Not long before we moved houses, we noticed that Frankie was having difficulty eating. Frankie's always had a difficult relationship with food - when he was a young dog he was passed around to a couple of owners with little to no understanding of huskies. (Please please please do your research before buying a pet!)
Immediately before he was rehomed to live with J through the Siberian Husky Club of Victoria, he was living with a family who fed him chops, pizza AND ice cream - DAILY! When he came to J, Frankie was a very fat little butterball, and J was given some excellent veterinary advice about what kind of weight range would keep Frankie healthy for a long life. However, Frankie was initially unimpressed at the high quality kibble on offer. It took him a few days to realise that there were no more chops coming, before he deigned to try the dog food. Then, like many dogs in a multi-dog household, he swung to the other extreme of the spectrum, and bolted his food, before it might disappear, or draw attention from Ishka or the other boys. To limit Frankie's risk of choking, J bought him an anti-choke bowl.
So, as long as I've known him, Frankie has been rather desperate about food - "count your fingers!" "land shark!" - and the first dog to clear his bowl every morning. Then we realised that this had changed - he was eating so quickly, he'd become the slowest. His eating was accompanied by much wheezing, gagging and the occasional vomit. His appetite was still frenetic, but he just couldn't seem to swallow properly.
A couple of vet consults later, Frankie has a tentative diagnosis of megaoesophagus (mega-soff-agus) - an enlargement of the oesophagus (food pipe) and loss of muscles tone, making it difficult to swallow. It's a tentative diagnosis because confirmation requires an X-ray, which requires sedation/anaesthetic, and we are reluctant to put a 12 year old dog through an anaesthetic to just confirm what's happening.
There's no cure for megaoesophagus, but there are some treatment options, which are, fortunately, non invasive and low cost. One suggestion was a doggy high chair - and there are some very sweet videos online.
However, because of abuse suffered as a puppy, Frankie can be sensitive about things close to his rear end, so we didn't think this was a good option for him, and went looking for another way to achieve the same result. We've been experimenting and found a way to allow Frankie to eat more comfortably - we've raised the height of his bowl. Rather than having his face down and needing his oesophageal muscles for peristalsis (the swallowing action that forces the food to the stomach, regardless of angle or gravity) through a curved throat, lifting his bowl up straightens his oesophagus and allows gravity to assist. We've tried a couple of different bowls at different heights. The best combination is quite high, and we've gone back to the anti-choke bowl to force him to take smaller mouthfuls.
We've also changed the feeding regime to two smaller meals/day. The next step will be to look at changing what food we use, but given Frankie's ongoing battles with weight, not to mention the challenges of juggling our commutes with healthy cooking and proper meals for three humans, that's an issue that we would hope to avoid.
Ultimately, we're limited in what we can do for Frankie. He also suffers from limited vision (you may remember that he went blind a few years ago), some deafness and occasional back pain, due to his poor structure putting weight on the wrong parts of his spine. He has traditionally been our most jittery, skittery dog, nervous and always at the bottom of the pack hierarchy. However, he has got back a little of his vision, and adjusted really well to our Wee Monster joining the family. He loves nothing more than a good pat. We want to keep him comfortable and happy as long as possible. Eventually, we will have to make the hard call, but we are comforted by the knowledge that Frankie has had 11 good years with us, after his poor start to life.