Cloud enjoyed most days romping with her owner around a horse farm. She’d been happy her whole life and well-loved. With at least one long daily walk and many adventures weekly, Cloud was a well-adjusted and very well cared for Australian Shepherd. With gorgeous blue eyes and a wavy gray merle coat, Cloud was admired many times a day by all the people she’d come to know. Her life was about as good as it gets for a dog.
Then some troubling behaviors started to happen when Cloud was 9. They didn’t really seem like much of anything at first. Weird behaviors. Certainly not a list of symptoms that would grow into a long list of unknowns that didn’t fit any conventional veterinary medical diagnosis. It started with licking the floor. Her owner could justify this in a lot of ways. Itchy tongue? Boredom? Tastes good? But after months the floor licking became more intense. A need, not just an odd behavior anymore. That intensity to lick that floor came with a new symptom. This time weight gain came on. And for what reason? An active busy dog even busier now with her intense floor licking obsession. The solution seemed to be to up the exercise and cut her food. She was getting older. It made sense.
And when cutting back and walking more didn’t end the weight gain and the cycle of constant licking of the floor, something else had to be done. Veterinary appointments continued and so did the mystery of the weight gain, the compulsive licking and now irritability and constant panting in the evening. Could be a lot of things, they said. When it wasn’t any of those conventional diagnoses, it was time to see a specialist.
The specialist was in internal medicine. Cloud lay quietly for her abdominal ultrasound while her owner looked on and waited for what she hoped wasn’t grim news. The ultrasound was needed to check her internal organs, especially her adrenal glands, liver and kidneys. All of those were clear which was a relief. The specialist said the dog was simply fat and that was the root cause of all of her unsettling behaviors. With advice to diet and exercise, Cloud was dismissed.
Knowing Cloud was getting worse by the day, her owner spoke with Dr. Carlson about Cloud’s health. And within minutes, the long road of mysterious symptoms and suffering turn a sharp turn for the better. “Have you heard of sundowner syndrome?” said Dr. Carlson. No, his owner said. This had never been considered in all the appointments for Cloud.
Sundowner syndrome is associated with cognitive dysfunction in humans but in dogs it’s part of a complex mix of symptoms caused by atypical Cushing’s disease. Sundowner syndrome is marked by repetitive behaviors (floor licking), agitation (panting), irritability and restlessness. Sometimes dogs displaying this syndrome become clingy. And Cloud would only settle down at night if she knew that everyone in the house was in bed.
Dr. Carlson prescribed a list of inexpensive natural and integrative treatments for Cloud. One of the most important was upping her B12. He directed the owner to make and freeze ice cube trays filled with raw hamburger and corn in a 3:1 ratio. Cloud got some raw beef and benefited from the vitamins and amino acids daily. With that natural hit of nutrients, Dr. Carlson then layered on a group of medications, natural and pharmaceutical grade. He chose lignans, a flax derivative that supports adrenal function. Also in the mix, a dose of melatonin and the drug amitriptyline.
Healing started slowly. Cloud looked forward to her afternoon beef and corn snack. And after a couple of months she looked like her old self. She was trim again, stopped licking the floor, quit panting all evening and settled into sleep without worrying what everyone else was doing. She does like to stay close to her owner but is feeling as close to her old self as possible.
by Cristen Herbold Carlson