Fragile Beasts

One of the first things someone should have told you by now, if you have any interest in Bernese Mountain Dogs, is they consistently earn a spot on the short list of most expensive dog breeds. This is not in reference to their “adoption fees”. (Remember when it was politically correct to say “purchase price”?) Medical issues are frequent and sometimes severe with the Berner.

Sherman decided to put this to the test right out of the gate. It would chronologically make sense for this post to be about potty training. However… Sherman’s potty training was complicated by the fact that he developed an early Urinary Tract Infection that went undetected for some time. (It should also be mentioned the Bernese Mountain Dog is an incredibly stoic breed. Pain is masked well by the broad smile and bone-crushing tail wags characteristic to most Berners.)

It was a head-scratcher for sure, the potty habits of this boy. He quickly took to the bells hanging on the two doors he had access to. He was smart and eager to please. He loved the treats and belly rubs generated by a trip outside and an obedient squat on the cue words “Go potty!” We were careful to take him out frequently: After every play session, upon waking from a nap, just after a meal, when he neared the door, every hour on the hour during the night, every 20 minutes or so the first week.

But still, we observed a consistent habit of peeing in the house… while walking! He didn’t even squat! He just smiled away, walked from room to room, and left a trail of urine that looked like we had a pet slug to whom we had given free reign of the house.

That was antibiotic round #1.

Round number two came immediately after round #1, or maybe even during round #1. We had not yet switched Sherman to his raw diet when he began (a common malady of Berner guts) a vicious bout with diarrhea. We knew he had to be hydrated during this time, but we just couldn’t keep up with him. I called the vet on day two of the runs and they asked to see him in three hours. Fifteen minutes after I talked to the vet he was non-respondant, like a rag doll. We jumped in the car and flew the nearly 30 minutes to the vet’s office. I screamed at Sherman to keep him “alert” the entire way.

The little stinker revived at the vet’s office before we could even get in the examination room. Was he just sleepy? Had he been faking it? No, he was indeed a very sick boy. He was just responding to all the new stimuli the only way he knew how. One hydration shot (water placed via syringe directly into a pocket of skin on his neck) and a bottle full of new antibiotics later, we were on our way home.

This was followed by round #3 (a big bug bite on the paw) and round #4 (testing positive for anaplasmosis, a tick-borne blood disease.) I’ve tried like crazy to keep this guy fed naturally and treated holistically, but his body seems to be bacteria’s playground. Sorry for that image. It’s just that he’s lived up to the “expensive breed” distinction. This summer we battled two rounds of nasty hot spots.

Perhaps the most valuable purchase you can make for your new puppy (of any breed) would be pet health insurance. We do not currently have it for either dog, but there’s a good chance if we did it would have paid for itself several time over by now. I understand rates have gone up quite a bit this year, but when I look at all my Instagram friends who are facing emergency veterinary bills between $2500 and $7000, it makes the monthly increase worth consideration.

This is a tough breed to own. The average life span is nearly eight years now. But this is an average, meaning it’s comprised of dogs who have lived 12+ years and those who have tragically lost health battles at a very young age. I know people who have lost two or three young dogs in rapid succession. Some leave the breed behind, unable to face more loss. Others buckle down and accept the reality of eventual but certain loss.

When I look at pictures of Hero or into the eyes of my two current bears I have to say this: Every minute is a gift far outweighing the fear of loss. Perfect love casts out fear. And I keep in mind my gentle giants are beastly strong, tough, stoic, fiercely loyal… and, most decidedly, fragile.

Home from Vet.jpg
On our way home from a scary vet visit. An hour earlier Sherman had been non-responsive.
Bug bite.jpg
Can you spot the bug bite on his lower right leg?
Fragile Beast.jpg
Messy haired fragile little beast. (That smile… those eyes.)

Published by: When Life Goes to the Dogs

It was my youngest daughter who introduced me to the Bernese Mountain Dog. That first boy, Hero, set in motion all kinds of crazy love. And now, at the end of the day, I often find myself asking... what do these dogs have that is so special? I'm raising three Berners now, navigating the world of social media for dogs, holistic health and raw feeding. Sherman has become a therapy dog; Zuzu may soon follow in his footsteps. Madi, as I like to say, is still cooking. I guess we all need something to put our hands to that makes us feel like we've made a difference in this world. Believe it or not, these dogs help me do just that.

Categories Raising Puppies, Uncategorized, Veterinary CareTags, , Leave a comment

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