Hello friends and welcome to the place where giant breeds are living their best extra-large lives! My life with English mastiffs is amazing! Everything is giant: big dogs, big furniture, big bags of dog food, big s—-, and most importantly big love. I want to share a bit about my experiences living with these gentle giants from their puppy-hood to their health to the many adventures we share!
I never miss an annual vet visit. I joke (but it’s not really a joke) that veterinarians must think I’m crazy because I ask for full explanations of every. single. medical term they say. Finding a vet that gets you is a challenge which is why it’s important to question your vets and ask lots of questions because you may find something they don’t suspect! A particular annual for Fiona two years ago turned out to be life altering because I decided to push my vet to do something that he typically didn’t in annual exams. I also should say I’m by no means have any medical training and am a normal girl sharing my experiences. Always talk to your vet before making any medical decisions for your dogs!
Discovering Something Was Wrong
When we moved back to Austin from Los Angeles, I had to find a different vet because the one we went to prior to moving to LA was no longer in practice. Due to the fabulous care of my LA vet (shout out to Dr. Pavlina Burpee at Burbank Veterinary Center), she educated me on general mastiff care and aging mastiffs specifically. On my first visit to the Austin vet, I kept asking if he’d check her hips, joints, bones, muscles, etc. as part of her annual exam. Upon my request, we found out that Fiona had ruptured her cranial cruciate ligament (equivalent to a human’s ACL) which is one pretty major reason why my aging girl was slower on walks.
She never showed signs, symptoms, or that she was hurting. Admittedly her pain thrush hold has always been quite high so I never know that something’s going on with her. It’s a somewhat common injury in giant and large breeds due to the amount of weight on their joints. Some of the symptoms for this type of injury include:
- Lameness or limping on hind leg
- Swelling of the knee
- Decreased speed on walks (this is the only one I ever saw)
What Does it all Mean?
Immediately I took her to a specialist in town who is apparently “the doctor” for Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery. Dr. Stephen Kerpsack at Central Texas Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital quickly agreed on the diagnosis and gave me multiple options. He indicated that smaller dogs who have this type of injury can sometimes just “heal” or let their bodies take care of the injury itself however with the big dogs, surgery was almost always needed. Previously Fiona had been on all sorts of medications for joint maintenance and he indicated that this would also help eliminate that need. For mastiffs, he explained that they’d insert a metal plate that acts as a support as the ruptured area doesn’t regenerate itself. The metal plate would add additional support to help with the load bearing weight and stabilizing her knee.
I couldn’t find too much information online about this surgery in mastiffs so I talked to others in my community about it. Multiple people gave me glowing reviews of how much their dog had benefited from it and specifically Dr. Kerpsack’s surgery. Upon hearing all the positives about going through with the surgery, I decided to move forward with it for Fiona. Refusing to believe she’d have a poor (or even painful) quality of life, I selfishly put everything I have to get her the surgery… and at whatever cost… thank you family too.
Day of the Surgery
The morning on Fiona’s surgery, I loaded her into my car and we drove to the vet with her head out the window. She is always so calm and didn’t indicate that she was scared but rather displayed confidence. She’s my hero. I was a mess and wanted nothing more than for her to be healed without having to go through such an ordeal. I dropped her off, told her I loved her so much, and wished her good luck!
I’ll tell you what… that experience was amazing! Dr. Kerpsack and his crew were AMAZING! In a matter of time, they made her the bionic mastiff by inserting the plate in her leg! They were very honest about the process and kept me looped in! Even going so far to post on their social media with a technician holding Fiona post surgery while she woke up to recovery. It’s the level of care and love I would hope all clinics provide and it was just very comforting to see!
Driving down there I was a bit nervous to see what kind of state Fiona was in mainly because I thought “how am I (a 115 lbs girl) going to take care of her (a 120 lbs mastiff)”. Luckily the staff helped me get her in the car and she was mobile enough to get from point A to point B when we got home. I was very surprised how she was able to walk after a day like she had!
Why I Chose TPLO Surgery
I got her home safe and sound and just let her rest. She was still pretty medicated and that was very helpful to getting her comfortable. I remember sitting there and just watching her rest and asking myself, why did you do this to her?! Ultimately there were a lot of positive factors involved with making this decision:
- Cost. As costly as it seems upfront, I guarantee you that the medication regiment I was on, I would be well beyond the cost of the surgery by now. Fiona was (and still is in peak health) so I was not fearful about the return on my investment. Again, thank you family!
- Good results. I only heard good things about this surgery and the nonsurgical options seemed fine but they wouldn’t fix the problem. Rather it’s be a management situation rather than a fix.
- Quality of Life. After my numerous conversations with people I knew that had the procedure for their dogs as well as my vet specialist, her quality of life would just be better. She’d be more active than she was and she’d be able to get up and down easier.
