Shortly after the trip to Chiba, Jenna our beloved westie fell ill. I first noticed that she wasn’t quite herself when I came home from work early one day. It had been hot and she was sleeping in the hallway, because the hallway is cooler than the rest of the house. Usually, when I come home, both dogs would follow me to the living room, but Jenna continued to just sleep in the hallway. I grabbed a doggie treat to coax her into the living room, where the air conditioning was running. As she tried to get up, I noticed that she struggled a bit as if her legs fell asleep, but she eventually got up and walked into the living room as she normally does.
A few days later, the weakness in Jenna’s legs seemed to have been getting increasingly worse. She could still walk, but it wasn’t a very steady walk, often wobbling and sometimes even stumbling. I didn’t think the problem was too serious. It had been hot and perhaps she was bit dehydrated or lethargic due to the weather.
It was only a few days later when we realized that Jenna’s condition was worsening and needed medical attention. Although she was able to stand, walking was beginning to become difficult for her, so we took her to the vet. Her diagnosis was not very good.
The problem progressed rapidly, so rapidly that by the time we got to the vets office, Jenna could no longer stand for more than just a few seconds. With Princess’s medical incidents having happened only a few weeks earlier, I was growing despondent over the longevity of the dogs as they approached their 14th birthday. Of course, I know that they aren’t going to be with us forever, but I can only hope that they are with us a bit more longer.
The vets at this particular animal hospital aren’t very trustworthy in my opinion. Often times, I think they just take educated guesses when diagnosing problems. For example, for Princess having her periodic seizures, the vet could only offer “possible” causes of the problem, and suggested that she undergo expensive MRI’s to see if she had a brain tumor. An MRI can run upwards of $200-$300 per session, and she would need to be sedated for several hours, which is another reason why I wasn’t too keen on the idea. At their ages, sedatives could do more damage than good, so I want to avoid it as much as possible. The answer to Princess’s problem was apparent (to me at least) in her blood test. She had a low level of glucose in her blood, and the vet dismissed it and said that the glucose level was not low enough to cause a seizure. Normal blood sure levels are around 80 to 100mg, whereas Princess’s blood sure level was at 50mg, and that was after I had given her a small dish of honey (which is very high in glucose) prior to going to the vets office, meaning that it probably was much lower when she had her seizure.
Taking the doctor’s word at face value, I turned down the idea to have the MRI, at least until I was absolutely sure that the low blood sugar level wasn’t a contributing factor. The first thing I did when I got home was to Google low blood sugar level issues in dogs and immediately found MANY articles on the subject. Several articles suggested that glucose level at 50mg and below is dangerously low and can cause temporary blindness, disorientation, and epilepsy type seizures in dogs, which are exactly the symptoms that Princess was experiencing. After a few hours of research, I found that the fix is relatively cheap and simple; feed Princess foods that have a high GI (glucose index) like sweet potatoes, white bread, grains, etc. Since we started doing this, Princess has had very few seizures. As a matter of fact, the only time she has had seizures is when my wife had neglected to include the high GI food in her meal.
So with all of this in mind, I knew the vets where going to tell me what the worst case scenario first and give me the most expensive and time consuming solution to the problem. When we got into the examination room Jenna’s condition seemed to have degraded even more. She was salivating and panting heavily, and was no longer able to stand at all. I was growing very concern and there was a sense of panic stirring. Usually we would get the same vet every time, but this time, several vets were in the room, which made me very nervous.
Jenna was taken away for emergency blood tests and x-rays, which they insisted were necessary to assess the problem. We left Jenna at the vets and came back a few hours later after the testing was done. Having no idea what was going on with her, I didn’t know what to think. Did she eat something poisonous? Was she suffering from kidney failure from being dehydrated? Or maybe it was just her time.
We stepped in the darkened examination room, and again there were several vets in there with dire looks on their faces, as if they were going to break some really bad news to us. Taken Jenna’s age in consideration, I had prepared myself for the worse and had accepted that this could be her time. We all listened carefully and the news wasn’t good.
The vets had put up x-rays of Jenna’s spine on the lit x-ray board. Before the vet started to explain what was going on, I immediately noticed some issues with her x-ray. Some parts of her spine seemed to be a bit misaligned. In my own mind, I had concluded that this was the source of the problem, but the vet began pointing to her hind quarters, and said that she was suffering from arthritis, and that some of cartilage in her hips were worn away. He suggested that this was contributing factor but probably not the main factor because that type of wear takes years not weeks to happen.
He then pointed to Jenna neck and said that her #1 and #2 vertebrae were impacted (pushed together). With a very concerned look on his face, he stated that this type of problem is very concerning, because if her spinal cord is also impacted, it could snap and she could die at any moment. He then insisted that we should get an MRI to assess how badly impacted the vertebrae are. Here we ago again with trying to sell us the $300 MRI exam again, I thought to myself. At that moment, I began losing credibility in what the vet was saying.
But that wasn’t the end of it, the vet turned on the lights and pulled out the results of Jenna’s blood test. Apparently she had issues in this area as well. The vet pointed out a couple of high values indicative of an internal infection. He said that it could be coming from the spinal injury or it could be coming from somewhere else. There were other high values that under other circumstances would merit attention, but in this case was the least of our worries.
Next, the vet pulled out pictures of the ultrasound exam. He explained that Jenna’s adrenal glands were swollen to beyond twice their normal size. He said that this could be due to a tumor within the gland or it could be a tumor elsewhere like her pituitary gland which is located in the lower part of her brain. The pituitary gland is responsible for secreting growth hormones during puberty among several other hormones that regulates the overall status of the body. In this case, if there is a tumor in Jenna’s pituitary gland, it could be making the adrenal gland over actively secrete a hormone called cortisol. This condition is called Cushings Syndrome. Too much cortisol in the body over a long period of time leads to muscle degradation and could cause weakness in the arms and legs, and in extreme cases paralysis, among other symptoms. There is no cure for canine cushings, but can be treated with drugs or surgery. Given Jenna’s age, the vets advised against surgery with entails removal of the tumor or the adrenal glands. Treatment with drugs is an expensive and long term solution to regulate the amount or cortisol being secreted. Must dog owners opt to not undergo any treatment because of the high price of treatment, and to just let the dog live its course, which could be several years.
Rather than prescribing the drugs and letting us get on our way, the vets insisted that Jenna get an MRI to assess how serious the damage is. I was about to say no to this until, the one of the vets brought out some bandages to help support Jenna’s neck. He wrapped her neck and back into what looked like a flexible cast. He then said that until we know how serious the injury is, Jenna needs to be kept absolutely still for several weeks, and that if the spinal cord snaps, she could die immediately. As skeptical as I was with his fear mongering, I decided that $300 is not so much to pay for some peace of mind. I didn’t want Jenna to die like that, so we agreed to the MRI.