while we know we can't always take them, it does definitely add to the fun having them with us. Actually really looking forward to it!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Milkbone Incident

I am reporting this incident second-hand as I've been in CA all week and Dewey's been home with the dogs. When I spoke to him a couple nights ago, he told me how when he picked the guys up at daycare, the staffer there was quite concerned to report that a breech had occured in Jack's strict compliance with the elimination diet (e.g. nothing but the 3 ingredients should cross his lips).

Apparently, at "snack time" when all the dogs get treats and Jack gets his lovingly prepared dehydrated sweet potato slices, he just couldn't stand it. They were passing out the milk bones and Jack just lunged at the lady and snatched one straight out of her hand. They apparently tried to grab him and retreive the stolen treat but he swallowed it whole, and proceeded to wag his tail happily, as if to say "I'll fix me those dumb sweet potatoes!".

Because our daycare operation is so conscientious, they were really worried that the whole test was sunk now, but we figure it's probably not, and if suddenly he begins to scratch again, we're determined milk bones are the culprit. So bottom line, funny to us....and probably no real harm done.

Jack's little brother has his "procedure" at the vet today, or as it's been referred to in the Far Side cartoons his "tutoring". So Dewey took Jack along to the vet's office when he picked Amos up. Vet came out to say hello to Jack and check his progress. He was amazed at how much better Jack looks - coat is shiny & thick, muscle tone is better, he's put his weight back on, etc...He complimented us on sticking with the diet, which was nice and did mention the same as I alluded to in an earlier post...after the conclusion of the test, what next?

Stay tuned...we'll figure it all out I guess!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jack's coat continues to improve

I had the daycare place do a bath on Friday and they commented how much better he looks, how much less he's shedding (like none right now). Music to my ears! It was at daycare early in January when he had a bath that we realized how bad things were as they commented then how much fur was coming out, etc...this proved to be the catalyst for the trip to the dermatologist vet that got us started on the road of the special diet. So now 3+ weeks in, we think it's definitely helping! What happens at the end of the 8 week trial period is the next question....but we have several weeks to work that out and at least one more opportunity to go thru the prep process for the meals (ugh!).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scratchy Jack - hoping it stops...

Noticed Jack's doing a little bit more itching again....hoping a bath will help. We try to give them baths once a month or so and he's about due. Amos is scratching as well. Nothing serious from either of them but noticable. Otherwise, things seem on the same good track. Jack did have his allergy shots over the weekend for his environmental allergies but we shouldn't necessarily be seeing increased itching this many days away from the time the shot was given. It could be a factor though - that's what makes all of this allergy management stuff so darn hard!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Second batch of food cooked over the weekend

This weekend, Dewey got a chance to see firsthand that it's a fair amount of work to put together a few weeks' supply of the special "ostrich porridge"...Maybe there's an easier way to accomplish but too many years of banquet waitressing has ingrained in me the need to pull it all together assembly-line fashion.

So, if you're curious, this what this process looks like:

1 - Place order for 40 lbs of ground ostritch on the MONDAY prior to the weekend you plan to devote to cooking the porridge. Company only ships on Tuesday, Wed. and Thurs. since it's perishable, so you need to plan ahead such that the shipment arrives on Friday and you can cook over the weekend. I buy 40 lbs and that makes about a 20 day supply of food. Any more than 40 lbs, and I would not have room to store the frozen individual portions.

2 - Friday night, get your massive quantity of sweet potatoes purchased and baked off. I bought 40 this time and needed to buy an add'l 8 or so to finish up the batch. Baking them seems to be most efficient as you just stick them in the oven for an hour or so. Once cool, they peel really easily.

3 - Saturday morning, spread all the indiviudal 1 lb. packages of ground ostrich on all flat surfaces in your kitchen to defrost.

4 - Go to gym, go run errands, go out to lunch...whatever kills a few hours to get the packages unfrozen!

5 - Pull out every large cassarole/pyrex/broiler pan you can find and start emptying the 40 individually wrapped portions into them. Shove as many as will fit at one time into your oven at 375. Stir every so often, being sure to spill into the oven, ensuring you'll need to run the clean cycle at the end of the process!

6 - Peel and cut up sweet potatoes, into ginormous bowl.

7 - check meat for doneness - stir and spill some more.

8 - Make giant batch of oatmeal - I've been buying two of the biggest size containers and using about 1 and 2/3. You'll need two big spaghetti pots for this - and be sure and spill on your stovetop as well.

9 - At this point, Dewey has lost interest and the smell of the cooking ostrich is making him this I say "really, you're a can gut deer and this grosses you out??". Mostly I think he's lost interest.

10 - Pull pans of meat out, sort of chopping it up so you can scoop with a measuring cup. Ensure oatmeal is done as well.

