pupdate: mississauga squirrels continue to rejoice

We've just returned from our consult with an orthopedic specialist at the OVC in Guelph.

Tal has been doing so well, she seems so improved, that I think many people would have cancelled the appointment. But remembering the kind of pain she was in two weeks ago, and how long it took to go away, we felt there was probably something simmering - that rest was a relief, but not a cure. Plus it's not easy to get appointments at Guelph - this was on a cancellation - so we planned to go anyway.

An excellent orthopedist examined Tala, then asked another doctor do the same for a second opinion. They believe the problem is not in her knee, but in her spine.

The orthopedist explained a condition similar to sciatica in humans, in which a disc slips, then the body builds up fibrous tissue around the out-of-place disc, and that tissue presses on a nerve. In dogs, the affected nerve can either be the sciatic or femural nerves, so can present as lameness in one leg. It's known as cauda equina syndrome, and it's chronic.

It's likely that Tala has had some persistent lower back pain for a long time. She sometimes yelps in pain when being towelled off (after rain or mud), or when someone touches her belly in play. We've always thought that was her sensitive GI tract, but now know it's from spinal pain. Similarly, sometimes at night she's been extremely reluctant to walk stairs. Also a sign of back pain.

There's surgery to correct it, but just as in humans, it pretty high-risk and considered a last resort. Unfortunately for Tala, the first treatment is rest. We're to continue on the total exercise restriction we've been doing. (In fact, we've relaxed her restrictions a bit, letting her come upstairs at night, and we have to cut that out.) If she continues to improve after another two weeks, we can give her more on-leash walks, gradually increasing her walk time in two-week stretches. After two months, if she's doing really well, we can gradually give her some off-leash time. Maybe. We hope. Plus we'll have pain meds and good old prednisone to relieve the inflammation.

The other possible diagnosis is a tumour. It's much more likely to be the compressed spinal nerve; the doctor said for every spinal tumour they see, there are seven or eight dogs with compressed nerves. If it is a tumour, obviously, rest won't help, and we'll go back to Guelph.

The diagnosis isn't definitive; it's based on two manual exams, and our reports of her activity. For a definite diagnosis, we would need an MRI. At $1,000 a pop, you don't leap into that, especially when every possible sign points in one direction.

Naturally, we're very sad to think of our little girl being in pain, not having fun at the dog park, not zooming around the yard chasing squirrels. The doctor said that the must to avoid is "explosive" exercise. But Tala is an explosive!

She's so stoic and accepting of her situation, that's how dogs are. But she can't understand why Allan takes Diego to the park and leaves her behind, or why she is kept in a pen outside.

We're investigating to see if there are larger pens (plus now that this is long-term, we should return our friends' equipment). And at least she gets to be outside. When we lived in an apartment, a dog on exercise restriction was stuck inside all day. But still.

So we'll take it one day at a time and see how it goes. Thanks in advance for your support and good wishes.


James Redekop said...

You can keep the XPens as long as ncessary! If you want a bigger pen, consider just getting a second 4' XPen and just connecting the two together to double the perimeter.

laura k said...

Thank you! If you're sure you won't need it, we could add on a second pen. And if you did need it back, of course, we could give it to you at that time.

M@ also mentioned that they have a 3-foot-high pen. That might work as an add-on.

James Redekop said...

We haven't used the XPen in a couple of years. We won't be needing it any time soon.

Amy said...

Just seeing all this now as we were out all day. I am sorry that Tala will be confined for even longer; I can only imagine how hard this will be. But remember that she lives in the moment and probably is less confused about the restrictions than we think. As long as she is not in pain, she is probably happy. Or at least that's how I'd want to think about it.

Best to all of you. And remind Diego to go easy with her!

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy.

She may live in the moment, but the moment when Allan takes Diego to the dog park without her - or chases squirrels while she's stuck in her pen - or she can't come upstairs to sleep in the bedroom... she knows she's missing out.

I'm glad she can't know what I know. I still haven't really absorbed the news.

johngoldfine said...

So sorry to hear all this.

Amy said...

That's true, Laura, that there may be the momentary confusion and even disappointment. But I like to think that dogs don't hold on to the confusion or the disappointment for more than a few moments. Then they curl up and get comfortable and forget what just happened. Again, maybe I am just kidding myself, but I think it is probably true. If not, I would hate to leave them every time I go to work or on a trip or at the vet's office.

