Monday, May 5, 2014

The Duchess and the "Hound-Around"

Degenerative Myelopathy:  Canine degenerative myelopathy, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, is an incurable, progressive disease of the canine spinal cord that is similar in many ways to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Onset is typically after the age of 7 years and it is seen most frequently in the German shepherd dog, Pembroke Welsh corgi, and boxer dog, though the disorder is strongly associated with a gene mutation in SOD1 that has been found in 43 breeds as of 2008, including the wire fox terrierChesapeake Bay retrieverRhodesian ridgeback, and Cardigan Welsh corgi.[1][2] Progressive weakness and incoordination of the rear limbs are often the first signs seen in affected dogs, with progression over time to complete paralysis. Myelin is an insulating sheath around neurons in the spinal cord. One proposed cause of degenerative myelopathy is that the immune system attacks this sheath, breaking it down. This results in a loss of communication between nerves in lower body of the animal and the brain.

See my blog post from last January on this subject

As most of you know by now, Nessie the Monster, Duchess of Hagg has this horrible disease.  The definition clearly states that at the time of this writing, there is no cure.  Since I posted last January, she has become increasingly weaker in her hind end and is now struggling to get up off the floor when laying down.  We have done everything we can to try and help her.  She has undergone hydrotherapy, acupuncture, physical therapy and has been subjected to an awful tasting powder on her food that was supposed to help and only made her throw up.
The Palace staff have carried her, and have tried using toenail grips (which didn't stay on her short toenails) have used booties and rubber socks, a sort of waterproof dog sock that is similar to a small balloon stretched over the paw.  These all worked to varying degrees.  The rubber socks seem to work really well to help her grip the slick floor inside and still protect her nails when she drags her feet outside; however, they fit so tight around the ankle that they have created sores that we have bandaged.  This is becoming harder and harder to deal with as the disease progresses and new challenges arise.  But our wee Nessie girl is a trooper and will not give up, so neither will we.

We bought her a wheelchair from Eddies Wheels.  It took us a while to adjust the cart just so on her -- I'm not too sure we have it just right yet.  It also took a while to teach her to want to use it.  She can still walk, albeit very wobbly, and we don't put her in it all the time, but when she gets tired, we do.  She has proven that she can use the cart to wheel herself up over the steps that go onto the porch and into the house.  She can maneuver around (or over) most obstacles without problems.  We have been able to go for walks to our road and back (some 2 football fields away).  She can go up and down the hills with no problems.   She just doesn't usually want to move when she's in the wheels without a lot of encouragement which comes in the way of clicker and treats.  However, she was the hit of a recent party held at the Palace.  She chased all the kids down in search of uneaten portions of mac-n-cheese. 

In the following video, Nessie has been practicing for about a month on walking with the chair.  I use lots of high energy encouragement, a clicker and treats to help motivate her.  Her tendency is still to simply stand there unless food is involved.  She has improved a tremendous amount in a short time and I think we will continue to see improvement as she becomes accustomed to the chair.  As long as she can, I am allowing her to walk without the wheels unless she gets too tired.  At some future point, she will no longer be able to use her back legs.  We will then put them in 'slings' and hold them up off the ground so that she can still propel herself about using the wheels and her front legs.  When the disease progresses to the point that she can no longer use her front legs, we will have to make that difficult decision to 
 give her relief from her misery.  I am not looking forward to that day.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals at the University of MO is doing research on DM.  For $65, you can send off for an IN HOME DNA TEST.  This very simple mouth swab is sent back to them and analyzed.  If your dog has the 2 required recessive genes for DM, you will know what to expect as they age and be better prepared for it.  If per chance, they have only one or none of the genes required, you are in the clear for showing symptoms.  ANYONE WHO BREEDS ANY DOG SHOULD HAVE THE DAM AND SIRE TESTED BEFORE BREEDING.  This will insure that you don't pass this dreadful disease on to another litter. If you have 1 of the 2 required genes in your dog;  DO NOT BREED IT!