I’m happy to finally bring our first featured dog Jack. Jack is a 10 year old shepherd/husky mix who belongs to Kate Bradshaw. Jack is in the beginning stages of DM but like most other DM stories the journey to get here was very long and frustrating. Now with a proper diagnosis of DM, Kate and Jack’s battle begins.
Here are Kate’s own words about her and Jack’s journey and his current progress.
“Jack is a great dog. A gentle giant who is the favorite of all the neighbors and kids on our street. Our street mascot really. Neighbor kids have even asked if Jack could come over for sleepovers because he is so sweet. He deserves all the love and spoiling because he had a rough start. We adopted Jack (a husky/shepherd mix) in July 2005 from the University of Utah animal research program. Jack was used as a research dog in drug studies at the University. We make no judgments about animal testing or the work done at the University. We are just happy that when his study was concluded, Jack was released to the adoption program where we found him after deciding our life would not be complete without a canine companion.
Looking back, we probably noticed the early signs of DM over a year ago (late 2009). We noticed that Jack seemed to have some weakness in his back legs and that his legs would shake or spasm whether he had been exercising or sitting on his bed for hours. We took him to our regular vet thinking it might be arthritis, a torn ACL, or even hip dysplasia. X-rays and blood tests revealed nothing was wrong and we were told to keep Jack on his regular routine and it would likely resolve. At this point we added glucosamine and fish oil to Jack’s food as a precaution. I actually felt rather silly for taking him to the Vet after it seemed nothing was wrong.
In March 2011, we noticed that Jack was dragging his back feet every 5th or 6th step. It wasn’t consistent, sometimes only one foot, but we noticed his nails on the back feet were wearing oddly and sometimes the dragging step would result in a stumble before he caught himself. Other times he might go blocks without dragging his feet at all. He also seemed to be having bladder issues. Neutered late in life, Jack has always enjoyed marking trees, but now seemed to have trouble stopping his urine stream in order to move to the next tree. Essentially he leaked from tree to tree. All this time Jack was still taking a morning jog with me. Though we had slowed over the years, Jack still left the house every morning at a brisk trot.
A trip to the Vet complete with urine, fecal and blood tests revealed that Jack had hypothyroidism, but didn’t explain some of the other symptoms. Now on daily thyroid pills, we embarked on many more tests and visits with a veterinary specialist. Our regular vet suspected DM right off the bat and referred us to the only veterinary neurologist in our state (Utah). The neurological specialist felt high calcium results from his blood tests might indicate a tumor or lymphoma and didn’t agreed with the DM suggestions from our regular vet. More tests and a trip to an internal specialist eventually ended the cancer worries and sent us back to the neurologist. It was a decided that an MRI might give us some insight, which did reveal a bulging disc, between L7 and S1. However, as this is the last disc in the dog’s spine, it has very few important nerves that might be impacted. The neurologist recommended surgery to address the disc, but we still couldn’t shake our regular Vet’s DM suspicions (and the neurological vet’s bedside manner hadn’t inspired much confidence either). This was compounded by the fact that Jack appeared to feel no pain, which seemed to be a critical component of the pros and cons of putting a dog through back surgery. The expense was not a problem, but if he wasn’t in pain and the symptoms weren’t completely explained, why put a 9 yr. old dog through surgery?
We decided to put Jack on prednisone for 3 weeks while taking him on a road trip to the Pacific Coast highway. The trip served as a time to watch Jack closely, see if the prednisone seemed to help his symptoms, and evaluate whether surgery would fix everything. We also worried this might be one of the last road trips we might take with him. Jack did not react well to the prednisone. He needed to urinate every two hours on the high dose, every four hours on the low dose, and had excessive panting all day and night. The foot dragging was not helped, which led us to doubt that surgery would fix his problems if the prednisone has not helped. We frankly felt torn, frustrated, and unsure of what to do next.
In July 2011, on the recommendation of a friend, we took Jack to an orthopedic vet specialist who immediately and without prompting suggested that the bulging disc was secondary to DM (agreeing with our regular vet), this was something he said he had often seen together. He again put Jack through his paces, concluding Jack was in no pain, but was showing ataxia and failed the classic foot test where the Vet makes him stand on his toes and waits to see how long it takes him to put the foot in the correct position. We took this report back to our regular vet who agreed that after all the tests and specialists, DM best explained Jack’s symptoms. After months of trying to figure out what is wrong with Jack, we now have an answer. It has been a frustrating experience to get to this point and even with a diagnosis there isn’t much we can do. Our regular vet is researching some of the drug options I found on-line for slowing the DM progression. I am awaiting his word on whether any of the drugs might be worth trying. Jack seems to be in the very early stages, which might account for how long it look to get the DM confirmation and the parade of specialists.
Now a month in to the realization that our time with Jack might be even more finite and fragile than we originally thought, we have adjusted his routine a little, but indulge him a lot more. He had hot dogs and peanut butter on his adoption anniversary a few days ago. When we might otherwise leave him home, we now take Jack along to run errands or visit family. Requests by Jack for belly rubs or chewies are rarely turned down.
Brisk walks have replaced morning jogs. Stumbles are happening more often during walks and our hardwood floors seem to give him more trouble than just a few months ago. He often stands awkwardly when eating. I can’t explain it other than his back legs look uncomfortable, but he doesn’t adjust his stance to a more comfortable position. If I were to compare it to a human, it is like his back legs are standing in an uncomfortable ballet position, but he doesn’t notice and continues munching along. I have looked at carts on-line, but hope that is still a ways off as for the most part he walks pretty well compared to many videos we have seen of DM dogs. He still jumps on the couch and bed, but he is more content to stay in one place rather than move around. He tires more easily on walks and his water consumption is way up (although we can’t discount that it is summer and that he is part husky with a black coat. He is now 10 yrs. old too which might account for some of it). We still aren’t sure what to do about the urinary leaking issues. He doesn’t have accidents in the house, but can’t seem to stop going once he starts outside. Tests show we can concentrate his urine, so this is still an unknown for us.
We are preparing for what we will do when the disease progresses. As both my husband and I work during the day, we know Jack will likely have a hard time being in the house during the day. We are finishing the fence in the backyard in anticipation of the day when incontinence requires Jack to spend days outside or in an area easy to clean up. We are building him a big, roomy, insulated doghouse that will go in the garage so he won’t get too cold or hot when we are at work.
We are determined to make the most of our time with Jack and to ensure he is comfortable and loved until the end.”