Our guest post today is brought to you by Sary and Sheba
InVertebral Disc Disease is a mouthful. So is proprioception. Fenistration. Partial fenistration. Myliomenectomy. Incoordination. Rectal tone? These are all words I never took much notice of before. Now they roll off my tongue like I’ve been saying them all my life. In fact, my life as a pet owner is now distinguished by a series of ‘befores’.
I find myself comparing my expectations to before and after. If somebody had told me I would have been thrilled to see my dog pee all over her back legs, or do a single lap of the lawn without falling over I would have said they were mad. That was before.
|Photo by Sary William|
IVDD was always some far away phenomenon. I knew all about it but it was the sort of thing that only ever happened to other people. Yet that’s exactly what happened to my not-quite four year old miniature dachshund, Shibardicles. Aka Sheba.
She had a fight with a cat. My cat, to be precise. Well sort of. It’s an ex-stray. Despite being in the family one way or another for twelve years it’s never become remotely domesticated, which could be why it took such umbridge to the existence of my dogs.
The cat attacked my –then- 8 month old puppy, so Sheba attacked back. Not that she needed much of an excuse. If you ask her, cats are a pestilence that should be eradicated along with houseflies, german shepherds and broccoli.
I took the cat and Sheba to the local vet to be checked out, just to be safe. Jack used another of her nine lives and escaped with minor bruising and a very sore ego. Sheba was none the worse for wear.
Then a day or so later I took Sheba back. She seemed unhappy, lethargic and quite tense around the abdomen. The vet did a full exam that revealed nothing. Maiming a cat is serious business, after all. She probably just pulled a muscle and needed time to rest.
The vet gave me some anti inflammatories to give her for a week but assured me it would clear up in time. It didn’t. Three days later I woke up to find her wobbling slightly. I knew what it could mean.
I rushed her to vet as soon as they opened and they suggested crate rest, which she was already on, and to give the medication time to work. Or they could do X-rays, but they didn’t expect anything to show up without more specialised tests. I took her home and watched her like a hawk.
After a few hours I was really unhappy. She hadn’t been to the toilet and was getting wobblier by the minute. I called the vet again to express my concern and they suggested bringing her back if she hadn’t been to the toilet in the next hour or so. When that hour came and went I resolved to get an illusive referral to an orthopaedic specialist.
They made a few calls and got me in to the specialist immediately. In the time it took me to drive across town, Sheba safe and sound from the confines of her very own car seat, she was almost completely paralysed. I was heartbroken.
|Photo by Sary Williams|
The neurological exam wasn’t good. Her tail was lifeless, she couldn’t push herself into a standing position, she couldn’t even make it across the exam room floor for a treat, although she did somehow manage to drag herself across the waiting room to bark at some placid old retriever.
They rushed her in for a myelogram, which confirmed an extrusion. They operated that night.
I didn’t see her for four agonising days. They don’t recommend visitors for short stay clientele: Doggy Depression. Progress was painstakingly slow and the vet had shown some concern in releasing her at all, due to the UTI she’d picked up from the brief period she was unable to empty her bladder. Then on day four she miraculously improved. She was eating, drinking, weeing, pooing. Everything they hoped for.
She took to the crate like a pro. No whining, just lots of sleeping. And treats, who could forget all the treats.
I was never really happy with the progress after the first surgery, she seemed worse from the get go, but I didn’t know what to expect. Was she supposed to be improved? Was she not? How long did it take? I knew the surgery itself can cause temporary inflammation but still… It was hard to stomach. Harder still to watch.
By day six post-op she was paralysed. Again.
It was time to get back to the specialist. Poste haste. All we had to do was get there. We were all ready to go, I had her in my arms to put in the car before I realised I hadn’t put the travel crate in the car yet. No problems, I thought. I’ll just pop my dog with NO bladder or bowel control onto the very expensive billiard table while I dart into the other room and grab the crate. Mistake…
You can imagine how it ended. If you cant, there was sh*t everywhere! And the poor darling had dragged herself around and around and around the pristine green felt to escape the carnage. To no avail. Everything was now as streaked and foul-smelling as my dog.
The surgeon was not happy to see us. Not because I’d brought her back sooner than anticipated, but because she was in real trouble. All signs pointed to some new and permanent horror. No movement, no bowel control, no wagging tail. Nothing.