I’m tremendously happy she went through the surgery and more to about her recovery and the process of getting her back on our regular walks in our next post!!
I love being active and outdoors as much as the dogs do (if not even more) and one of our favorite activities to do together is hike! English mastiffs aren’t made for long hikes because it’s not tremendously helpful on the joints. That much body mass climbing and jumping is tough to support on the joints they have. Don’t get me wrong, I always take them on short hikes and long walks but it’s just tougher on the giant bodies to go super long distances.
Fiona’s Hiking Profile
Fiona has always been incredibly active and been able to sustain activity in the heat! We used to run on the beach, “hike” in the Hollywood Hills, and of course hit up the Texas hill country. Since Fiona has had her tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgery I try to keep her active minutes to a healthy level as to not overexert her. More to come on her surgical experience because it’s definitely a major part of her!
Bruce’s Hiking Profile
Bruce on the other hand will run/hike/swim/be a total dude until he over heats himself. Nothing dangerous and more just him not being able to see that enough is enough. He has a different type of regulating and I more or less practice preventative health with him.
Pedernales State Park
Back to wonders of Texas State Parks! Living in Austin gives us reasonably close access to a lot of state parks. One of our favorites is Pedernales Falls State Park located right outside of Johnson City, Texas which is a little more than an hour west of Austin. For non-native Texans, Johnson City is the birthplace of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Prior to the state adopting it as a park, it was a working ranch in the Texas hill country. There is a ton of this cool history that has been preserved in the park!
Not only are there some spectacular views and great trails but it’s also really dog friendly! You must keep them on-leash while in the park. Real talk – it’s that kind of place where everyone seems cool if you let them off leash for a moment (say to swim) and as long as everyone is respectful of others. We took Ladybird, the Australian shepherd in the pack, with us this time because we wanted to go the distance. Bruce has been to this park with us before though and has absolutely loved it!
Previously we’ve hiked Wolf Mountain trail which was the longest and pretty physical in terms of the hills. This time I wanted to explore Trammel Crossing Trail. Mainly because I wanted to get to the other side to reach a scenic outlook. After about 10 minutes on the trail, we landed at the river. Naturally, we took our shoes and socks off and went about crossing. Talk about an exhilarating way to start the day! Ladybird loved it and then we realized it was um… a little.. rapid. She got picked up and carried to safely to shore. (Video above is us on the other side)
Up the trail we went and because we went pretty early in the day, we encountered zero people on the way to the lookout. It seems like outside of the colder months this hike would be rather warm as there wasn’t a ton of tree coverage but it made for beautiful fields with lots of cactus. Once we made it to the top where the scenic outlook was, we had the most beautiful view of the east side of the park’s perimeter. (Pictured below) A couple of vultures were up there trying to scare us by circling around us but we didn’t let that get to us.
Going down back to the river, we hiked on the perimeter of the park which was nice and secluded. It was very rustic and Texas feeling with that barbed-wire fencing along the edge. We encountered a few people with the dogs’ on-leash as well on the way down that were nice and friendly!
Once down at the river we (Ladybird) took a nice dip in the river. She loved it so much and luckily we chose a nice “beachy” area where there wasn’t a giant current so she could get in a good amount.
After her shaking out as much water as possible, we took our socks and shoes off and crossed the river again. Learning our lesson from the first time we crossed, I asked my handsome travel buddy if Lady could be on leash while walking across because it looked more daunting. He ended up carrying his girl because it looked like we may have lost her to the water. Both of them were pretty wet but it was more funny than anything.
Couple of takeaways from this hike:
- Outside of the river, there isn’t a good place to grab water so please make sure to bring some for you and your pup!
- This was a rather gradual climb so it wasn’t too strenuous on us or Ladybird.
- Be careful and play it say in the water. Make sure you furiend is comfortable in water and water that can pick them up and go! Luckily, Ladybird was carried by her best friend so it worked out well.
Hill country hikes are great because they offer a good amount of scenic landscape. Walking down the river, you couldn’t help but be impressed with the amount of stone and beauty. It was a very quiet hike and I’ll definitely check it out again… hopefully next time in the hot spring or summer months! Let me know some of your favorite places to hike with you pups!
A coworker of mine recently told me about a charity event where a local dog photographer, Alex and crew from Zilker Bark, was taking Valentine’s Day portraits at a charity event. I immediately was all in once she told me about this opportunity! My initial reaction was that I’d selfishly have a great, professional picture of Fiona in her all her grey glory (pictured in a flower crown provided by Ben White Florists!!). It’s pretty much all I need right now since she’s getting to be an older girl!
