OT: On the Quick Road to Recovery

A few months ago, our beloved West Highland White Terrier, Jenna fell ill will Cushing’s Syndrome, a debilitating disease that effects the hormone levels leading to weakness and lethargy.  In addition to her Cushing’s Syndrome, she suffered from a slip disc in her number 6 and 7 vertebrae  that had left nearly completely paralyzed for the last six months.  See the full story here for part 1 and here for part 2.

When we received the diagnosis, we had to make the very critical decision as to whether we would give Jenna a chance to recover from these disabilities, or put her down.  Often times, I would see dog owners carrying around their disabled dogs and think how selfish the owner was for putting their dog through so much.  People may think that our decision to give Jenna a change to live as being hypocritical, and perhaps it is.  But in Jenna’s case, she wasn’t in pain, she had a healthy appetite, and I truly believed that she’d probably recover to some degree.

Over the last six months after the diagnosis, Jenna had been making a steady but very slow recovery.  Her Cushing’s has been under control by medication, and she has gain more mobility, which seems to indicate that her slipped disc was healing too.  In addition to her meals, we have been giving her vitamins and glucosamine, a supplement that helps with joint mobility, which seems to be helping quit a bit.  She seemed to gaining sensation back in her hands again, because she began licking them again -something that she hadn’t done since she lost her ability to walk.  I also noticed that her hands and feet were warm again, whereas they had been ice cold since last September, which meant that blood circulation had been pretty poor, and was now getting better.

Last month, Jenna’s condition took a pretty dramatic change.  Up until last month, we had to hold Jenna up when she was eating or drinking out of her water dish.   When she was at her worst, she wasn’t even strong enough to hold her head high enough to eat or drink, and almost drowned in her water dish at one point.  But last month, we noticed that she had gained enough strength that she could sit up, it she was held up.  Then little by little, we experimented with seeing how long she could sit if we let her go.  At first, it started with just one or two seconds, then she would fall over onto her side.  We did this everyday when we fed her or gave her water.   And each time, the time she was able to sit up unassisted increased by a second or two.  Then it went from 10 seconds of unassisted sitting to 20 seconds…and so on and so forth until she was able to sit up on her own without any assistance for as long as she wanted.

This was HUGE progress.  It was almost like the day Haru learned to sit up on her own.  At the time, I honestly believed that this was the extent of Jenna’s road to recovery.  Being able to sit again was good.  The vet told us that the chances of her being able to even do that was very low, so it was nice to see that the vet was wrong.

Then, at the beginning of this month there was another dramatic change.  One night, I noticed that Jenna was wiggling her hands in feet while she was asleep.  She was probably dreaming of running or walking.   Although the  moments were quite small and subtle, they were undeniably there.  Additionally, I also notice that she began to lick her feet as well, which indicates that she is gaining sensation back in her hind legs.  As an experiment, I tried propping her on all fours to see if she could stand up.   But she almost immediately fell back onto her side.  Hmm…maybe I was wrong.   I didn’t give up though.   I ran to the kitchen to get Jenna’s water dish and filled it up with fresh water.   I placed it in front of her, and propped her up on all fours again.  I held her up as she drank out of her water dish.  I gradually  lightened my grip on her until she was standing on her own.   She was able to stand on her own for a good 20 seconds or so, while she drank her water.  Unfortunately, as soon as she finished drinking and realized she was standing, she fell over again.  I then realized that her inability to stand may  be kind of psychological.  I know that may sound ridiculous, but since she hadn’t stood up on her own in nearly six months, she probably has accepted that she can’t stand anymore.  The vet even confirmed this by saying that if she ever regains her ability to stand or walk physically, she would need to relearn how to do everything again, because she probably has forgotten.

So for the last week, Haruka, my wife, and I have been taking turns in rehabilitating Jenna, by teaching her how to stand and walk.  Over the course of a couple of days, she had gone from only being able to stand when she was eating or drinking, to being able to stand for extended periods of time without food or water in front of her.  Then one night when I returned home from work, I walked into the living room.  Haru and my wife were taking a bath so it was just the dogs there.  Princess was asleep on the sofa, and Jenna was oddly standing up on all fours in the middle of the living room by herself.  I figured that Haru had been doing her rehabilitation on Jenna and just left her standing  in the middle of the room, while she ran off to take a bath.  Poor dog.  I sat her down in a more comfortable position.

When Haru got out form her bath, I told her how Jenna was just standing in the middle of the living room, and she should have laid her down, because she might know how to lay down from a standing position without falling over.   Haru then said that Jenna was asleep in her bed when she went to take her bath.  Strange….could Jenna have stood up on her own?

Later that night, as my wife was fixing Princess’s and Jenna’s food, Jenna grew restless as she normally does when she knows her food is being prepared.  She would usually try to roll across the living room to a position to where she could get a better view of the kitchen.  But this time, she did something different.  This time she pushed herself up to what looked like someone trying to do pushups but having a hard time doing it, and managed to prop herself up to a standing position on her own.  We were all astonished.  She stood their for several minutes just watching until her food was finally delivered.  She was so overexcited, that she lunged forward as if she was going to walk, but immediately stumbled and fell over. Again, this was proof that she probably has the physical ability to walk, but doesn’t remember how to do it, and needs to relearn it.

Then, just last weekend, Jenna took her first steps in nearly six months.   We placed her on a non slip rubber yoga mat that Haru sometimes uses to practice her cheers and gymnastics.  The mat is about 2 meters long.   We placed a dog treat at one end of the mat, and propped Jenna up on all fours at the other end.  At first, she struggled.  She wasn’t even able get a quarter of the way down the 2 meter mat without literally falling on her face.  Then for some strange reason, she was able to walk backwards for quite a distance but could not walk forward anymore.

After several minutes of trying, Jenna was finally able to walk across the mat to her treat and eat it.  This was probably the hardest she ever had to work just to get a treat.  My next goal for her is to get her to walk a longer distance so that we can take her fore short walks.  But maybe that’s a quite a while ahead….who knows though.

A video of Haru’s rehabilitation session with Jenna:


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