It turns out that it’s hard to prioritize updating a blog when your dog has Medial Should Syndrome

I have once again not posted here in a long time. Just about a year, I believe, which is pretty bad. I haven’t been having a good time competing with Raafael in agility and it turns out there’s a very good reason for that. My little monkey has Medial Shoulder Syndrome (MSS). It is classified as mild, which means we don’t have to do any surgical procedures, but it is definitely there. In fact, there is still some inflammation present, which is remarkable seeing as he’s been on-leash since November. Prognosis is good for this type of injury so long as we are patient, we should see Raafi back in the ring once he’s healed up and strong again. We’re on week seven of his rehab plan and it’s actually going really well (excuse me while I find some wood to knock on)

I wanted to write up a post about this experience because I found it really frustrating and there was some information that I would have loved to have had earlier. There are also some points I’d like to make that might help someone else who might be struggling with a hard to diagnose issue with their dog. Long post is long, but bear with me. This is actually the abbreviated version, believe it or not.

Raafi after his arthroscopy. They went a wee bit ham with the clippers…

If I’m being honest I think this actually started in 2017. Those were the first indications that Raafi wasn’t feeling a 100%. He’d start to check out on working, he was giving me refusals on backsides and weaves (refusals that really shouldn’t have happened). I was also getting feedback from chiro and massage that he was “just a bit stiff” in his left bicep. I’d give him a break for a bit and he’d come back good but eventually revert. I think we were able to keep going because as this was starting I strained my calf at Fall Cup in 2017 so he got a prolonged break from agility and probably made a partial recovery. He came back strong after that but started to really have trouble in the late spring. I stopped competing for a few months as he was not having fun. I had just sold my condo and both our lives were filled with stress, so I thought that could be the issue. After a three month break, I brought him back and he ended up limping halfway through the day. A trip to his vet and a trip to chiro both came back with no answers and the limp had disappeared after only one day somehow. I gave him another rest, tried bringing him back with moderate success and then a very steep slide at Fall Cup. Got the whole front of his body x-rayed, the results of which the radiologist described as “unremarkable”. I gave him another break and tried putting him back to work and he ended up limping during practice. Went to another province to get another opinion from an orthopedic vet. She performed an ultrasound and it showed some inflammation but she couldn’t find anything else definitive. The vet suggested he had run into something and he should have a month of rest. Three weeks in and I could still see some abnormalities in his stride and that diagnosis just didn’t sit right given his history. I knew about MSS but I had resisted that as a diagnosis because it seemed like everyone’s dog was coming down with it—it’s almost a fad at this point. But the only way to rule it out was with arthroscopy.

After asking around a lot I found a local vet who could perform the arthroscopy. It took a frustrating TWO MONTHS to get in for his actual surgery, but we got there. Happily, they have recently acquired a super small scope, so the vet was able to get some really fantastic shots of the joint. They clearly showed that Raafi has MSS.

Throughout the last year I’d had a lot of people make suggestions, some helpful, some not, and at least one or two snide “Maybe he just doesn’t like agility” comments, which does not reflect the enthusiastic pup I see in practice. We’ve struggled with Raafi’s motivation and stress since he was a puppy, so it was super easy for that viewpoint to colour how I saw what was happening to him, and so I treated it as a motivation issue when I needed to look for a physical cause.

I also had a lot of people suggest that I drop his jump height, and I’m very glad I didn’t listen because my little monkey with a heart of gold probably would have been able to go on competing for longer, and I would have done even more damage to his shoulder before figuring it out. I have seen so many people treat specialling a dog like a solution to a problem and it is NOT. It is the acceptance that a problem can’t be fixed, but you should damn well know what that problem is before you try it and end up with an even bigger problem later. If we are going to ask our dogs to play in a sport with inherent physical risks, we should be prepared to do what we need to make sure our dogs are healthy. You can do all the phsyio, all the fitness, all the detailed warm-ups and cool-downs and still get an injury. If you don’t have the ability to drop a couple of grand on vet costs, you should really get insurance, because it’s been a lifesaver for me.

Raafi trotting after the second time his limp showed up in October. He’s been out of work since then 🙁

I am also incredibly grateful for the upbringing I got working horses that taught me to recognize abnormalities in striding. And I’m very glad that I obsessively analyze video of my dogs working. If you haven’t already, take the time when your dog is healthy to video and document what healthy looks like so you have something to compare it too if things go wrong. Because of that I had a baseline and I had a sense that Raafi was not getting better, and I needed to keep looking. While I know every professional we went to did their best, I also know that I know my dog better than anyone and it is ok to trust your instincts. Also, the field of sports medicine for dogs is relatively new, so don’t be surprised if your regular vet misses something. And I will say that even if his scope had come up with nothing it would have been worth the money just to know (and I have probably never said that after dropping $1800 on one thing before in my life).

Long story short (HA, this wasn’t short), it has been a frustrating 1–2 years trying to figure out what’s been up with this dog, but I finally feel like we’re on the right track. I’m going to try and update with our progress and any tips along the way. If anyone wants more details (yes, there are more details) feel free to comment or send me a message, I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can.

In the meantime, please enjoy this truely rediculous short video I made after DIYing some leg warmers for Raafi since he was a full quarter naked in February:

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