Proceeds from the event were going to a local dog rescue called Lizzy’s Animal Hospice. This is not just any dog rescue… it’s a senior dog rescue! By experiencing the aging process with Fiona I have a soft spot in my heart for senior dogs! The incredible wisdom and love they provide are unmatched. I also find their temperament to be way more my speed than a puppy’s: very chill, self-assured, calm. It’s one of the many reasons why I chose to love and live with mastiffs at the end of the day – they’re super low-key.
The event was open to the public (although you did have to preregister for the photos) and it was pawesome! When we showed up, there was a giant line (no worries as that was a good thing) to check-in. The gal who checked us in was so kind and complimentary of both Fiona and my friend’s dog Murphy (Instagram @goldenboyatx). As they were being fitted for their crowns, Fiona’s chin strap broke immediately because I think her head was too big for it. Yep, that’s a giant dog problem! Once we got the crown locked into place, up she went to quickly get her pictures taken! Click! Flash! I absolutely LOVED the experience!! Once we got home, the photographer posted that they photographed 240 dogs in 3 hours!! Talk about a wonderful experience and terrific contribution to the community!
Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden
I had never been to Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden and it blew my mind. They atmosphere was so hospitable and very dog friendly! Like a lot of Austin eateries, it had a substantial outdoor area with ample seating. There were a couple of food trailers there as well but we had already eaten so didn’t sample the cuisine. Seems like another reason for us to go back (when it warms up 🙂 )!
Top Reasons to Visit Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden:
- Dog friendly outdoor spaces!! It got a little muddy with the rain sprinkles and cold weather so wear shoes you don’t mind covered in a bit of dirt if the weather looks dicey. They had a lovely fenced in garden too which I thought was awesome!
- Great beverage selection! A small group of us stayed to hang out after the session was over and this place had a variety of beverages! Beer, coffee, kombucha, sparkling water, list goes on! Oh yeah and tons of water for our dogs!
- Considerate and nice staff! The weather was crazy cold and we were able to sit outside because the staff kept outdoor fire pits fed with cedar logs!
If there were any down side, I’d have to say parking was tight. We lucked out as someone was leaving just as we were pulling in. Outside of that, it was easy to find and get to!
I have zero complaints about this wonderful event! There were so many cool dogs to look and at a really great venue! Hopefully they’ll continue with this in the future as it seemed to create so many happy and smiling faces while giving back to a noble cause! Valentine’s Day is only a couple of days away but you would have thought it was on Saturday because there was so much love in a little brewery in Austin!
Creamy or crunchy peanut butter? Cocktail or beer or wine? Dogs on the couch or on their bed? Oy. I know. I know. Dogs on furniture are not exactly ideal. It hinders a certain cleanliness factor that we all want (and quite frankly need with giant breeds in my life). On the flip side, they also provide a nice warm blanket (cause they’re so big) when you want to cuddle and relax. I’m just wondering… who’s side are you on? Get on up here and let’s cuddle or go lay down in your bed?? Let the great furniture debate begin!
Life When They Were Younger
I was in my early 20s when I got Fiona so the only furniture we acquired was the free type! Any sort of hand-me-downs and Craigslist items I could find seems to suit me just fine. After a couple of years out to the curb it went and on to the next set of “newer” used items. When Bruce came into the picture, I was older and my style was evolving. I wanted to get pieces of furniture I liked because I liked them. Not because they were free. Hello gigantic three-piece sectional! Bonjour king-sized bed!
When I acquired all these fabulous items I was a single girl and loved the companionship of having my dogs sit and watch whatever was on Bravo with me. Loved. This. Feeling! At night there was no better feeling than to be in a sandwiched between two giants and sleep until one of their dreams or snores woke me. Which inevitably happened daily..
Since moving in with my guy, he has respectfully opted out of my usual routine of blankets or sheets to protect the couch. I thought I was saving the amount of fur that could make it’s way into all sorts of crevices by putting sheets on top. Instead we are trying to “retrain” the dogs to not get on the couch. Imagine how that’s going when the floors are damn cold in the winter and they’ve been allowed up there their entire lives. I feel for them! However, summer’s they’ll be grateful for non-carpeted floors.
All Things Take Time
You can only imagine how well that’s going when their entire lives have been pretty unrestricted. At first it made me feel really sad to deny that heavy Bruce head an area of the couch to sit and hang with me. After a month or so, it’s been getting better and they aren’t doing anything when we’re at home. Therein lies the caveat. “When we’re at home.” I’ve on occasion ran back in the house forgetting my tea or something and I walk into all dogs wherever they want. They aren’t stupid. When that door locks, they have free range. Honestly, I couldn’t even get mad. Instead of fussing about it, I applauded them on knowing that they can really do whatever the f— they want.
