If you don't already know him, this is Riley.
I have had him since he was a wee puppy. In fact, he was my 13th birthday present. That makes him very nearly 12 now.
He's had his medical issues through the years, and he's definitely been showing his age lately, I admit. But a year ago, he was here:
And now, a bit more subdued:
I mentioned our trip to New Orleans in my last post. Riley was boarded for those few days. I hate boarding him. The last time he was boarded (in 2006), it was the onset of a long string of bizarre health issues. Every day in New Orleans, usually multiple times a day, I would say to B, "I hope Riley's okay." It became a running joke.
We picked him up and he was fine. While he was there, I asked them to start him on arthritis medication, so he was perhaps feeling even spunkier than when we dropped him off. My family drove in to spend Christmas with us two days later; that morning, he was chasing his squeaky ball around the house, then when my family arrived, he couldn't get up to greet them.
Through Christmas, he could hardly walk at all, and couldn't stand up without help. His back legs would not support him. Something similar had happened to him in '06, where he was unable to stand up, and that was when he was diagnosed with arthritis originally. During that episode, he was put on steroids and got better within a couple of days. At first, I assumed this was another flareup... but after a couple of days of him barking mournfully for me when I left the room because he couldn't follow, and crying at night until I came out and slept with him on the couch, I became convinced that this looked like the end.
This originally happened on a Saturday. Monday and Tuesday were Christmas holiday. So the 26th, he went to visit the vet. The vet said it looked like a back injury, because of the way he was turning over, or "knuckling," his back foot, not recognizing that it was being placed upside down. This is indicative of an interruption of the signal between brain and leg. We decided to try treating him with steroids to reduce inflammation and see how it went.
Over the next couple of weeks, with an additional recheck, he did improve some. He has gotten to a point where he can stand up on his own, though sometimes it takes a couple of tries. He can walk - it isn't smooth, but he can get around - as long as there's good traction, on carpet or the sidewalk or in the grass (though he does still fall over quite a bit). We do have to carry him outside whenever he needs to relieve himself, because he can't cross either the tile foyer to the front door or the deck to the back yard, and at 60 lbs, that's no easy feat. Still, his attitude is much better, he is much less panicked when left alone, and will slowly follow me around the house when he wants to. But... nearly all the improvement was within the first week, and since then he's not made any progress.
Yesterday I took him to the neurologist. The neurologist confirmed it is a spinal cord problem, which is most likely a slipped disc, though it could also be cancer, a stroke, or (most frightening) degenerative myelopathy. His recommendation was that we do a barrage of tests, including a myelogram, in which they inject a dye at the base of the brain stem, hold him up to let gravity pull the dye through the spinal cord, and then take a picture in which they can easily see any place that the spinal cord is corrupted in any way.
By the time we hypothetically get through these tests and (hopefully) figure out what's wrong, he estimated the cost to be in the neighborhood of $3,000. Then, if it is indeed as simple as a slipped disc, the surgery to correct it is anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500, depending on whether they perform it while he's already under anesthesia from the myelogram, how badly the disc is screwed up, and so on.
The neurologist said that he would definitely not recommend putting him to sleep at this point. And I agree, that's not the next move - he is completely alert and mentally with it, and from a veterinary point of view, at least, pretty functional. However, as an unemployed student, I don't exactly have $6k lying around. But leaving him as he is and coping, that isn't a satisfactory answer either.
I have cried a lot as I've considered options. And given Riley lots of hugs.
I hate the feeling that I could help him but won't. I think I'm going to find out about doing as much of the testing as possible with his regular vet, whose prices tend to be excellent, not inflated like they are in a specialist's office, and just doing the specialized tests at the neurologist's. Maybe by doing that we can drive the cost down considerably. If not, well, acupuncture has been suggested. I still don't know. I've been told that giving it a couple more weeks of watching as he's weaned off steroids and seeing how it goes won't be detrimental, so...
Riley and I appreciate your thoughts.