As I write, Frank has just undergone an operation on his left hind knee to fix a luxating patella. This is a procedure to correct a knee cap which doesn't sit within a groove, as you would find in a healthy dog, and dislocates left and right, causing him to hop about as he's walking.
He's clearly been in some discomfort for a while, but because Bulldogs are such a hardy breed there is no complaining or refusing to get up in the morning for a walk and so you never really know they are in pain until the last minute. Reason #4765 why I love dogs a bit more than humans.
I had noticed him doing the odd hop here and there, and then standing on three legs intermittently. Something clearly wasn't right so I decided a trip to the vet was in order.
A new knee for Frankenweenie
This is the point at which I've disregarded my own advice given to you in a previous blog.
I should've taken Frank to the vet for his initial health check when we first got him to make sure he was fit and healthy, just incase there were any abnormalities that the breeder may have known about and should have shared before we blindly parted with a couple of grand.
I like to think that the lovely Bulldog breeders in Coventry where we bought Frank were totally unaware of his luxating patella issue. I assume that both Frank's parents are clear of the condition which is why they chose to pair them at the mating, and that his dodgy knees weren't anything to do with why they were selling him at 9 months old.
I will give them the benefit of the doubt that the story they told about moving back to New Zealand and not being able to afford to take all their dogs with them is true (although I've recently heard they are still in Coventry for the time being), and not that Frank was some kind of reject with various health issues. We already know he's tiny for a bulldog (number one comment out on our dog walks), so he probably was the runt of the litter. Not that any of this affects our feelings for him. I don't think I could love a dog any more than I love this gorgeous little nugget.
But enough about Frank's shortcomings. What I actually wanted to talk about is how incredibly brave and resilient he is, and all dogs in general.
Every dog we've ever had has only ever complained when something was really troubling them. And I'm not talking about a thorn in the foot or a grass seed in the eye. They are so amazing when it comes to managing pain and will keep going until they literally drop.
With Eddie, our first bullmastiff, we didn't realise he was riddled with cancer until he began coughing up blood. By then it was too late to do anything and within a month he crossed over the rainbow bridge. With Nelson you already know the terrible story, but he must've been in so much pain for weeks and weeks before the vet finally confirmed what was wrong with him.
Nancy delivered seven puppies without making a single sound. Can you imagine a human doing that? No amount of pregnancy yoga or Scientology can prepare you for silently birthing seven babies, but dogs...not a whimper!
But how do you know if your dog is in pain? It's in their nature to hide the signs of sickness.
A weak or vulnerable dog in the wild is seen as easy pickings for predators, and just because Fido lives a charmed and pampered life in your house doesn't mean that his basic instincts are forgotten. (*For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to use the masculine pronoun throughout).
So what signs should you look out for if you suspect something is wrong?
Dog's don't make it easy to spot when they're feeling a bit off-colour. Obviously if it's a limb issue they will probably be limping or holding their leg in a certain, abnormal way. If they whimper, wince or even become aggressive when you touch a certain area, that's a clear indication that something's not right.
A dog that is normally vocal when healthy will often become quiet and subdued if it's sick or in discomfort, retreating to its bed; in much the same way we do when we're poorly. I'd know instantly if Buster felt under the weather as he's Mr Chatterbox/Mr Motivator and any lack of energy or voice would send out warning signals.
Other signs to look out for would be excessive licking and grooming. Unlike cats, who seem to spend all day pampering themselves, dogs are pretty dirty if left to their own devices, so if your dog starts showing a very keen interest in his personal hygiene, you should take note!
Another, much more subtle sign a dog uses to 'speak' to us is lip licking. Your dog will lick its lips when it feels threatened, for example if you've come home to find a mess on your kitchen floor, your first reaction may be to shout and chastise, but this is the worst thing you can do.
Your dog doesn't associate what he did 6 hours ago with what you're seeing when you walk in. They don't have the same memory function as humans, so please don't shout at him. He missed you and now he wants to cuddle you, so by shouting at him as soon as you come in, he just thinks you are being mean and aggressive. His lip licking will go into overdrive in this situation because he's trying to appease you and make you realise that he isn't a threat, so please don't be aggressive in return (or I will come round and have a chat).
Lip licking may also occur when your dog doesn't feel well. He's stressed out by his illness, which could be to do with dental issues, ear, nose and throat problems, or the on-set of vomiting.
N.B. If your dog is vomiting constantly, convulsing or has become lifeless you need to get to a vet immediately!
Frank, who only had his operation yesterday (compare this to a hip or knee replacement in humans) is already keen to join his Cocker buddies out on their morning run with my husband and was very upset this morning when they left without him! As far as he's concerned, this searing pain coming from his knee is just a minor twinge, nothing to worry about. He's a Bulldog and Bulldogs were bred originally to bait bulls, so if this is what Frank's forefathers were capable of, fear and pain are clearly way down on his list of priorities.
Most breeds can be traced back to some kind of working/guarding or hunting vocation. You probably already know what your dog's ancestors used to do, but if not, it's worth exploring as you may discover the reasons why your dog behaves in a certain way.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback was a big game hunter, the Dachshund a fearsome fox and badger killer, the blue-blooded Corgi was a cattle herder and the Shar Pei was used as a Chinese fighting dog.
The fearless Rhodesian Ridgeback.
What big claws you have Mr Badger.
Cute and cuddly looking, but primed for action.
We know that dogs these days are still used in dog fights, pitted against each other to fight till the death. Of course I cannot stand the thought of dogs being used in this way, but the point is they fight till they can fight no more.
Maybe we have become overly anthropomorphic with our dogs. Perhaps centuries of domestication have resulted in them becoming, in our minds, our children and not protectors or workers. I know we are blameworthy of this behaviour in our house. I can't even leave them for an hour without feeling wracked with guilt.
But we are often doing our dogs a disservice to deny them the jobs they were created for, which can cause frustration and boredom.
I do like a juicy steak but I don't think we'll be sending Frank out any time soon to bait us a bull.