Life’s a crap shoot, a royal one at that.
It’s funny how you don’t think about life as you live it. As John Lennon wrote, “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. For example, when adopting a dog, rescue or otherwise, you’re (I’m) thinking you’ll (I’ll) have the sweetheart for 10 to 16 years. At least I do. When getting a new companion I commit to a lifetime with them and nothing less. Oddly, I expect the same from them in return. It never enters my mind that anything will change that.
Enter the crap shoot. About six months ago Blue started having problems with his rear legs. He began dragging them a bit now and them. At that moment the hideous specter of DM entered our lives. DM stands for degenerative myelopathy.
It’s believed to be caused by the same genetic mutation as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans. It is an irreversible, progressive genetic disease with no known cure. One theory is that DM attacks the immune system breaking down the myelin sheath that insulates the nerves in the spine. This results in a loss of communication between the brain and the dog’s hindquarters. Thankfully, DM is also believed to be painless.
Diagnosis is by exclusion, which is a very expensive way to go, since a plethora of tests must be performed to rule out all other causes such as hip dysplasia, disc disease, spinal cord tumors and so on. Actually DM can only be definitively diagnosed through a post-mortum examination of the spinal cord.
As the disease progresses, the dog will lose awareness or sensation in it’s legs causing them to drag. It’s as if they lose track of “where” their back legs are and often wind up crossing their back legs when trying to walk. Balance is totally compromised. They also will start “knuckling” which is where they are walking on their knuckles. The nails on the inner rear legs will wear down. Incontinence can occur.
Once the rear legs are partially paralyzed, the animal will be unable to go up and down stairs and will drag it’s hind end when attempting to walk. At this point a sling is used to help the animal move about and a two wheeled cart (dog wheel chair) can be employed.
Eventually the nerve deterioration progresses and the front legs become compromised, eventually leading to involvement of the respiratory system which necessitates euthanasia. Basically the outlook is bleak and life expectancy, though variable, is usually two to three years. But quality of life often suffers as early as six months into it, so one must make a choice for them at some point.
Depending on the website, you’ll read that it strikes old dogs and also dogs around the ages of 5 to 7 years. Regardless, it progresses rapidly. Blue is approximately six. I say approximately since the pound guesstimated that he was three when I rescued him three years ago. There is a DNA saliva test to determine if a dog has the mutated gene but this is more for breeding than actually diagnosing the presence of the disease. It’s hoped the disease can be bred out of susceptible breeds. At $65 a pop, sadly, only the most ethical dog breeders will test every dog before breeding. There are approximately 40+ breeds affected by DM.
There’s actually a Facebook page titled “For owner’s of dogs with degenerative myelopathy”. I find I can’t look at it much because of all the sad postings and photos of dogs who have the disease. There are a number of poems posted such as “When tomorrow starts without me” that just tug on one’s heart and bring tears unbidden. The image at the top of the post is from there.
When I took Blue to the new vet to get his shots last week, I spoke to him about DM. Funny, as we talked, he asked me if I used to be a nurse. Must be my six months of reading everything on DM that I could get my hands on made me seem an expert or something? Probably confused him when I said no, that I was an art director.
Anyhow, he took Blue into a big exam room for nail trimming, shots and a chance to see him walk. When he came back, he said based on what he saw and heard, he’d have to agree that DM was the most likely diagnosis. He said to take it month by month and said to give him doggie Advil. They sent me home with a tiny bottle of 20 pills at a cost of $38.00. I almost fell over. My old vet who retired, never would have charged $120 for a visit (and that doesn’t include the pills or vaccines).
Sadly, Blue is at the stage where he can barely tell he needs to poop and so this past week there’ve been five accidents. When he does poop, he’s usually fallen down on his side and then scootches along the ground as he goes. Somehow, he still knows when he needs to pee and can alert me.
I know that he won’t be here much longer. I dread having to take him for the last trip to the vet, but already, he can no longer get up the two porch steps or down. I have to lift him up and down. First the front paws on the first step followed by the rear and repeated. Even the threshold into the house sometimes is an obstacle for him.
Animals are the death of you. I could let go of thousands of friends vs. one companion. That includes an ex-husband, doltoid, of 43+ years. Sorry if I’ve repeated anything in this post from previous posts and note that this was one of the absolute hardest posts I’ve ever had to make.