Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
Is it Time to Retire my Ridgeback?
For a long time now my running partner has been my Rhodesian Ridgeback Florence. She’s now a veteran at 8 but until recently she’s been fit as a fiddle. Our worries started just before lockdown. I’d returned from a trip to the US and taken her on her normal run (around two miles) and before long noticed she was lagging some way behind, which was unusual. Initially I gave her a ribbing for having lost her edge while I was away but as I got closer to her I could see she was limping. When we got home I saw the reason, one of her toenails was hanging away. I wondered if she’d lost her footing in the mud and hurt her claw and straight away made a vets appointment.
The vet agreed and carefully removed the hanging claw while I gave Florence a big hug. Unpleasantness over I took her home and gave her a bone for the pain. I decided not to walk her the next day in case the claw got infected. I was surprised and concerned the next day when I found another nail hanging off. I decided not to remove the nail but did make another vet’s appointment. All our vets are good but we’re lucky to have one who is an utterly superb diagnostician and he knew what was going on straight away. He identified that Florence has an auto-immune condition called SLO. It causes her to have joint pain which, in her claws, will also mean that the nails will fall off. Immediately we started on a regime of pain relief, medication and omega oils to help her joints. We were also warned that the rest of the nails would follow in time, and they did. Walks were out of the question.
Just like us, Florence was locked down, unable to go out until her new nails had grown through, but, happily they did.
With discussion with our vet we reduced her medication and I started taking her for some very gentle runs. All was well for a week or so but soon we noticed that, once again she was losing nails. We ramped her meds back up and immediately stopped taking her out. All seemed well until shortly before our holiday we noticed a sudden and profound swelling in her left front paw. Again we visited the vet and while we cannot be certain, it seems likely that this is related to her immune condition.
Some further options have been suggested however these are of questionable efficacy and have significant side effects so we’re not prepared to go down that road.
So, what to do. It seems mad to think that her running days are over at 8 years old but at the same time, as a larger dog, joints are going to be a weak spot even without an immune condition. Though it’s not the same running without my friend, I don’t want to accelerate any joint damage. The nails are the obvious symptom, the real worry is the pain she’s in as her immune system attacks her joints.
As I look at her, curled up asleep with me in my office during my working day, snuffling her way between beds in the house (she has several) or pointedly hanging round the kitchen begging food food as I cook I think, is her quality of life impacted that severely? I’ve always believed that dogs like ridgebacks need proper off lead running to keep them mentally stimulated; I do stand by that but, if missing that means Florence has more years without significant discomfort I’m going to have to explore other options.
I don’t have any conclusions or wisdom to relate in this post. I’m not giving up on Florence, not by a long shot, but I am thinking about her future as a veteran dog (what you call old ridgebacks). I want that to be as long and as comfortable as possible and if that means no more walks, or just little trips up the road and back, well, I guess we’ll both have to learn to live with that.