11 - Lay out as many 4 cup tupperware containers as you can locate and/or use 1 gallon ziploc bags. Makes sense to sort of prop them open as once you start scooping, everything is very messy...

12 - Start assembling......two cups of meat, one cup of sweet potato and one cup of oatmeal. Keep going until you run out of one ingredient (and energy). Plan to purchase whatever you ran out of the next day and go take a break....

Everything goes into the freezer in the kitchen or outside in the garage, and you've got enough of a supply for another 20 or so days. Which means about 3 weeks from now, I have to start over again!!

The good news is that Jack continues to improve - he clearly feels better, has more energy and his coat looks SO much better. That makes it worth it (I think...).

We're two full weeks into this and his scratching has basically stopped. Music to my ears!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Symptoms still seem to be improving

Dewey, who's been away for the last couple weeks and got home on Sunday night, is definitely noticing that Jack's appearance and coat seem better. He's impressed with how much Jack seems to love the new recipe (hello, he's a lab! even if it had dirt in it, he'd probably chow down). We both notice the scratching has nearly disappeared. Occassional short bouts of it but much much less....This weekend puts us two weeks into the diet.

Ordered more ostrich as we'll cook up a new batch over the weekend. Each 40 lb shipment of the ostrich lasts about 3 weeks. I have a trip coming up in mid-February so want to get enough prepared so Dewey doesn't have to tackle this while I'm gone. No, I'm not that considerate - I'm more afraid for my house and the mess he'd make if I wasn't here!

Next post, I'll detail the process I used to prepare the servings of the recipe. I'm sure there are other/better ways out there but so far, this works...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

More info on link I just posted

The link describes food allergies and the theory behind an elimination diet. In my mind, it's similar to when people do a cleanse or detox - basically we're trying to remove all traces of any food allegens from Jack's system which is why we're using a different/unique protein source than he's had before. Which is why it's "ostrich" vs. lamb or bison or something else that he may have had at one time. I know, you're probably thinking "seriously, her dog's had bison before??"...well yeah - I've bought the ground stuff in the grocery store when we were adding protein to his commercial diet. I'd vary that source - using ground turkey, lamb, beef, when vet suggested to pick something unique, I went with the ostrich.

Other options were venison or moose but since we didn't have a ready source of that, I chose ostrich. You can buy it online - They sell a dog grade version of it and I bought a shipment of 40 lbs. It comes in one lb. vacuum sealed packages. In a future post, I'll outline the steps I used to cook up the recipe as well as provide a cost comparison to purchasing commerical premium food. I packaged everything in single servings and froze it all. I defrost one portion at a time, morning and night, so pretty easy once I got thru the prep part (which took a long time).

Update on whether it seems to be working - in a word, yes. Cautiously optimistic. He's gained some weight back, coat is shiny, energy is better and he's not doing the AM "stop, drop and scratch" before he goes out each morning. We'll see....we've still got several weeks ahead of us.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Progress yes, instant results no

Noticed Jack's scratching's most evident first thing in the AM - he'll stop to sit & scratch before he goes out or as I type this, I can hear him downstairs scratching. Not anywhere near like it was in the summer when the poor thing couldn't take two steps without having to stop and feel the need to scratch.

The info I have on the diet is that it takes the 60 days for all the allergen elements to get out of a dog's system so I suppose I can't expect it to be insta-cure in 6 days.

It was nice to hear when I picked them up at daycare last night that the workers there noted he had more energy yesterday - had a lot more interest in playing. The lack of energy was what I was observing last week (had me worried!) so good to hear what I was seeing reinforced by others.

Not as nice to hear Amos (his almost 11 month old brother) has a new skill - lifting his leg. Practicing it on the posts INSIDE the daycare play area!! Stinker!

Over the weekend, I'll look for an online version of the instructions for the diet and provide a link here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Home cooked dog food - How did I get here??

Jan 27 - First, a bit of history - condensed version: After the pet food recall a couple years ago, I began researching the idea of home-prepared food for my dogs. It seemed pretty daunting - purchasing weird chicken parts and needing a huge freezer. I was also quite concerned about maintaining proper nutritional balance for the dogs. All of it seemed too overwhelming at the time for me to take on. Since then, my two oldest labs passed away and our pup grew into a adult dog; however at one point in his first year, we noticed his appearance changing and he seemed to be getting "flimsy" to us. Turns out the commercial food we were feeding reformulated and it did not seem like he was getting the nutrition he needed. We began adding ground meats (combo of beef, turkey and occassionally lamb) to his commerical food. We did switch brands at that as well. The additonal protein from the meat improved his looks and he filled out again to a healthy dog.

