Meeka, Degenerative Myelopathy and More Mysterious Symptoms

My big girl is still not in good shape. She looks old. I don’t know how she could age so in just a week but she has.

I think it is in how she is carrying herself and the weight she has lost. My emotional brain is even convinced she has grown more gray in the last days. Or maybe thats me who has grown more gray from worrying about her.

There have been several 4legged friends we know who have gone suddenly over the last while, and each time it is like a kick in the gut. So shocking. And I think what could be worse? But now I wonder if watching her waste away is what is worse. Of course either is tragic and unfair and the cause of much grief.

Yesterday was vet day. We saw the other vet at out clinic. He is, as our regular vet is, very experienced and very thorough. He did a solid ortho exam and found. . . not much. She did react to the flexing of her hip, but it was extreme and he felt it was less out of pain and more just, “HEY! What the heck are you doing to my hip?” I too read it that way.

All the symptoms he did see he felt were more from a neurological problem. Most likely Degenerative Myelopathy. One test that indicates D.M. is to turn the back foot over so the dog is bearing weight on the tops of its toes. As you can imagine a healthy dog would quickly right this uncomfortable situation. Not Meeka. It’s as if the messages aren’t getting through to the brain which is exactly what happens with D.M.

An autoimmune disease, D.M. causes the body to attack the myelin, the sheath that insulates the spinal chord. As the myelin degenerates the brain can not send or receive messages from the lower limbs. Weakness ensues, and eventually total paralysis. There is little to no treatment.

Here’s the catch, D.M is not painful and normally an animal will continue to live out their life with little personality changes, although with their back end continuing to worsen, not Meeka. She is obviously in pain, extremely lethargic, reluctant to eat and go outside to do her business, and appears generally miserable.

All indicating a complication beyond the D.M. A complete senior blood panel was taken yesterday. All normal. One liver enzyme was slightly elevated. Not enough to indicate anything other than her seniorness.

Which puts us back to cancer. Bleh. A slight chance of osteosarcoma, so very common in Rotties, but more likely a tumor in her abdomen somewhere. Most bone cancers by the time they are detectable in x-ray have already spread to lungs and other organs. The Melanoma she had last year makes a tumor even more likely, although in dogs they are a tumor that is less likely to metastasize. Ultra sound would be the next option to find a tumor. Also x-rays for arthritis and lung tumors.

Can you see the dollar signs spinning in my cartoon eyeballs?

I hate that money comes into this, but I have to live in the real world and we are talking a major chunk of change just for diagnosis of what may not be treatable for her. And then things get really complicated.

For D.M. which there is no test for but symptomatically she has, one of the main things to slow the progression is to limit stress. Makes sense from the autoimmune disease standpoint. If your body is attacking you the last thing you need is exterior stressors. All I can think of with diagnosing these other complications is how stressful they would be. So with the likely hood of cancer and her age is it fair to put her through that when she may have only a matter of months left from the standpoint of D.M.?

When she faced the Melanoma we frankly examined what would be fair as far as cancer treatment and we feel that although there has been much progress in the world of canine cancer treatments it still is not fair to an elderly dog to put them through that.

Meeka lives in the now. She already cannot understand what is happening to her. She already seems confused and depressed that her body does not work right. Today she tried to play with Maizey and I and when she couldn’t she just collapsed where she was and refused to try to move again.

I can’t explain to her the treatment that will make her feel worse will hopefully eventually make her better. Dogs don’t live on hope as humans do. Dogs don’t understand the why’s, just the realities of what is now. Perhaps a superior way of being sometimes? But not in the issue of why she is laid out from chemo or radiation.

So I am stuck in the what to do’s. I like to know why’s and I hate uncertainty. Without the D.M. I almost surely would proceed with diagnosing the other symptoms, what ever the financial cost. But what about the costs of further stressing her and aggravating the D.M.? Is it worth it when it is most likely something we won’t treat anyways? I don’t know.

Is there a point when you just love them and make their lives peaceful and as comfortable as possible and work on letting them go? How do you know how much to fight for them if fighting for them could make them suffer more? I don’t know.

All I do know is she is still my awesome big girl and is loyally trying to comfort us as we struggle to figure out what she needs. The best 4legged lesson of all? Sometimes the why’s don’t matter as much as loving each other through the realities of what is.

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