Though I experience a lot of success in general when it comes to Risa’s behavioral issues, Risa’s gastrointestinal issues cause me nothing but failure.
I’ve struggled with Risa’s gut issues for almost as long as we’ve been together. She was underweight when I brought her home but she adapted to a raw diet well and was fine for about 6 months. Then the diarrhea started. At the time, I had no idea what set it off. She’d been perfectly fine on the foods I’d been feeding her (raw meats, hot dogs, peanut butter, cheese, anything!). But then she was having diarrhea daily and losing weight. Every day she had loose stool (no urgency, though). This went on for a while as I tried increasing her bone content and feeding her a bland diet (boiled rice and chicken) to no avail. I eventually took her to the vet to be evaluated. Her fecal came back negative. The vet gave me some metronidozole and endosorb tablets to give Risa; both of which didn’t touch her diarrhea. The vet blamed her raw diet. . .and I switched to a more open-minded veterinarian. She had Risa tested for giardia (negative), gave her panacur (didn’t work), and ran the TLI/Cobalamin/B12 digestive bloodwork through Texas A & M to determine if Risa had endocrine pancreatic insufficiency or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (she tested positive for SIBO). I started her on tylan powder, the antibiotic most commonly used to treat the bacterial overgrowth in SIBO dogs, and saw immediate results.
As time went on, I realized that certain foods caused Risa gastric upset. The first food I noted was salmon. Feeding Risa salmon would result in super loose, orange-colored poos. Even salmon oil in small doses caused the same result. Once I eliminated salmon from her diet, she rebounded. I was able to stop giving the tylan powder daily and she was back to her old self. Until next spring when it started all over again. And, this time, the tylan didn’t help at all.
We tried B12 injections which also didn’t work and were no fun for either of us. After a while, the issues simply went away and her poos returned to normal. Until they came back again several months later. I tried slippery elm bark which did help calm her gut. I started adding probiotics to her food and giving her L-glutamine for gut health. Still, no matter what I did, she would be fine for months and then back to loose poo for months.
During that time, I discovered many more foods that bothered her. Too much fat in her diet caused loose poos so I started skinning her chicken and feeding less pork (I can only give pork if it’s bone-in). While salmon was initially the only fish that bothered her, soon jack mackerel was added to the list along with sardines. Now she can’t even have any fish oils without experiencing gut issues. Too much dairy also bothers her so cheese is no longer a training treat (though she still gets a bite once in a while). Peanut butter is a no-no. Duck shoots right through her. Two years ago, chicken and turkey started bothering her so they’re off the menu now as well. Certain grains bother her (like barley) and those Milk Bone dog biscuits as well.
After striking out with vet after vet and getting no answers as to why Risa’s gut was so off kilter, I sought the help of a traditional Chinese veterinary medicine vet. She felt Risa’s pulses and determined that she had an excess of heat in her body. (In traditional Chinese medicine, health issues are caused by an imbalance in the body; too much heat or too much cold. By restoring balance, you eliminate the disease. It treats the root of the problem rather than the symptoms of it. Sort of like positive-based rehabilitative training. Fixing the cause of the behavior not just the expression of it.) So Risa started on food therapy involving cooling foods (squash/pumpkin, dates, barley–which was later eliminated). Her doctor wanted her to eat a cooling meat as well but that didn’t pan out. Duck is a cooling food that she cannot eat and I had no source for rabbit (and now I think that bothers her too). So she ate beef which is neither warming nor cooling.
I saw some good results with the new gut stew being half of her meals but it wasn’t quite enough. So the vet put Risa on herbs as well. Much like before, some months Risa has perfect poos. Other months, not so much. It seems no matter what supplements and GI stuff I add to Risa’s diet, it fluctuates independent of it. The only thing that consistently works is removing what is bothering her. Though discovering just what that is is next to impossible. The list of foods Risa can’t eat grows larger and I worry that, some day, there will be nothing left that she can eat.
As it is, I’ve already found myself unable to feed a completely home-made raw diet anymore. Risa’s main source of edible bone was poultry which she cannot eat anymore. I started buying the premade ground mixes so that she could still get a source of calcium from beef which has bones too hard for her to consume. I started with Bravo! blends but they soon started bothering her. I switched to Answers Straight beef and she did great on it for a long time. Until the distributor ran out and I had to find something else. I tried Vital Essentials beef which worked great as well. However, they changed their ingredients and now have herring oil in them which is bothering Risa. I was able to get Answers again but, ever since it came back in stock, it’s been bothering Risa again. And there is nothing but beef in it so I have no idea WHY.
Last week, I thought maybe raw food was just not going to work for Risa anymore. It can happen so I made her a quick home made diet just to try an experiment. I knew it wasn’t balanced but, since it was only for a week, it didn’t matter. I took some ground burger, green beans, and shredded carrot and cooked it into a stew. I added it to the gut stew our TCVM vet designed. Risa’s poops were still loose and soft but slightly more formed. If nothing else, there was no longer mucus in it. But the poos were incredibly smelly and Risa lost a fair amount of weight in the 5 days I ran the experiment. It seems she would need to eat a LOT to maintain her weight on a home cooked diet. And I’m not sure I would be able to balance a home-cooked diet with her issues. Supplementing calcium with bone meal would be relatively easy (if not ideal) but getting her a source of omega 3s would be difficult between her issues with fish and some trouble with grains.
With Risa’s recent diagnosis of Lyme disease, I’ve been worried her on-again-off-again gut issues would play a factor in whether or not she would be able to keep the Lyme bacteria at bay after her course of antibiotics was over. I wasn’t even able to keep her gut under control during the 2 months of treatment. And now I’m worried that the Lyme may rear its ugly head again and cause irreparable damage to Risa. I’m already seeing some of the behaviors Risa was exhibiting before she was diagnosed that I’m hoping are just random Risa quirks and not the sign of something more sinister. 🙁
But, when it comes to Risa’s gut, I can’t help but feel like a total and utter failure. How difficult is it to feed your dog? There are thousands of people who simply open a bag of kibble or drop raw meat in front of their dogs without a second thought. Diarrhea is caused by dietary indiscretion or bacterial infections. They don’t try and pick up loose, wet, slimy poos with poop bags on walks despairing over the inability to get it all. They don’t watch their dog get skinnier even while her activity level and demeanor remain the same. I’m just so frustrated and I honestly don’t know where to go from here. I want the best for Risa and I try my damnedest to give her the best. But, it seems, I fail no matter what I do.