Maggie is a Lurcher, which is not so much a specific breed as a particular type of dog. Classically, a Lurcher was an Irish poacher’s dog: a cross between a Greyhound and a Deerhound. Bethan’s family wanted to know as much about Maggie as possible, so they sent off for a special DNA test: they discovered that she was three-quarters Saluki (an exotic Asian type of hound) plus one eighth Greyhound, and a small bit of some other mix of breeds. So Maggie is still a Lurcher, but she’s an especially exotic type of Lurcher.
Bethan was just five years old when Maggie arrived in the family home as a puppy. She clearly remembers her Dad picking her up from school, with the trembling young puppy in the back of the car. The pup had been named “Rainbow” by the rescue centre where she’d come from, but Bethan wouldn’t let her keep that name, and so she was soon renamed Maggie, and that seemed far more appropriate for the friendly new dog.
Maggie had a difficult first year of life: when she was around eight months of age, she developed an odd tilt to her head, and then the next day, she lost her balance completely. She couldn’t even stand up: she kept falling over whenever she tried to get to her feet. She was diagnosed with a rare type of meningitis, and for a few weeks, it seemed that she might not pull through. But Maggie had a strong will to live, and she gradually regained her balance, staggering to her feet and managing to get her normal walking ability back again. She had a long and slow recovery, and she was left with a permanent tilt of her head as a reminder. She always looks as if she is slightly startled or curious, with her head tilted a little to the right. Bethan has noticed that when people look at her, they tilt their own heads too, as if in sympathy. The head tilt has never bothered Maggie in the slightest: she is too busy enjoying life.
Maggie loves going on long walks, and she enjoys playing with Bethan and her family. She’s known for providing a good way to judge people’s character when they visit Bethan’s home: if a visitor isn’t kind to Maggie, it’s fair to assume that they are not likely to be “a good person” in general. Over the years, various tradesmen and other random visitors have proven this point, over and over.
As a Lurcher, Maggie is generally a silent dog: she doesn’t bark or howl like most breeds. She does have one unusual way of communicating, and Bethan’s family call this method “love growls”.
If someone is petting her or stroking her, and she’s very contented, she lets out a low pitched grumble which sounds like a growl, except that they know that it’s a friendly growl. She only does this with her family, which is why they call them “love growls”.
The reason Maggie had to come to the vet recently is that her “love growls” had changed in recent times. On two occasions, she had started to make a low-pitched sound that sounded more like a real, threatening type of growl instead of her usual “love growl”. On each occasion, someone had been tucked up beside her (e.g. on the sofa), and they were worried that they might have touched her in some way that had hurt her. Maggie had never snapped or done anything in any way aggressive, but Bethan was concerned that something might be bothering her to make her growl in this different way. She had also noticed that Maggie didn’t want to jump into the back of the car as quickly and happily as usual.
trip to the vet
I examined Maggie carefully, all over: as an eleven year old large breed of dog, she would now be classified as “elderly”, and it’s normal to have one or two minor issues going on.
Her vision was fading a little, and her hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be, but in general, she was in very good shape. She was well-muscled, with a shiny coat, and a brigntness to her eye. I flexed and extended each of her joints, from the tips of her toes up to her shoulders and her hips, checking for arthritis. But she had no pain at all: Lurchers are generally healthy dogs, avoiding the painful, creaky elbows, knees and hips that other breeds like Labradors often suffer from.
I then felt carefully along her back, checking for any hidden points of pain. This was when I identified her problem: when I pressed on her lower back, she whined. I did this once more, and she whined again. Then I gently lifted her rear end, and flexed her back, like a bow. Again, she whined when I did this. Maggie was definitely suffering from lower back pain.
Her pain was focussed in a particular area: the lumbo-sacral junction. This is where the bones of the spine connect to the bones of the pelvis. The full weight of the body is transmitted to the back legs via the lumbo-sacral junction.
In older dogs, the lumbo-sacral junction often becomes unstable, and this then leads to inflammation and pain in the area.
To make a definite diagnosis of this condition, an MRI scan is needed, but my examination was enough to allow us to make a plan. Maggie has been put onto daily pain-relieving anti-inflammatory medication. It will take a few weeks to fully kick in, but we are hoping that in the New Year, Maggie’s love growls will be back to their normal affectionate tone.