At any rate, I know that doesn't help you or Allan who can see the bigger picture and cannot just live in the moment. I am really sorry that you are going through this and certainly hope Tala improves sufficiently without surgery or other complications.

laura k said...

Thank you, John. I was wondering if this is similar to what Boca suffers from.

laura k said...

Amy, I do agree. A normal dog - without separation anxiety or fear/abuse triggers - adjusts to nearly any situation and accepts it.

I'm just really hurting over this now. I'm a bit surprised at how hard it's hit me. I was expecting something acute and fixable - torn ligament, have surgery, rehab from surgery, end of story. Something chronic, possibly debilitating... sheesh.

Tala is around 6, not old, but seems even younger - such a skinny little thing, so full of energy. I can't stand the thought of her happy life being curtailed or even cut short.

As I said, I'm still absorbing this - woke up in the middle of the night, started to cry on our walk this morning.

Thank you very much for all your support and good wishes. Only other animal lovers understand!

johngoldfine said...

Some of the effects and the treatment recommended sound similar to Boca.

Boca's discs are degenerating. Fluid leaks, the discs slip and press against nerves--pain, stiffness, dragging leg, loss of appetite and any pleasure in life results. She had one surgery and recovered nicely, but when, a year later, she came down with the same problem, the vets said it was chronic and degenerative, not likely the result of an accident as we had at first hoped.

So, the second time we treated it more conservatively: prednisone, tramadol for the pain, and exercise restrictions. There's been one flare-up since then--more prednisone, but the drug has its limits and can't be used forever because of side-effects.

She gets much less exercise than she used to (but probably more than the vets would recommend), and I can't imagine what visitors think when they come in the house because all the chairs and couches either are lying on their backs or have big cardboard boxes, hassocks, dog cages etc on them to prevent Boca (and, unfortunately, the other dogs as well) from jumping up. We've put a collar on her and now have a leash attached to the headboard of the bed so she can't jump down at night. (We've explained to our adult kids that they should draw no conclusions about our sex life based on the dog leash....)

When Boca feels good, she feels good, period, and there is no shadow over her life. When she feels bad, she has no philosophy, religion, or any other resource to sustain her--she is no stoic like Tala, but a picture of misery, fear, distress, pain.

Plenty of tears all around. You might guess about me that I try to speak plainly and avoid euphemism and circumlocution, but when I talked to the vet last time, the best I could manage with my choked throat was, 'So she won't be a forever chum?'

The doctor shook her head and said not a word.

laura k said...

Poor Boca, and poor John and Jean (and the rest of the pack). :(

I actually think this is a very similar condition. Tala's may also be degenerative. We don't know yet.

By the way, many dogs do take prednisone their entire lives. Obviously you try to reduce the dose to the lowest possible, but I've known tons of dogs (my one, those of friends) who have daily or every-other-day prednisone forever. Obviously you know Boca best, so perhaps her side effects are more intense. But it's not a blanket "can't take forever" drug, far from it.

laura k said...

(We've explained to our adult kids that they should draw no conclusions about our sex life based on the dog leash....)


johngoldfine said...

I'll keep in mind what you say about prednisone.

As for the rest of the pack, Boca, at ten pounds, bullies all of them but Scooter, who does his best to ignore and avoid her. The pack's relationships all seem to be more upward to the bosses than sideways to each other.

Amy said...

John, your story is heartbreaking. I hope Tala's condition is not as severe.

We had a dog who took prednisone for years. He did die at a young age, but I don't think it had anything to do withthe meds.

I am feeling ever so grateful for Cassie right now. I watch her snout get more and more gray and sigh. But I am so grateful that her health is good. She turns eleven this month.

laura k said...

my one,

^ my own

Northern Girl said...

Oh Laura, I'm so sorry to hear this.

At the moment you are probably imagining all the worst outcomes (I know I do). Hopefully as time passes Tala will show a marked improvement and her prognosis will turn out better than you currently expect.

laura k said...

Thank you very much, NG.

Re imagining worst outcomes, no, I don't do that. When it comes to health and illness, I take things as they come.

I'm not imagining any outcomes, really. Just sad to know that Tala's quality of life will be diminished. That much seems fairly certain.