Parker will soon be 11. Somewhere along the way, I began to discover that he had some food sensitivities and possible allergies. For example, millet: in trying some different grains, I discovered that this would give him “the runs” very quickly. As he aged, there were other sensitivities that developed, such as beef gelatin. I used to give the dogs baked or steamed bones, and they would pull at the sinew and gnaw on the bone surface. At some point, he broke a tooth, so I quit giving bones. Later, I tried bones again, and noticed that it would cause him to have “the runs”. His reaction advanced to the point that I would empty anything in a gelcap into his food rather than giving him the capsule. Eventually, his reactions became skin itches, and scratching leads to more problems. Last fall, something triggered a reaction, possibly mildew that follows rain during moist periods or perhaps neurodermatitis from his spondylosis. At nearly 10, his arthritic problems were advancing, although what could be seen on his spinal x-rays didn’t indicate much change.

Being a very intelligent fellow, he had been walking down the sidewalk and along the drive rather than walking across the yard when it was wet, keeping his feet from getting so wet. Whether it was contact dermatitis, inhalant allergy or food allergy, he seemed to understand that exacerbated the problem. The itching became nearly incessant. He had scratched until hair was missing behind his elbows, so I began putting a denim shirt on him to reduce the damage from his toenails. Then he scratched behind his ear and created a hematoma. I ordered some boots to reduce the damage he could inflict with his toenails.

Another thing that I had discovered in the previous year was his reaction to food gums, primarily xanthan gum. This meant no more frozen custard, for a boy who would get excited whenever we drove past the frozen custard shop. With Parker, I had decided to use a conservative treatment approach, with the plan to begin using prednisone or cyclosporine if the issues escalated. I was feeding a home-prepared diet, so I could control the ingredients. In the house, we used air filters to reduce airborne particles, and I did a whole-house cleaning every couple of weeks. Parker was getting a bath every 2-3 weeks, which is typical here, but there are times now when his itching necessitates weekly baths. Giving him a good bath and drying him well seems to help.

Last spring, his veterinarian suggested laser treatment for the spondylosis, to decrease the itching. He had new equipment, and while I had planned to try this at some point for his arthritis, he wasn’t having enough trouble to warrant looking for a clinic with this capability. I had planned to locate a clinic with experience, and had talked to one in Kansas City. But, the opportunity presented itself, and given the degree of itching, and the veterinarian’s confidence even though this equipment was new, I decided to let him try it, and since this was such “good medicine”, I asked him to treat his hips too. This decision turned out to be a good intention gone awry. When I took him back out to the van, he needed help getting into the van. That night, and several nights afterward, he woke up crying in pain. When he stood, he clearly had pain in his left rear, and when he moved, it looked like he did not have good motor control. The spondylosis did appear to improve, but within three weeks, he became lethargic. Parker has always been a bright and energetic Newf, full of fun, the Party Boy, the one who keeps us all in motion and in good spirits. Seeing him like that was crucifying!

There was a veterinarian about half an hour away who had a good reputation for acupuncture treatment, so I decided to see if this could improve his condition. Within the first couple of treatments, he was bouncing back, still having pain in his rear and moving with an odd gait, but he was returning to the same fellow who didn’t let a little pain stand in the way of having fun! Over the course of several treatments, he continued to improve. The look on his face when the electrical stimulation was applied to the needles made me want to get in line! He was able to swim again this spring, and that gave him even more benefit. This summer, we took a trip to Colorado during the summer, and he was able to complete the two-mile walk, with no detrimental effect. We let him choose the pace, watching for signs that he may try to ignore, and on the way back, we took a break to watch the kids fishing tournament.
For the next month of triple digit heat, we stayed indoors quite a bit, with only short walks in the mornings. When the heat began to subside, we took the Newfs on weekends for water training. He was doing well for a guy approaching his 11th birthday!

Following the episode of laser treatment, he also had a reaction to the cookie product, which upon examination by the manufacturer was found to be contaminated with a dental chew product (contains gums) from a previous batch. This produced a firestorm of itching! Now he seems to be reacting to the cookies, even though these were the most exciting part of after-breakfast, after-dinner and at most any point upon request. This has been a hard adjustment – no more cookies. I tried making cookies, using select ingredients, but this turned into more then I could keep up with. Now he gets boiled eggs, bacon, liver, apples, or other appropriate items as treats or rewards.

Returning to fall, it is clear that there is an allergen associated with the season and moisture conditions. He is again having persistent itching. I found a denim jacket at a thrift store last spring, with a “Large” size label on the mens’ rack, but it turned out to be a womens’ jacket. He can wear this upside down, without the top buttons being closed. It is a heavier fabric, so offers better protection, but the mens’ large or x-large would fit more comfortably. Last night, I put the jacket on him for the first time this fall. During the cooler weather, at least it doesn’t make him uncomfortably warm. The jacket also helps him sleep through the nights better.

This morning, as we were getting ready to leave, I couldn’t find my cell phone. This phone drains the battery almost daily, but fortunately there was enough power left that I could hear ringing when I called that number using another phone. The sound was muffled, like it was underneath something. I pulled the bed out to see if it had fallen under the bed (or was pushed out of the way by a sleeping Newfoundland). I walked back and forth through the house, listening for its ring until I was fairly certain that it was in the kitchen. Still, the sound was very faint. There weren’t many places in the kitchen where I wouldn’t be able to hear it clearly. This was puzzling! There were some clean towels on the bar stools, but I hadn’t been near the bar stools last night. Surely if it were in the refrigerator, I wouldn’t even be able to hear it. There wasn’t a crevice anywhere that it could have been slid into that would keep it from being audible. Finally, I realized two things: 1) The kitchen is the favorite room in the house for Newfoundlands, and Parker was lying there now. 2) Parker was lying on the kitchen floor last night when I put the jacket on him! The phone had fallen inside the jacket and had stayed there for at least one trip outside and all through the night! When it’s in my pocket, the buzz is very strong – good thing there had been no text messages! Of course, the alarm had gone off this morning, with its sequence of reminders. No wonder Parker had been talkative! I had been wondering if his talking was because he was feeling conversational or if he was beginning to have some of the geriatric issue of barking. Since removing the cell phone, he’s had a lot less on his mind that he needed to share, so I can put off worrying about that for a while longer!

Now we can begin the pre-Christmas partying! Where is that singing Christmas tree?!

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