Aka Looking after Cypher
Cypher turned 13 years old recently. He is officially the oldest Border Collie I have ever owned. He has some health issues and that’s okay because we’ve read and read and read and consulted with numerous specialists and vets over the years.
He was diagnosed with Megaoesophagus by Steve at Applecross Vets nearly 3 years ago now. It’s where the oesophagus is enlarged and combined with partial paralysis or weakening of the muscles there it results in dogs not being able to keep food (and in severe cases, water) down without significant assistance. We noticed this through his sessions of throw ups, initially not food but in between meals, foam and bile. Then one night he ate and literally three minutes after that he was walking off to his water bowl and on his third step everything just came back up in one big regurgitation. Cypher himself looked a bit shocked by this. There was none of the usual warning signs. So off we went and very soon came the Mega E diagnosis. He was placed on some antibiotics for a while and some anti-nausea to ensure that he didn’t develop the biggest risk – Aspiration pneumonia. We were told to turn his food into a slurry and to feed him with the bowl raised to head height. Well that didn’t last long. We soon noticed him struggling as he would grab a mouthful and kind of throw it into the back of his mouth. Sometimes quite unsuccessfully. So we made his food (kibble and meat) into a thicker paste for him and started hand feeding him from a spoon.
He travelled well on this for about a year and then we started to notice him being a bit unsteady on his back legs. I wondered if his age and arthritis had caught up to him. Long (expensive) diagnostic story short – he was exhibiting diabetic neuropathy (quite severe at one stage as he could not use his back legs) as he had developed diabetes mellitus. So now not only did we need to manage the consistency of his food we now needed to manage his blood glucose levels. He regulated within a few weeks and during that time (of lots and lots of research, reading and question asking) Tim suggested a way to make chicken and vegetable loaf without using the usual flour/egg/crumbs binding ingredients. Agar. A natural powder substance found in most Asian supermarkets, used to create a lot of pretty looking desserts but containing no extra ingredients – think a very natural form of gelatin. Over the course of this year we have perfected the prepping and cooking process of this Cypher Special Chicken and Veg loaf and having had a number of enquiries about it we decided to describe the steps using some photos to help.
Cypher’s Special Chicken and Vegetable Loaf.
The Veggies – 1 Head of broccoli, half head of cauliflower, quarter pumpkin, sweet potato around 500gm.
The Chicken – 2 Whole BBQ Chickens purchased from Coles, we tear off everything and put it in, making sure there are no bones. But it’s literally everything gristle, cartilage, stuffing, skin, fat etc.
The Chicken Stock – Note: Please check the box of chicken stock – some will say FLAVOUR (sometimes in really small print) it’s important that you actually get chicken stock and not just water with chicken stock flavour added.
Agar – we go through three packs once a week so if you’re doing this we recommend you bulk buy on these little packs because A. More convenient not to have to go to Asian store every week and B. They’re not always available and in stock.
So as Tim is tearing the two chickens up to put in our big rectangular dish I am chopping and steam microwaving the veggies. The veggies generally go in for 4 mins or 4.5 minutes in our microwave which is quite powerful. We want them soft but not mashable. It’s okay for them to need a bit of bite.
We then cook up two cups of Jasmine rice (we asked specifically about diabetics eating rice and the vet recommended white rice – does not have to be Jasmine).
At this point this is what the dish looks like with the chicken and all the veggies in it. We don’t pack it down at all, it needs to be fairly loose but also we need to ensure an even distribution of all the ingredients. We try to get it pretty even across the top.
By this stage we also have a big pot on the stove with the 1Ltr of Chicken stock PLUS 1.5 Ltrs of ADDED WATER. Our pot holds up to 7ltrs.
As the rice is cooking we get our processor and our two most used kitchen utensils out for this cook.
The icing spladle thingy actually does a good job at mixing the ingredients in our container without packing anything together and it is a crucial item when we add the rice agar mixture.
As the rice cooks, I scoop out some of the stock and water liquid in a jug – doesn’t have to be a specific amount.
