The Journey of Minnie

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of my dog minnie, and her journey of recovery from Intevertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Submitted: May 06, 2011

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Submitted: May 06, 2011

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I have a personal story to share that I hope you will find interesting. I am a huge animal lover and currently have a Pekingnese, Minnie, that is six years old. I got her as a puppy and she is one of the loves of my life. She has a vibrant personality, and she is very intelligent. She often barks to let you know what she needs or what mood she is in, and is a wonderful companion. I have always had animals, but unfortunately I have also always had bad luck with them, usually losing them before their time to various diseases or conditions. Losing a pet always hits me very hard, but I love animals so much that it is hard to be without one.

On New Year’s Eve 2011, it appeared that my bad luck with animals was striking again. In the evening, Minnie started acting strangely, and didn’t want to socialize with people as she usually does. No one was sure of what the problem was, but after a few hours it didn’t seem to be going away, and in fact had gotten worse. Soon Minnie was losing her ability to walk on her hind legs. My boyfriend and I took her to a local emergency clinic. Needless to say I was frantic with worry as I had no idea what could possibly be wrong, but Minnie seemed to be in a lot of pain.

The doctor at the emergency clinic took a look and diagnosed Minnie with the classic posture of a dog with a back issue. X-Rays were taken and she noticed two areas of inflammation on her spinal cord, and told us that this was what was causing the problem. Minnie was sent home with anti-inflammatory and pain medication and was to be kept on strict cage rest. The doctor informed us that this type of injury was quite common in dogs and that it could heal on its own, but if there was no improvement then Minnie might have to see a specialist. Overall, she did not seem to indicate that there was any cause for undue concern, though, and in fact said that the X-rays showed “no surprises.”

It was with some relief and some trepidation that we took Minnie back home that night. As the vet didn’t seem to be worried about her condition, we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the next day Minnie was not any better and appeared to be worse. I called the clinic again and they said the only thing they could do for her would be to hospitalize her until Monday. My boyfriend stopped by the clinic later on and was told the same thing. By Sunday Minnie was much worse, having lost all feeling in her back legs and was extremely lethargic. I didn’t quite know what to do so I began looking up “paralysis in dogs” on the internet, and came across a condition that fit Minnie’s symptoms to a tee – it was called Intervertebral Disc Disease, or IVDD. IVDD is a condition that causes the discs between vertebrae to calcify, and sometimes rupture, causing pressure on the spinal cord and leading to loss of function in the hind legs (or in the front legs, depending on where a disc might rupture). This condition is actually very serious, and only in some cases can it be treated with rest and medication. In most instances, surgery is required.

The really bad news is that for dogs that lose their motor functions (as Minnie did) there is only a small window of time (24-48 hours, depending on the source) where surgery can be successfully performed. I was extremely upset as the vet we saw on Friday night, although she correctly diagnosed the problem, did not tell us specifically about IVDD, nor did she indicate that there was any time frame for taking care of the dog. Having seen this I was in a panic, as time was slipping away and it had already been close to 48 hours since Minnie had lost her motor skills. I called my boyfriend and asked what to do. He went online and looked up information about IVDD and also looked around for some other place to take Minnie, as we did not want to take her back to the same clinic as on New Year’s Eve. Fortunately he found Purdue University in Indiana. He called them and they were very familiar with the problem and was told we needed to bring Minnie in immediately. The clinic was about an hour away so we bundled Minnie up and drove out there. At the clinic, the vet immediately identified IVDD and told us that the prognosis didn’t look too good, as Minnie had lost motor function and superficial pain function. IVDD essentially has four stages to it. The first stage is the appearance of some type of back injury or pain and loss of CP skills (the ability to properly recognize limb position) . The second is loss of motor function, followed by loss of superficial pain sensation and then finally loss of deep pain sensation. According to this, Minnie was already in stage three, and most likely had been since Friday night.

The vet also believed that Minnie had lost deep pain sensation, and indicated to us that if that happened her chances of walking again were slim. However, the vet did want to check to make sure. When she did so, Minnie still responded, so the vet sent us immediately to Purdue University, where they perform this type of surgery as a routine matter. We were assured that this was the best thing to do. Purdue was about 90 minutes away and by the time we got there and Minnie was evaluated, it was found that she had lost deep pain sensation. The doctors informed us that once this happens, dogs have only a 50/50 chance at walking again, and in a small percentage of cases (about 5%) a condition called Melasia, which is a literal melting of the spinal cord and is fatal.

