A couple of weeks ago, our local vet had diagnosed Jenna with a possible spinal cord injury and possible Cushings syndrome. In order to find out for sure, the vet had suggested that we have her blood tested for Cushings and also have an MRI performed to assess the seriousness of the spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, being the tiny little shop this particular animal hospital is, we were sent to another hospital an the other side of town. This hospital had neuro-specialist to give us a more accurate assessment of the injury, instead of the guess work that the vets at this hospital do.Little did I know what kind of scavenger hunt this whole thing was going to be.
I was under the impression that we were being sent to a much bigger hospital with specialized equipment; perhaps a university specializing in veterinary medicine who use experimental methods and treatments to cure incurable diseases. Unfortunately, we were sent to another tiny mom and pop shop in the middle of town.
Despite the fact that we had made an appointment several weeks earlier, the office was packed and we had to wait a couple of hours just to see a vet. After the long wait in the crowded waiting room full of anxious owner, barking dogs, and nervous cats, we finally got in. The vet, a fairly young women probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s greeted us. She was wearing a white smock which was different from what the other women in the office were wearing, so we knew that she was the head vet. She already had Jenna’s vital stats that the other hospital had transferred in front of her, so she understood the nature of the problem.
We all sat and listened nervously as the vet prepared Jenna’s x-rays. As she pulled up the pictures, she began to explain that as expected, Jenna was had a herniated disc in her lower neck. She showed a cross section view her number 6 and 7 vertebrae, and it resembled a spiked hollowed out pipe with a small leek. The leek was where the disc had ruptured and where the cause of the problem was thought to be. I was concerned and relieved at the same time. I was relieved that we finally found where the problem was, but concerned that the problem may be pretty serious.
After the vet finished presenting the MRI pic of Jenna’s neck, she pulled out another set of folders which contain what looked like ultrasound pictures, not so different from the ones you would see during pregnancy examinations. The pic was a very grainy and blurred shot of what looked like a lima bean. The vet explained that the picture was an ultrasound of Jenna’s kidney. She pointed to a small white object on top of the kidney, and she explained that the white object is her adrenal gland. Normally, the adreneal gland doesn’t show up too well on ultrasounds, so for it to be visible showed that it is larger than normal, which is a problem.
She went on to explain that when the adrenal gland is inflamed like this, its usually because there is a tumor somewhere -either in the pituitary gland (which is located in lower part of the brain) or within the adrenal gland itself. The tumor causes the over production of corticosteroids which is a condition called Cushings Syndrome. The biggest symptoms of Cushings is lethargy (extreme fatigue) and loss in muscle mass. In dogs, it can cause paralysis especially in the hind legs. The vet explained that it’s really had to assess whether Jenna’s paralysis and inability to walk was from the herniated disc in her lower neck, or if its the symptoms caused by the advanced stages of Cushings, or if there is another undiagnosed problem.
At this point, because of Jenna’s age, and the uncertainty of the her ability to make a full recovery, the vet advised against Jenna having surgery to repair the ruptured disc. She also added that the injury is relatively small and it should without surgery if we keep her in a new brace for a few weeks. Since Cushings is also a factor, she also advised that Jenna undergo treatment through medication.
Again, I was a bit concerned over Jenna’s recovery prospects., and the quality of life for Jenna. If she never walks again, will this impede her quality of life. The answer is no doubt “yes”, but having said that, Jenna is 14 years old. She isn’t and hasn’t been as active as she had been when she was younger (even before the injury). So, even she was able to make a full recovery, Jenna will never run and jump around like she use to. Up until her paralysis, she spent most of the day just sleeping on the sofa -something she doesn’t need legs to do. Her other past time was to eat -again something she does not need legs to do. My other criteria is pain; is she feeling pain? From what we can see, she is feeling very little or no pain. We can pick her up and mover her around, and she moves around the room by herself, which clearly indicates she doesn’t feel pain. So as long as she is not feeling pain and she has a nice healthy appetite, I think its well worth letting her live until her time comes.
It was a somewhat difficult decision, and in the past I have passed judgement on pet owners who’s would selfishly keep their pets, who clearly can not lead a normal life, alive. And I have always told myself that if any of my pets end up incapacitated to the point that their quality of life is greatly compromised, then that would be the point to do what is best for the pet and not the owner. But, in Jenna’s case, she looks to be fine, has a insatiable appetite, and other the having the inability to walk, acts like she normally does. So as long this continues, I will continue to help her live as best as she can.