Living with Degenerative Mylopethy
Guido was always an active dog. One of his self-appointed “jobs” was to herd our first Corgi, Vera, as she chased the tennis ball in our back yard. It was a job he took seriously and performed vigorously, often to Vera’s annoyance.
American/Canadian Ch. Caralon Brookehaven Hearthrob (Ch Brookehaven Pfeif and Drum X Ch Caralon’s Lana Lee), but to us a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named “Guido”, came to us after a successful show and agility career, and quickly became a pet, a companion, and as we like to say, our “love sponge” – ready to accept any and all loving attention available. And of course ready to herd any other dog who happened to chase a tennis ball.
At about 9 years of age we noticed the beginnings of the tell-tale “wobble” and weakness in his hind legs. We noticed that his right leg was weaker and then his left became weaker over time as well. X-rays showed arthritis but gave us no conclusive diagnosis. Over time his feet began to occasionally drag as he pulled his hind leg forward. The wobble got worse as Guido began to have difficulty running and eventually even walking.
DM was the presumptive diagnosis, and the symptoms and progression since were consistent with that. We elected not to aggressively or invasively test further to rule out other possibilities, since the prognosis and treatment would be essentially the same regardless of the findings.
After researching to understand exactly what this debilitating disease what going to mean to us, we did two things: we ordered a cart, and we began to investigate treatments – not as a cure, but as ways to slow the progression and prolong Guido’s quality of life.
The cart, from Pet Mobility Rehab Center (formerly K9-Carts West), was not an immediate hit. We’ve heard of Corgis that take to the cart almost immediately, and we’re jealous. This wasn’t to be Guido’s way. We found ourselves in the position of having to “out stubborn” a Corgi. Fortunately we got the cart well before Guido truly needed it; we had time. A good thing, too, as it took close to 6 months of patient attempts before Guido decided that the cart might be a good thing. Our breakthrough came on a vacation beach trip where Guido, distracted by the environment and other dogs, apparently forgot that he was in a cart and began using it. Distraction, particularly the garden hose, became the norm until eventually no toes were safe as Guido regularly raced down our hallway in his wheels.
We attempted various medical techniques as well. Chiropractic, electro-acupuncture, holistic medicine, and the like, all to really no significant impact. The disease continued to progress.
The one approach we did use with great success is warm water hydrotherapy. We connected with Cindy Horsfall of La Paw Spa, who happened to be a nationally recognized expert in the field, and Guido began weekly swimming sessions. Swimming provided him with exercise using and stretching muscles that wouldn’t otherwise be used quite the same way. The therapy included massage and range of motion as well. We’re convinced that this significantly lengthened Guido’s mobility as it maintained muscle strength and overall comfort well beyond what normal activity would have lead to.
DM is a one-way ticket. It doesn’t get better; it’s a progression from bad to worse. At best you can attempt to impact the rate at which is progresses, and help maintain the dog’s quality of life. By the time Guido reached the age of 13, the disease has robbed him of all motion – he was fully quadriplegic.
But he was happy. The lights were on, and the “love sponge” was still very much at home.
Besides learning about things like carts, accommodating Guido has been an interesting and sometimes challenging exercise.
As I mentioned, while he was mobile we had to watch our toes. He was always the first to race to the door when it was time to go out, and that didn’t change when he had wheels. Our other dogs learned to avoid them, but occasionally our own feet did not.
We modified a jogging stroller, adding a platform on which Guido can lay so that we can take him with us on walks. He’s not shy about letting passers-by know that just because he’s in his chariot doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t pet him.
As things progressed, Guido also began to lose control of his bladder and bowels. Learning to express him was important to his comfort (and as a result, our sleep). He wore a belly band with half of a human incontinence product most of the time, and dealing with it all was a very matter-of-fact part of our daily routine.
We have two other Corgis in addition to Guido, and to the end though he could move under his own power, Guido really was pretty much just another dog in the house. All dogs living underfoot have their routines, and Guido’s routines simply involved us carrying him. A “we should have done this sooner” moment was getting a “little red wagon” that was big enough to be his bed, so that we can move him around the house to be with us more easily. And yes, as I said, he remained all Guido from the neck up, and wasn’t shy about letting us know that he’d prefer to be where we are.
Guido passed in January of 2009, just over 13 years old. In his final weeks stomach issues that we could once address with simply repositioning him or perhaps deal with using appropriate medications increased to a point where it had become both painful and difficult to manage. As is typically the case, he did not die “of” DM, but of something else that may, or may not, have been related.
Living with a DM dog who’s getting on in years is a day by day thing. It can be frustrating at times, but it can also be incredibly rewarding as well. We’ve learned and grown a lot having and taking care of Guido, and he is missed very much.
Additional photos and videos of Guido, as well as links to some of the resources mentioned in the article can be found at ps0.us/guido. Of particular note would be an article “Aging Gracefully: Caring For Dogs With Degenerative Myelopathy and Other Mobility Impairments” here on LaPawSpa.com, inspired by Guido.
Leo A. Notenboom is a computer geek and the owner of Ask Leo! (askleo.com). When not answering questions about computers, he’s also one of the moderators of the Corgi-L mailing list for Corgi owners (http://corgi-l.org), and a occasional poster to the Wheel Corgis Yahoo group for Corgi owners seeking assistance with mobility issues.
Copyright © 2008-2009, Leo A. Notenboom, used with permission.
Provided with much gratitude to Cindy Horsfall and La Paw Spa.