After presenting a case to the fella, we decided to adopt a “don’t invite them up and don’t get upset if it happens” policy. This new household policy means:
- Don’t know what’s happening when we aren’t in the house so can’t get upset if we don’t “catch them in the act”
- Don’t invite them up with you: It’ll take some getting used to but its compromise for the humans.
- Make sure all the dog bed options are available and if possible keep a nice inviting Nylabone on each bed… you know, a reason for them to get cozy.
- Bed is definitely off limits. Two humans in a king size bed is wonderful. They don’t seem to mind actually because they’re all in the room with us anyways which I think they find to be the best part.
Interested to hear what y’all think and if you allow your dogs on the furniture!
“How much do they eat?”
“What do you feed them? Small children?!”
“You must go through a lot of food!”
“How much do you spend in dog food?”
Above are frequent questions I encounter by loving giants. My response to those questions are (in order): “A lot!”, “Mainly just dog kibble”, and “A. Lot.” I try not to think about that last one because… it’s adds up!!
Bruce had his annual at the end of last year and because of his breed and age, we’ve decided to change up his diet a bit! Our brand of choice has always been Hill’s Science Diet. I’ve always fed this brand through every stage of their lives and have received terrific feedback from my vets and others who see them on the street! My dogs love it and it’s always kept them healthy and looking really good!
The new bag of food for Bruce is the Hill’s Science Diet Large Breed Healthy Mobility. It now means Fiona and Bruce are on the same bag of dog food again (the stars have aligned)! Mainly we discussed him switching over to a joint based diet food because of his size. With the mass he carries on all his bones, something extra for those joints would be oh so helpful in maintaining a healthy weight and giving him the boost where his body could use it!
Weight: 185 lbs
Age: 5 years old (36 years old in human years)
Quantity: Eats twice a day; 4 cups per meal totaling 8 cups/day. Side note – Bruce isn’t keen on people food. You’d think for a guy his size he devours everything in sight… not the case!
Weight: 115 lbs
Age: 9 years old (61 years old in human years)
Quantity: Eats twice a day; 2 cups per meal totaling 4 cups/day. After Fiona’s last annual, I increased her amount slightly as she lost close to 10 lbs in a year. My vet decided it was probably because of how her body is metabolizing protein. She is also getting egg whites occasionally to help give her some extra protein.
I’m very grateful that the high-quality that Science Diet provides allows me to feed them less cups per day. I did a random Google search that showed the average mastiff (180 lbs) ate about 10-12 cups a day (“That’s crazy!” – says the lady with two mastiffs).
This isn’t an advertisement. I didn’t get paid to write this but would looove some compensation in the future! The math behind what I’m spending and have spent on dog food in the past 9 years makes me wonder why sometimes. (DON’T DO THE MATH) Then I look at those drooly faces after their breakfast and dinners and Those foamy, slimy faces tell me “Thank you for loving us enough to care about what goes in our bodies.” Almost immediately followed by drool on my clean clothes.
Recently, we’ve moved into a house with a sizable yard (yay!)! As convenient as it is to open the back door and know they are safely outside doing their thing, it takes a toll on physical activity for both the pups and me! During the winter months, the cold mornings make it doubly challenging. While some find the brisk, crisp air invigorating, we find cold mornings harder to maintain our routine of hitting the streets for an exercising walk. Rather than surrender to our cozy beds, here are a couple of things we’ve tried to help get us up and out!
A Few Ways to Get Motivated and Move:
Dress appropriately – seems obvious, right? In cold weather months, coats for both pups and humans help a lot! Fiona has a coat that doesn’t cover all over her body but keeps her fairly warm. Bruce on the other hand has nothing. I can’t find anything that will fit him outside of equine apparel… giddy up! Bruce’s internal temperature registers so hot, I’m not really all that concerned with him.
Hot months require a Kool Collar or something comparable. I’ve found the Kool Collars work with the size of their necks (larger than my waist!) and I’m able to use both indoor and outdoor with the gel inserts provided. I really like this product!
Find a new time to hit the streets! Another obvious way to combat the freezing mornings and go later in the day. Recently we had a random weekday off so we walked to the park at 3:00 pm. The much warmer temperature made it more enjoyable for me (selfish? yes.) and also increased my desire to be outdoors!
Explore! Take a new path or go down a new street outside of your regular walk. Luckily, if you’re like me and walk with 300+ lbs of dog no one will bother you! Who knows what adventure or cool finding you’ll have.
Pop in those earbuds! Listen to that album you love or the podcast you’ve been putting off! What I’m listening to depends on the day I’m having or had but usually anything gets me in the mood to move. For morning walks, it’s pretty uplifting, good feeling music that wakes me up nice and slow.
With the new move into a home from apartment living, the convenience factor is definitely trumping that quality time. At the end of the day, it’s the time spent with the dogs doing something I know they love and know is keeping them healthy that keeps me going!