It’s been almost four weeks since I posted about my dog’s new diagnosis of Intervertebral Degenerative Disc Disease so I’ll just start where I left off on March 7.
After I posted about my sick pup we left the house to attend my daughter’s concert. My daughter is a junior in high school now with a heavy load of honors and AP classes but she couldn’t go to school that day knowing that our dog’s neurological status had deteriorated. We were in a waiting game to see if the steroids they’d given him were going to reverse his paralysis. My husband and I came to an agreement with our daughter; we were to go to the concert providing we didn’t hear any more bad news about the dog before the concert. I emailed the band director to fill him in on what was going on. He was extremely understanding and excused our daughter from the concert if she couldn’t go but hoped she would because maybe playing music with her peers would help her feel better. The band director was right. Our band booster family was there to support us and it being with our friends as we watched our children play a concert was helpful to our own healing.
We visited out dog late that night after our son was finished with a lab class. Our dog’s condition hadn’t changed and I noticed they put a catheter in his bladder. The veterinarian said he indeed had bowel and bladder control and sensation in his limbs but it was stressful for an animal to wonder when they’d be able to relieve themselves. He was sleepy and his eyes were blood shot yet receptive to our presence. We tried to do little things to him to test his movement that we know used to annoy him. We noticed if we touched his tail he’d ever so slightly pull it away. He ever so slightly pulled his back foot away. It was encouraging.
The following morning I returned to the animal hospital to visit our dog. The catheter had been removed and this time they did not wheel him in on a stretcher as they previously had, they carried him in and placed him on the couch in the visiting room. The veterinarian came in shortly afterward and told me to go get things ready in our home because he would be discharged later. I asked him if he wanted to come home and he tried to move his upper torso and kicked his back legs. It had been less than 12 hours since we saw he and he’d already begun to regain function. We were headed in the right direction.
The discharge process was a little frustrating. We had so many questions and the vet tech that was assigned to help us with the discharge had not worked with our dog. Really? We learned about toileting, medications, feeding and activity. Imagine a cartoon character who gets hit in the head with a rock. He or she is stunned for a minute, shakes his or her head and proceeds. That’s how my husband and I felt in the beginning.
Our dog, Cooper had to be held a certain way to support his back but to allow him to stand up to urinate. So before discharge, the vet tech called in some reinforcements and we went over it until we felt comfortable. Even after training, for days after it took two of us in the family stand him up outside and days of getting our timing right. Sometimes he’d pee outside, sometimes he’d have an accident. Three days later, after work and as my daughter suggested I took him to his favorite light pole, stood him up and he peed. Victory! My daughter who had just come home from school and was pulling into our street witnessed it as she was parking her car. Although the toileting process took longer to perfect, this was definitely an encouraging sign.
The medication process was another doozy. The animal hospital sent him home on six medications. Prednisone, a steroid to reduce the swelling of his spinal cord. Gabapentin for neurologic pain and function. Tramadol for pain. Methocarbamol, a muscle relaxant and sedative. Omeprazole to protect the lining of his stomach and Cerenia for nausea. “Oh and by the way”, they told us. “Don’t feed him tonight because he threw up.” We were to give him two of the medications that evening. Here is where I had an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, anxiety, insecurity and fear. I asked myself if we’d be able to care for him. He wouldn’t take his medications in his usual way which is a pill placed in cream cheese and rolled up on a slice of ham. His tummy hurt. A phone call to the vet advised us to dilute the pills, put them into a syringe and gently squirt into his mouth. Public service announcement: my dog was in a shelter for six months from the age of two to two and one half when we adopted him. We have no idea why he was surrendered or what happened to him. He bites to bite.
The first night home was the most difficult. As usual we brought Cooper to bed with us. After all, he is our third baby and he really did need the attention. He cried all night. His tummy hurt, he vomited, he peed on himself. In the morning I called the animal hospital and they added a seventh medication. Pepcid to reduce stomach irritation and acid. By the end of the day he was holding water down. The next day our daughter got him to eat a few chunks of boiled hamburger.
Each day we noticed he was able to do more and more things physically. Rolling over, sitting up, standing, peeing outside. Sunday, two days after discharge was his first attempt to walk. My daughter filmed him stumbling off his pillow. I posted it on social media and got so many sad comments. That’s our reality though and I wanted people to know that. By Tuesday he was walking. He still had signs of neurologic deficit but his veterinarian was pleased with his progress and felt that surgery was not necessary at this time. His appetite increased gradually. By the time our son came home a week after Cooper was discharged from the animal hospital we had finally gotten him to take meds in his ham and cream cheese roll up again but then he abruptly stopped. My son suggested maybe Cooper was sick of ham so we bought some bologna and roast beef. That did the trick. No more diluting meds, putting them in a syringe and squirting them into his mouth. We alternate between bologna and roast beef. This dog eats well. I’ve also added a spinal vitamin to his meals. It contains, cow trachea, horse tail and several vitamins and electrolytes. I open up the capsule and mix it into his food.
He isn’t allowed to go to the groomer until he’s medically cleared and he’s getting scruffy. I’ve contacted a groomer whom I know owns a has a mobile grooming service and does multiple special needs dogs. He’s on crate rest and is supposed to be for at least 4-6 weeks. He is not allowed to go up or down stairs or jump off of furniture. That’s the challenge. Cooper has separation anxiety. He can’t just be placed in his crate and be expected to deal with it. Ordinarily he’s crated only when we leave the house. I made yet another phone call to the veterinarian. The day after his first follow up check up, he literally paced around in the crate all day. I fail to see how that is promoting rest for him. She advised that I could give him his anxiety meds that we use for grooming and vet visits. I have since added a natural calming chew twice daily and removed the as needed anxiety meds because I don’t want him to develop a tolerance. We have baby gates now. We allow him to be out of the crate in restricted areas of our home under direct supervision so he doesn’t injure himself. We believe in keeping him safe first and foremost but we are also concerned about his emotion health. He needs to be nurtured as he heals.
As they say, when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade. This situation definitely blindsided my entire family. My husband, our son, our daughter and I came together as a team to care for Cooper wholeheartedly with love, devotion while sticking to his treatment guidelines.
I can only imagine what it feels like receive pages of discharge instructions and a bag full of medications to bring a sick human being family member home to care for them. On May 14, 2019 I will celebrate the 25th anniversary of my graduation from nursing school. Talk about feeling like a cartoon character who’s had the rock thrown at her head. Where did the time go? I have spent half of my life as a Registered Nurse. Not only was my dog’s illness an eye opener and a life style change for us as a family, it was an eye opener for me as a nurse. There’s always room for improvement. We should never stop learning or trying to better ourselves. When life throws you a lemon, take the lemon, embrace it, make the lemonade, learn from the experience, use what you’ve learned to help others.