Okay, so I mentioned a few posts back that Zeus has had some of his own health problems, which started a couple weeks before Spud, one of our two cats, had to be put down. Zeus is a Saint Bernard over 11 years old (miraculous in and of itself), so of course whenever something significant happens with his health it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to how he’ll do, or if this is “it”. I’ve been through years of this kind of stress. I’m not one to “hang on” unnecessarily, but it’s pretty hard to make a decision when you have a dog who, for all intents and purposes, still has a good frame of mind and is generally a pretty happy guy. I don’t ever want him to suffer, and would never dream of putting him through some kind of crazy procedure to keep him going for my own benefit. With Spud, there was absolutely nothing to be done to save him – so the decision was made for us, really. With Zeus, his health issues never seem to be so bad that it’s obvious that it’s time for a decision.
So, the latest “thing” is really just a worsening of an ongoing problem. Anyone considering getting a giant breed dog, HEAR THIS. They get hygromas on the elbows and they are a HUGE pain in the ass. Hygromas are callous-like build ups of tissue and fluid at the elbows that develop from lying on hard surfaces. They are the dog’s body’s response to extraordinary pressure, and giant breeds like Saints and Great Danes are prone to them. I can’t recall exactly at what age they started with Zeus but probably around 3 or 4 he started getting them in a small way. It doesn’t matter how many cushy beds he has to lay in, he often prefers a nice cool floor. For years now I’ve had to deal with his elbows periodically getting swollen with infection. They usually open on their own and drain (ew!) and then they heal and the process starts all over again. Sometimes I have to help them along by finding where the softest spot is and lance them open (remember folks, I’m a farm girl, this isn’t for everyone, or for the faint of heart). Sometimes they get so bad though, they need emergency vet attention.
As was the case with this latest swelling. It was really deep and his elbow just kept getting bigger, and harder, and by the second day it just hadn’t ‘surfaced.’ I came home early from work one day and noticed his leg was beginning to get secondary swelling, so off we went to the vet. He was put on antibiotics for a week and the vet attempted to drain off some of the purulent fluid that was causing so much pressure, with a needle and syringe. The next day he was in quite a bit of pain and the swelling had spread to his full leg and paw, and he could not get up without assistance (as much because he’s an old man as it was because his leg hurt like a bitch). I hung out with him and tried to keep him happy. Finally by that night the infection and found its way out and started to effectively drain. Everywhere. And yes, it’s disgusting. It stinks. But it needs to come out, and what do you do?
So thankfully things started looking much better for the big guy and by the end of the week the swelling had really come down back to normal. But the side effect was that the hygroma had opened up really big, maybe 2 1/2 inches or so wide. I decided to check in with the vet again about it and she said there was really not much to be done, that these types of wounds are very difficult to get healed because of where they are, and that there may be a tumor in there (not really surprising). The only way to be sure was to do a biopsy (and that ain’t cheap and so I’ve put that off for now, because really, what is that going to tell me that I don’t already know? He’s old and he’s well beyond his life expectancy). She fashioned a tube dressing into a bit of a “shrug” and gave us a spray that is to help encourage skin to grow in the area and deter further infection. The dressing was to help keep some gauze in there and keep him from licking at it, but after about a day and a half it was already looking pretty sorry.
We got the idea to try out making something out of a pair of kids’ spandex leggings. You can see them up above (the purple ones) and Chris had the brilliant idea to use maxi pads inside over the wound, which has been working quite well to absorb any weeping and to help keep it relatively clean. I searched online and found a company that makes DogLeggs, a product much like my knitted ones above but probably made of much more appropriate materials, like neoprene or something. They’re about $100 USD and at Zeus’s age I kind of don’t really think it’s worth sending away for (if he was a couple year’s old, definitely – I’m convinced they would help prevent hygromas from getting so bad – nothing like this seemed to exist when he first got the problem). ***UPDATE (Oct. 30, 2009): I have just come across an Ontario-based pet supplier called Two Tuttle’s, Four Paws, who now carries DogLeggs***
So… the purple leggings looked quite ridiculous and were getting pretty nasty pretty fast. But every time I take them off to say wash them, he gets licking at the wound and opens it up again. So I thought I could knit something that would be more custom. Above is my attempt, but the sleeves were just not elastic enough to keep his pad inside. I was also concerned about his circulation because the yarn only gives to a certain point. So those were a bust.
Today we went out to try to find some more leggings similar to the purple ones. We found these junior-ladies leggings for $5 at Giant Tiger and I bought three pairs. By now I had a new design in mind and this is definitely the solution. The chest strap is key to keeping the leggings from sliding back across his back.
DIY Doggy Lederhosen
So here’s the design for anyone looking for something to protect a dog’s elbows, or forelegs for that matter, for instance if there’s a hot spot or anything that’s hard to bandage. Take a pair of nylon/spandex leggings (cotton won’t do – they’ll stretch out too much and if they get wet while the dog is out in the rain or snow, they’ll stay wet forever). Make a slit along the inside leg and crotch seam (I just followed along one side of the stitching) from about mid-thigh to mid-thigh, right along the crotch area. This may be all you need to do depending on the size of the dog.
To put them on, put the dog’s head through both the hole you just made and the waistband, and carefully put the paws through the legs of the tights. Take care to avoid catching dewclaws. In Zeus’s case, I had to make a vertical slit through the bum of the leggings and then cut the heavier elastic waistband of the leggings to help give him more neck room (Saint Bernards have a lot of floppy neck skin). Check to ensure that there’s lots of room to move and nothing is “cutting” too tight on the dog, especially when they’re lying down, in the arm pit area (you don’t want anything to pinch and cut off circulation). Depending on the size of the leggings, you may need to cut off some length of the legs so that they don’t drag over the dog’s paw. Watch for the first 12 hours or so to see if the leggings have overly stretched, and make adjustments as needed. This design is pretty forgiving that way, because the main point is to protect the elbows from exposure and to keep the dog from licking, and in our case, to keep a maxi pad up over the wound (the sticky backing on the pad seems to hold pretty good to the nylon).
Since my mama is taking care of the big guy while we’re off to Portland/Seattle for a week, I wanted to be sure she had a change of leggings for him if he needs them, and has something that will work really well while we’re gone. I think we’ve finally found the solution. And he looks much better in black than purple, don’t you think? Mum says he just needs a bow tie and he’ll be all set for the ball.
Apologies for the length of this post, but I wanted to offer this up as a bit of a DIY solution for anyone else in the same boat. Years ago, I searched the Interweb high and low for even some mention of the hygroma problem, but found little or nothing. Now at least you can find explanations for them, but finding solutions for dealing with the wounds was pretty tough. I highly urge anyone with a dog just developing these problems to try out those DogLeggs. I bet they work really well. And, I highly urge anyone considering a giant breed dog to do your homework. I love my big guy, but he is a TON of work. Later I’ll try to put something together that outlines the things people might not know or realize in advance of getting a giant dog. I can’t tell you how many people who see Zeus say “ooooooo that’s the kind of dog I want!!!” and I think to myself “do you really have any idea what you’re talking about?”