This post links an unlikely trio of subjects: scent articles, soft poop and prednisone.
As an arbitrary starting point, let's choose April 18 of this year. That morning I posted "Scent Articles + Focus = Gangbusters!" I wrote about the stunning difference preparatory focus had on Bravo!'s performance on the scent articles. I was referring to his success in practice; he hadn't blown one in the ring in nearly three years. I had begun insisting he watch me, without so much as a flicker of a glance away, from the moment we began to set up for the exercise until he left my side, headed for the pile. That, and that alone, had increased his string of consecutive correct retrieves from a handful at a time to -- at the point of the post -- 614.
At that point I had no idea how far he would go before the party ended. He popped off 709 before he missed.
This is not a brag; I'm reporting it to establish the backdrop for what has happened since. On May 12, immediately following his breakfast, I took Bravo! out into the backyard to do what he nearly always does early in the morning (and latter in the day after his dinner). That morning he had what I began referring to as "the soft poops" -- to distinguish what I saw there on the ground from diarrhea, which it was not. He did the same thing each of the next four days, every bowel movement. On the fifth day Barbara dropped off the first of several stool samples for our veterinarian.
We are now in the ninth week of the problem, which includes really scary weight loss. Yes, we've run the gamut of tests and medications and diets. We did an abdominal ultrasound a couple of weeks ago, which led to the diagnosis -- a mild case of inflammatory bowel.
Shortly thereafter we put Bravo! on prednisone, which is cortisone in drag. A few words about cortisone: It's a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex. Used correctly and with restraint, it can be a blessing for your dog in the management of autoimmune, allergic and inflammatory disorders. Used excessively it can have nasty side effects -- including inhibition of the adrenal glands, resulting in dependency on the drug. To say nothing of Cushing's disease and Addison's disease. Both can be fatal.
All of which explains why we explored other treatment options first, then introduced prednisone cautiously. We began with a "loading dose" of 5mg. per day for five days. Following that we planned to give Bravo! 5mg. every other day. But at the end of the loading dose the results could summed up in one word: zilch. Recently we upped the dose to 10mg. More about that later.
Now let's shift gears. Rewind 11 years to the time when Bebop, my first border collie, was temporarily on a low dose of prednisone. At the time, he was actively showing in the B classes.
A friend who knew Bebop was on prednisone said, "I saw an article about a study that demonstrates that prednisone diminishes a dog's scent discrimination ability. Is Bebop having any trouble with scent articles since he's been on prednisone?"
Bebop had a reputation in competition obedience circles as a lightning-fast-working, accurate scent articles dog, and I had noticed no drop-off in his ability to succeed at the scent discrimination exercise.
Fast forward now to the present. After Bravo! blew number 710, I kept on counting. He had done so extraordinarily well that I wondered if he might just rack up 999 out of 1,000.
When he he started on his loading dose of prednisone, he was well into the nine hundreds and hadn't missed again. And with that old question about the effect of prednisone still on my mind, I was curious to see how he'd do.
It didn't take long. On the third day of the loading dose, Bravo! blew an article. Before that miss he stood at 955 out of 956. And he blew another one the next day. Considering his overall performance in the months leading up to that point, I didn't think it could be a coincidence. So I immediately set the articles aside until he's off prednisone and has been for a while. I don't want to expose him to the negative psychodynamics of being wrong when he's the victim of physical factors he can't control.
Then I searched the Internet to see if I could find the old study that linked prednisone to decreased olfactory acuity in dogs. I couldn't come up with it. What I did turn up was a study done at Auburn University in the early '90s. Their findings showed no link between prednisone and olfactory function.
A training buddy who is also a veterinarian doubts that Bravo!'s sudden failures had anything to do with prednisone, particularly at the 5mg. level. "Maybe you had something on your hands that you didn't know about," she speculated. No way! I'm far too much an over-the-top Type A for that to be possible. (Note that I'm one who carries his own soap when he travels to out-of-town shows -- and not the only one, by far.)
Might the knowledge of the reported prednisone-smeller link have influenced my demeanor as we practiced articles? No to that one, too.
So I'm sticking to my guns. And posing these questions. Apparently somewhere in the literature there is a study that links prednisone with olfactory diminution in dogs. If you have access to it, would you share it with the rest of us via the comments section below?
Likewise, if you've had a dog on prednisone and doing scent articles at the same time, would you please share your experiences?
And Bravo!? Since we've increased the prednisone dosage to 10mg., he's doing much, much better. It's too soon to start dancing in the streets, but . . .