Also around that same time, we noticed a great deal of scratching - it was summer and his favorite thing to do was roll in the grass. We suspected allergies but were not ready to do a full blown treatment option yet. A steroid shot would stop the scratching and we figured we'd see if that was the answer. As fall came and snow fell, the scratching stopped. We began to put two and two together and suspect allergies to grass, etc...This previous spring, the snow melted and the scratching began again. Sooo...we decided to do allergy testing and pursue a shot regimen. Tests came back that he was allergic to several types of grasses, cigarette smoke (no smoking around my dog!), cotton and some food items.

Taking this info as gospel, we began the shot treatment and began to feed one one of the commerical foods on the approved list provided by the allergy shot lab. Itching did not improve and in fact, my other lab puppy began to itch as well. Case of monkey see, monkey do? Not sure...Long story short, we ended up at a canine dermatologist and arrived with a course of action of changing the dosage of the allergy shots - essentially throttling back the cocktail he was receiving a bit, and seeing what happened with the scratching when winter came (we live in Maine).

Snow fell, grass covered, dog stopped itching! Yeah! Next test to see what happens this upcoming spring, while continuing shots all winter - hoping to see improvement in conditions.

Went away on vacation, came back - Jack scratching like mad, fur falling out in clumps, ears infected. Hmmm...still snow on change to brand of food we're feeding but new bag bought. Who knows? All during this time, we were moving closer to that idea of making our own food. Oh - also allergist advised there's not much credibility in the allergy testing conducted for dog food issues. Unfortunately to solve a food allergy, it's much more trial and error.

So after coming back from vacation, we scheduled appt. with allergist to discuss latest issues with Jack's coat and the recurrance of the scratching, even though it was winter. In the meatime, we pulled him off commerical dog food almost as an experiment (he was also losing weight). Still not quite ready to commit to a recipe of home cooked food, he was getting a concoction of beef, rice and some veggies. As it turns out, not far off from where I've ended up today.

I tentatively approached the allergist on his thoughts on a home cooked diet and he responded very favorably (some vets caution against this as they think owners will compromise their dogs nutrition). He suggested if we were up for it, that we move to an elimination diet to truly get a handle on what food allergies, if any, were causing Jack's symptoms.

So that brings us to today, or to the activities of last weekend. After order 40 lbs of ground ostritch on the internet, cooking it and about 20 lbs. of sweet potato up in my kitchen, along with two giant vats of oatmeal, Jack now eats a special mix of the above. 50% ostritch, 25% oatmeal and 25% sweet potatoes. Good thing I have a lot of counter space in my kitchen!

It's important to note that as soon as we pulled him off the commerical food (1/8/10 or so), we almost immediately began to see an improvement. We did a bath with an oatmeal based soap and began feeding the beef mix mentioned above and almost overnight, the scratching lessened.

As it took a few days for the ostritch to arrive, we stuck with the beef & rice up until 1/22. That evening was his first meal of the ostrich porridge (as I'll now refer to it). As he's a lab - usual weight around 86 lbs and present weight at 80, you do need to feed a pretty big portion of this mix. Info from the allergist indicates 1 cup of prepared mix per 10 lbs of body weight. So he's getting 8 cups of the porridge - takes up a lot of room in his bowl. He looks at me like "really, I get to eat ALL THAT"....and seems to love it! I think the sweet potatoes puzzled him a bit at first but once you mash them up, it's fine.

So, where are we today (1/27/10) - 5 days into the trial - no scratching, coat is shiny and black and I can't feel his ribs quite so prominently. We'll see...but I am encouraged.

He did not seem to be himself over the weekend which to some degree, I attribute to his body getting used to this new food. He was pretty lethargic unless I got him engaged in playing ball, etc...He'd also spent several days at daycare which does wear him out. However, yesterday and today, I'm seeing a peppier boy, even after daycare last night.

Two other things to know - the elimination diet requires strict compliance with what goes in his mouth. NOTHING else can be consumed. NO treats, no toast crust, no biscuits at the bank. Everyone around him must know and comply or the results of the test are compromised. I felt pretty badly that my other dog (who for now, we've decided to keep on a commercial diet - more on that in a later post), can still have biscuits. I came up with an answer to the no biscuits for Jack though - I used the dehydrate function on my oven and cooked up sweet potato slices for him. He seems to like them and then at least there's something he can have as a treat. Took a bag to daycare too, which they appreciated.

Second thing - he's drinking very little water out of his bowl, like almost none! Freaked me out at first, but I began thinking about the two cups or so I add to the food mix to make everything sort of mush together, so he is getting water. Also the info on the diet states that reduced water consumption is normal. I assume because ingredients contain water, he doesn't need to consume as much.

So, I'm supposed to be maintaining an "itch calendar" to monitor results of the diet. I've chosen to use this blog to do that. No idea if people will find it but for me, it'll serve as place to record what I'm noting. That's all for this morning...future posts will include thoughts on my other dog, things I've learned so far about home cooking for dogs and costs associated.