Minnie was taken into surgery immediately, and the doctor told us that she would not know for certain is Minnie’s condition was operable until she actually opened her up. We went home and awaited the doctor’s call. A couple of hours later we got our first bit of good news – Minnie’s spinal cord appeared to have minimal bruising, which was indicative of the fact that, although she had lost deep pain sensation and was in the final stages of IVDD, we still had gotten her into surgery in time, and her prognosis for recovery was good. The doctor even expressed that she was cautiously optimistic that Minnie might walk again.
The next day we got word that Minnie had regained her deep pain sensation, which was the first step to recovery (the four stages of IVDD usually reverse themselves when a dog recovers, so deep pain sensation is the first thing that a dog will get back). The next day we got word that Minnie had recovered her superficial pain sensation as well, so things were looking up, but she was nowhere near being out of the woods yet. However, the doctors told us that Minnie seemed to be making a good recovery, which again indicated that we had gotten her into surgery on time. Minnie’s motor function began to return a couple of days later, which meant that she quite possibly might walk again, and only left her to recover her CP skills.

I was able to take Minnie home the next week. The doctors at Purdue were happy with her recovery so far, but Minnie still had a very long way to go before her life would be anything close to normal. She had to have strict cage rest for a minimum of eight weeks, as any jarring of her spinal cord could cause a sort of relapse or even cause another disc to rupture in the future. Additionally, she was having trouble expressing her bladder and had not defecated in about a week, either, so the doctors were concerned that she would get normal function back in these areas as well. As you might imagine, it was a very stressful time for me, my family and my boyfriend, as all of us were paranoid about making sure that Minnie’s recovery went well. My boyfriend and I made sure that she had her medicine on schedule and that she was comfortable in her crate each day, but it was very difficult to focus on the day to day in life while at the same time worrying about Minnie’s condition. Four weeks later we took Minnie back to Purdue. Her recovery was good, but she still had not regained her CP skills. This was naturally very concerning to me, as that indicated that although Minnie could move her hind legs, she might not walk properly again. However, as more weeks went by, we did see signs that Minnie was able to stand on her back legs and then eventually start walking a bit on them. Another checkup at Purdue confirmed that she did indeed regain her CP skills, but that they were slightly delayed in one hind leg. However, since that time, Minnie has gotten better and better, and now walks almost normally.

Now, five months later, I am happy to report that Minnie is doing well and just celebrated her sixth birthday on May 1. Although Minnie did recover and is close to her normal self, her life and mine are not the same. Minnie can no longer sleep on the bed with me as she loved to do, and must sleep in a crate at night. She has to be monitored when she is not in her crate, and I am constantly on guard to make sure that she does not jump, climb stairs, or run excessively in case she might injure her back again, and I have to be very careful when I take her for rides in my car (one of her favorite things) that she does not move too much or jump off of the car seat, which means I always have to have someone accompany me when I take Minnie out.

I am still reliving the nightmare events of New Year’s weekend and the long period that followed, making sure that Minnie was comfortable, helping her go to the bathroom, giving her medicine, and worrying all of the time about whether or not she would even walk again. Having done all of that, I can see in a small way what it must be like for parents and loved ones who have a paralyzed child, or care for someone who has suffered a debilitating injury – all of the anxiety, the fear, the sadness, coupled with the practical logistical problems as well as the hope and optimism that keeps you going.

The fact that Minnie survived and made such a quick initial recovery was nothing short of miraculous to me. IVDD is an insidious disease that can strike without warning – it is common in longer dogs like Dacshunds but despite that many people (and some veterinarians) do not recognize the symptoms of it. In many cases, dogs may injure themselves by simply jumping or running, and the symptoms may not present themselves until weeks or months later. Additionally, it is a disease that can strike multiple times, so simply because a dog may have it and recover does not mean that it will not occur again in the same dog. Perhaps the most frightening thing about IVDD is that the window for successful treatment is so small. In most cases, dogs that have lost deep pain sensation (as Minnie did) have only 12-24 hours to have surgery performed, and even then the prognosis for walking again is only about 50/50. For dogs that have waited longer than this time, the prognosis for recovery is only about 5%. Thus, it is imperative that people and veterinarians are educated about IVDD, as it (at least in its initial stages) can mimic other less serious conditions. If I had not stumbled upon information on IVDD online, and if my boyfriend had not done additional research and had not found Purdue University (a place familiar with the condition), Minnie might never have walked again, and indeed might not even be around today, as IVDD, when left untreated, can be fatal.

Timing is crucial with IVDD, so it is vitally important that dogs are diagnosed properly and get treated immediately. Their lives are precious, and they are like members of the family, so it’s important that they get the best of care.


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