No surprise, she needed more surgery. We were back at square one. Worse, even. Beyond devastated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.
I liken the first few days at home after the second surgery to having a newborn. She needed to be supervised constantly. I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t go into a different room, I couldn’t sleep. It consumed my thoughts. Invaded all my conversations with people.
Reactions to Sheba’s story have been mixed. Self-appointed experts are hidden around every corner. Some with amazing advice. Some with terrible advice. Some just with useless criticisms or judgements.
A common response is, ‘oh, we’d put our dog down if that ever happened’. While I understand the sentiment completely, in the moment the thought never entered my head. Although I did start to question what quality of life she would have when the specialist started to prepare me for the inevitability of permanent paralysis.
Luckily they were wrong; Sheba’s far too stubborn to be told what to do. Not by me, not by the specialist, not by her boisterously thickheaded 14kg canine cohort brother.
She is a dachshund, after all, and she knew better. She knew that I would carry her to and from the toilet every few hours. She knew that I wouldn’t mind when she didn’t quite get the aim right and peed all over me, or ended up sitting in her own mess so that I had to bath her four times a day. She knew I’d let her on the bed for supervised cuddles. She knew I’d let her sleep like a baby in the crook of my arm. She knew I’d spend countless hours just sitting on the grass with her so she could soak up some sun. She knew that I would wake up on the hour every hour to stare at her sleeping, and occasionally wake her up, to make sure she was still alive. She knew I’d buy all the latest toys and tricks a growing paraplegic needs. She knew I’d try acupuncture. Chinese medicine. Water therapy. Holistic diets. As usual, she was right.
We are approaching week eleven of her crate rest. Sadly, she had another herniation last week. Far less severe than last time, so no surgery required. She can still walk, but she has regressed to around the same point as week two after the second surgery. All just after she had started being allowed out of the crate for short periods.
I saw her relapse in slow motion. I saw her think about jumping onto the couch and I just couldn't get there in time to stop her. All I could do was watch in abject horror as she missed entirely, bounced backwards and landed [awkwardly and directly] on her back.
The specialist opened for us at 9pm on a Thursday just to see us. Such is her infamy with them. Disheartening doesn’t begin to cover it, but we have our routine now. We overcame two surgeries and we will overcome this.
The likelihood of a full recovery has all but vanished with this new herniation, although there is still hope. Hope that she can get back to a life outside of the crate. A life without the cotton wool. And the worried looks. And the medical jargon.
There are good days and bad days. Some days she acts as if crate rest is akin to Japanase water torture and I was put on this earth simply to torment her. Other days she is noticeably subdued and I’m sure she needs to go back to the vet. Then there are the days somebody has lit a fire under her, and she escapes from me the second I open to crate door and charges around the house like a dog possessed, with her back legs flying behind her to keep up. Or takes one great, flying leap over the door jam to get outside, my heart in her mouth.
The chances of some form of IVDD during a dachshunds life is around twenty percent, around fifteen percent for a second serious episode, less for the third, even less for a fourth, and so on. Theoretically the risk of another herniation reduces with each relapse. Sheba is definitely one in a million.
|Photo by Sary Williams|
It is very unlikely that a single traumatic incident, like a cat fight, is what caused the IVDD. More likely it was the final straw that broke the doxies back, so to speak. IVDD happens slowly, over a long period of time. The effects are often indiscernible from the natural quirks of a doxie. A bad mood here. A slight turning in of the back feet there. A bunny hop. A look a disgust at the suggestion of bringing the ball back. A nap on a dog bed, instead of a warm lap. Just tiny things that meant nothing to me without the benefit of hindsight, even though I always thought of myself as vigilant. Aware and on guard. But not immune.
I’m still not convinced this whole thing isn’t a really, really elaborate ploy to get more attention. And toys. And treats. Attention. Treats. Toys. Treats. Attention. Treats. Attention. Attention. Et cetera, et cetera. If it is I’m ashamed to say it’s working.
Long Dogs WA would like to thank Sary for this grogeous post.
For anyone thinking about becoming the person owned by a dachshund, this is a subject you want to get informed about first. We hope for a future where there is a reliable test that will help breeders reduce and one day eradicate IVDD.
In the mean time, do what you can to support breeders who are working towards this, and do what you can to minimise risks for your own dachshunds.
For more information and support there are some great support resources out there.
The ones we know about include
IVDD Support Australia
If you know of others, please share.