16 January 2008

For the Love of a Dog

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.


susan said...

Hi, I went through all this myself when my rescued German Shepherd started showing signs of degenerative myelopathy, a disease which is very prevalent in G.S. dogs (I had experienced it before with my German Shepherds). The canine neurologist told me all the same things that you were told, about all the expensive tests which still leave you in question after spending thousands. My regular vet, however, told me that it almost certainly was degenerative myelopathy, because of the knuckling under of the back paws and because the dog was not in pain (like he would be with a disc problem or arthritis, etc.). Indeed, it is the only comfort of this disease that it doesn't actively cause pain. I have learned so much about degenerative myelopathy. I thought you might like to know that there is now apparently a test for D.M. Here is a link to info on that http://www.mzjf.com/test.html. Perhaps this would be helpful instead of paying so much money for all the big tests. However, I cannot vouch for it because I did not get this test, since I've experienced this disease before and Puppy's symptoms and progression were so typical of D.M.

Also, if it is D.M., you should know there is a lot of info on treatment and suplements at this website http://neuro.vetmed.ufl.edu/neuro/DM_Web/DMofGS.htm

Just yesterday I started my dog on the WestLab drugs mentioned in this last link--I have no idea whether there will be any response (my vet thinks
its a waste of money, but I feel helpless and am willing to try).

I wanted to mention the best thing that has been possible. We found (used on Craigslist) a great doggie cart, Eddie's Wheels, that has allowed us to keep taking our dog on long walks. He loves it, because he has mobility when he's in it, while around the house and yard he is quite impaired. The cart has been vital because keeping the front legs strong is vital to help him drag around his rear.

I hope some of this is helpful--there are alternatives to the expensive tests that may be helpful whether your dog has degenerative myelopathy or some other ailment. Most of all I wish you and Riley a great future.

Susan Eason

Dove Knits said...

I'm so sorry. What a horrible feeling. I wish I knew what more to say, or what advice to give, but I just don't. I hope it all works out.

CaneZMD said...

So Sorry for what your going through. I have a black lab named Cody that recently started to have weakness in his back legs. He already lost the use of one of his front paws, so this was really ominous.

We rescued him from the pound when he was 10 weeks old, when I was a tire salesman and couldn't afford to buy a lab from a breeeder. He was the best dog I've ever owned.

I'm a physician now, so I spent the money and had him worked up this week. He had a myelogram on Monday which showed a spinal cord tumor. He couuld barely walk before the test, and 40 hours after the test he couldn't even hold a sitting position.

I had to bring him water and sleep downstairs because he cried when I left him. I couldn't watch this once vibrant dog unable to even roll over.

We had him put to sleep this morning. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I'm crying now just typing about it. I miss him so much. He was so good to us; we didn't deserve all the love and affection that he gave us. I took him for granted. I'll never forget him.

I'm just replying because I wanted to say that I understand what you're going through. I found your blog when I was googling about Cody. It was an inspiration to me. I want to thank you for it; and I want to encourage you to enjoy every minute, every wag, every lick, every bark, and every step...because they're precious. Make every minute count.

Anonymous said...

That is so sad. I know how expensive pets can be. We put a dog through chemo for 7 months. I completely feel for you and my heart goes out to you and your lovely Riley. Why not offer up some of your crafty work and ask for donations to help Riley out? I know many knitters/crocheters have done this to help a cause. Might be worth a shot.
Amanda http://her.blogware.com

lynn said...

My 13 y.o. G.S.dog has been suffering with the rear leg weakness for about 2 years, slowly progressing to the point that his toes would bleed after a walk on the pavement. ( from knuckling under). We just assumed, after consulting our vet, that he has D.M. We put him on prednisone and this seemed to give him more strength. We also bought him boots that have rubber (sneaker) bottoms to give him more traction and prevent his feet from tearing and bleeding on the pavement. Recently someone suggested that if the prednisone is working, it might not be D.M. We are considering further testing with some new found hope. The test to determine D.M. is inconclusive, so I'm not sure about that. I know exactly how you feel. We have moved to the 1st floor bedroom and center all of our activities so that he can be with us. We've spent hours feeling sad, depressed, helpless. He has a few flaws in his character, but is my hero and the canine love of my life. The pain of watching this progression is excruciating. Good luck to you, and to all of us going through this with our lovely friends.