Pita the Wonder Dog

A miraculous recovery.

Twelve years ago on a backcountry adventure my two sisters, me, and our mama crossed paths with Pita the Wonder Dawg, or PWD for short.

One day, in search of new biking challenges we found a little furball huddled in the middle of nowhere. The injured puppy was too young to be weaned from its mother, so we children committed to help the four-legged creature (who devoured pita bread and choked on water) find her way home. The swaddled, food-drunk bundle was traded from one girl’s backpack to another, gratefully riding shotgun on the trails. When the search to locate her family proved unsuccessful and a veterinarian declared the puppy vivacious, PWD simply joined our clan.

When Pita faced her first life-threatening medical crisis 18 months ago, I thanked the god-dog Sirius that our family vet was only a heartbeat away. Pita suffered an embolism—the dog equivalent of a stroke—and was paralyzed. The weeklong hospitalization at Creekside Veterinary Hospital consisted of frequent family visits each day, with tender massages, hand feedings, and brief forays outside. The staff empowered us to assist PWD, who could only wag her tail and slightly move her head. Concerned for my immobilized helpmate, I was inspired to try alternative rehabilitative therapy techniques. After Pita was out of danger we received moral support and instructions from Dr. VanLuchene and Dr. Layne to create a therapy routine at home. We borrowed a kid-style swimming pool, and with towels and washable blankets, set up a cozy kennel in our living room where Pita could feel safe.

Determined to recover complete mobility and influenced by our loving confidence, Pita rewarded us each day with her physical improvements and her amazing gracefulness. After one miserable night spent in confinement, she cheerily crawled out of the pool and barked her intent when anyone came near. This brave herder wanted outside to do her job: watch over her family and home! So we carried our friend to her favorite sentry post in the glorious sunshine. For the first time in over a week she smiled and relaxed.

After the stroke we changed her diet to include vitamins E, C, A and omega 3-6-9 supplements. We concocted homemade but simple dog food: high in protein and fibrous ingredients sprinkled with nutritional yeast, her favorite. We also encouraged Pita to drink more water.

On a limited budget we designed, welded, and sewed a therapeutic sling from a discarded cart and sturdy fabric, which supported her uncooperative body as we “walked” Pita around the neighborhood. We gently balanced her on a yoga ball several times each day to promote muscle memory and leg extension. We were referred to Double Diamond, a local animal hospital that had a water therapy tank where twice a week hydrophobic Pita exercised her limbs. Dr. Geske also applied electromagnetic stimulation to the damaged muscle groups that were atrophying. Finally two days before Thanksgiving and less than two months after her stroke, PWD slowly stood up and wobbly-walked!

The stroke has affected Pita’s fine motor skills, but she still loves running alpine trails and adventuring with her family. Let it be a lesson that recovery is possible. We are thankful for compassionate professionals and for more good times with Pita, who is healthy and smiles appreciatively for life’s great journeys!

Five Ways to Keep Older Dogs Comfortably Active

Here’s a list of things to consider when trying to help your older dog stay active longer. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if you have questions about weight, exercise, arthritis medications, or other treatments for stiff old dogs.

Go Lean
There is growing evidence that leaner dogs live longer, healthier lives. They have less stress on their joints and a lower risk for traumatic injuries, like rupturing ligaments in their knees. If you can’t easily feel your dog’s ribs and spine or see his waist, then you might need to restrict his calorie intake.

The number-one cause of obesity in dogs is not table scraps, but too much dog food. Make sure you use an eight-ounce measuring cup to determine how much kibble you feed, and keep the treats to a reasonable level.

Keep ‘Em Moving
“It is easier to keep a joint moving than to get it moving,” is what orthopedic specialists say for both pets and people. Frequent low-impact exercise, like a brisk 15-minute walk around town twice a day is better than no exercise all week and then a five-mile hike on Saturday. Older dogs are not as able to recover from the weekend-warrior syndrome, but they still enjoy getting out, so keep it moderate and regular.

Just as humans living with chronic-degenerative joint disease have many drug options, so does your dog. For years people have used aspirin or older human-arthritis medications for their dogs, but now there are many drugs labeled for the treatment of arthritis in dogs. The safest and most effective drugs are available only by prescription from a veterinarian. These can greatly increase the quality of life for many dogs.

Nutraceuticals are all of those nondrug supplements and preparations used to treat illness. Essential fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, joint compounds, and some herbal formulations are just a few examples. Because the FDA does not regulate these products, they do not necessarily have to meet their label claims, so beware. However, there is evidence that many of these compounds can reduce inflammation, increase cartilage health, and improve overall well-being.

Other Options
Right here in southwest Montana we have access to acupuncture, chiropractic care, traditional Chinese medicine, and physical therapy for our pets. There are licensed veterinarians who have additional training in these complementary techniques, but there are also laypeople offering some of these therapies with varying levels of training, so make sure you ask for references or credentials.

No-Leash Parks
Here are the authorized off-leash parks in the Bozeman area:

  • Burke Park
  • Ellis Park (south end of the Softball Complex near Highland and Haggerty)
  • “Canine Beach” at Bozeman Pond
  • Snowfill Site off McIlhattan Rd.