Then once the rice is cooked we put the liquid in the processor and then scoop the rice into it.
We then process the mixture. This step took some trial and error to get right – too long and the mixture becomes too claggy and sticky, too short and the mixture is too loose. I have videos of it mixing but can’t upload at the moment.
We then pour the mixture straight into the pot on the stove and then we turn the heat up to high to bring the mixture up to the boil.
As the heat is on high you cannot leave this pot unattended now, the whisk (see above) is now used to steadily stir it at least once every couple of minutes so that the rice mixture does not stick and burn to the bottom. It takes a while to bring it to the boil. Again I have a video of it at the point we add in the agar. Will post this later.
Here the mixture is close but not quite bubbling properly throughout. Once the mixture is properly boiling as in big bubbles popping throughout as Tim continues to whisk I shake in the agar powder as evenly as possible. As soon as the agar is all in Tim whisks more vigorously and I turn off the heat completely. Tim will continue to whisk it for a good minute or so until he is satisfied the agar has all disappeared and dissolved properly. He then brings the whisk to the sink (anything with agar on it should be cleaned asap unless you want to be scrubbing hard later on!). I grab the pot in oven mitts and then pour the mixture as evenly as possible across the top of the chicken and veg container. Again Tim takes on the pot washing straight away as I am now on mixing duty.
Again I have a video of this action but will upload later. This mixing takes some time. I’m careful to always go from the outside edges in and I rotate the container around so that I go around the whole perimeter. To ensure an even mix you must make sure you eventually have scooped and moved all the ingredients around so that they get coated in this mixture. I then level off the top as evenly as I can.
It’s always good to check the sides to be sure you’ve mixed it well.
We then place a food net over the top and let it air cool. We put it too early in the fridge once and it caused all kinds of cracking through it. And a good tip also is to not leave it out over night. It should be refrigerated as soon as it has cooled otherwise it does tend to start to smell towards the last couple of meals.
Once it has been in the fridge overnight (or all day if we happen to have cooked in the morning on a weekend) you can pull it back out and slice it up. A good cook is when you tip up the container onto the chopping board and the whole “loaf” slides out looking all shiny. If you do happen to notice pools of moisture on the surface when you first pull it out (from condensation) just use some paper towels to soak the liquid up.
Getting ready to slice it up. Cypher has 400gms in the morning and 400gms in the evening. This will last him for 14 meals.
We cut it into blocks that he can take one bite out of then another mouthful.
The containers are just some we picked up from Woolies and ALDI and we just made sure they can be sealed airtight.
As he can no longer tolerate raw meaty bones each night we also give him a couple of supplements. He gets one Centrum multivitamin and three of the Flax Seed capsules. We just poke them into one of his cubes. He actually will take the flax seed capsules on their own though too. Not the multivitamin though!
We do have a video of how we feed him, he is fortunate in that he doesn’t need a bailey chair to keep food down but we are also pretty particular about how he eats and we make sure to keep him in this position for at least 5 to 10 minutes after he’s finished. I usually turn him around so I can give him his insulin in the back of his neck and then we just sit for a bit with me massaging in downward motions down the front of his chest to help his food move along. I took some screen shots of the vid here. He has to reach up quite high for the food but I don’t make it so high that he needs to lift his front feet off the floor. Please note: I do take the lid off the container and stick it in the microwave for 25 seconds before we feed – just to take the chill off.
So far so good! He does feel very good around these times of days so we’re often reminding him that straight after eating is not the time to play tug or fetch or shake the toy. But generally he’s pretty good at this, and the way he bounces around in excitement when we get his food and insulin ready just makes me smile. 13 going on Puppy! He is a little lighter than I’d like him to be right now but we’re working on that in terms of treats I can add to his diet during the day that won’t upset his BG levels. But clinically everything else is doing really well for a diabetic Mega E 13 year old boy! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment here with them.
We even convinced him his special chicken and veg loaf made a great birthday cake!
Some people might argue that this is an awful lot of work to go to….I would argue that I’m sad they don’t have a Cypher in their lives. 😉