My female Rhodesian ridgeback started dragging her toes so badly that she scraped her nails raw last spring (late March). Since then, she has progressed through all the expected stages of knuckling under, ataxia, severe loss of a sense of where her back legs are, to the point now where she can no longer support weight on her back legs. Her front end is strong and athletic, and if I use a bottoms-up type leash with her, so that I support most of the weight of her back end, she can still trot through the snow. But this is very difficult for me, as she weighs 75 pounds. More importantly, in the last few days, she has started whining a lot -- not as if she is in pain, just as if she is not happy. I adore this dog and have had her since she was 10 weeks old, but it is to the point now that I am wondering: how do I know when it is simply time to let her go? Up until this week, I have felt that she was still her usual joyful self, just more awkward and in need of increasing help. But now I am feeling that she is becoming blue herself. On the other hand, apart from her rear end, there is nothing wrong with her physically or mentally. She is not old for a ridgeback, and it is terribly hard to know how I will know when she is no longer happy enough to make the difficulties bearable. My vet just says, "you'll know," but I don't find this very helpful. How will I know when it is time to make this agonizing decision?
Before getting to your question I wonder if you have considered a cart? There are several companies making carts for just such situations. Your stairs or other impediments can be overcome with artfully created ramps that you, a local handyman or family member might create.
As far as when "it's time", that decision is so individually determined there are no ard and fast rules. everyone has different crietria with which they determine they or theit pet cannot live.
Unrelievable pain, loss of ability to do or interest in normal life activities, loss of bowel or bladder control, not eating and weight loss, dementia and other factors help people determine for their individual situation, when its time to "quit." Human perception and values are heavily involved in these decisions. No one "rule" fits or helps everyone in every situation.
In your situation, a quality cart and a plywood and 2x4 ramp down three steps may make euthanasia become a distant prospect. If, however, you live in a 3 story walk up that wont work. If your dog is pain free, which it sounds as if he is (Deg Myel is not a painful condition) there may be creative ways to manage his condition. Please explore them. if need be, get a second opinion from a specialist in neurology or orthopedic srugery (credentials ACVIM-Neurology and ACVS, respectively)
Thank you for the cart suggestions and sympathetic answer. We are in a wintery climate, so right now, I don't think a cart would be of much use for her (roads get pretty icy around here, so we can only walk in snowy fields). If she is still functioning by the time things melt, however, this is something I would certainly explore.
I have seen a vet neuro, who was unwilling to diagnose DM with certainty without a $3000 ultrasound to rule out anything else. Given the typical progression of her symptoms, and the uselessness of the steriod treatment we tried for four weeks, it seemed pretty pointless to us to spend that much money on a diagnostic tool. I was really hoping for some more supportive an dcreative suggestions from him for how to manage things for her, but I was disappointed in that regard.
She does seem to be completely pain free, though I worry that she is becoming no longer happy, as she is so sedentary (can no longer walk unassisted) and seems to spend some time just whining sadly every day. The question really comes down to a quality of life one for her, in my mind, and that is what is so hard to resolve. She eats well, but she sleeps the vast majority of the day and generally just seems to be "winding down." I realize no one else can tell me exactly what to do, but if you have any resources to suggest that offer ideas about how to gauge a dog's end-of-life quality, I would be very appreciative.
The cart would be to create mobility for toileting in any weather and for real exercise only in good weather. No reason to walk in snowy fields at all. You have to decide for yourself, if you can change your expectations for the dog, or not. Thats the key and the disconnect here. Things can't go back to what they were, unfortunately. I know you grieve for that, especially, and I sense it and share it. I have been through it and currently have two 9 year olds. Soon I'll be carrying them up and down like I did their father. But mine are small: Boston terriers. I know that's not something you can do with your dog.
Your dog, however, has no expectations and can live just fine without significant exercise other than toileting, with a nod to calorie restriction and weight control of course, throughout each winter and beyond. You state she is pain free and I don't doubt that, so what's the hurry to decide? The whining may be simply an emotional response to being unable to stick close to you even indoors as perhaps in the past. Here comes the cart idea again.....
Quality of life, in the absence of pain in a condition such as this comes down to a HUMAN perception of quality, not the dogs. She may sleep because there is little else she can do. My recommendation is invest in a quality cart and make it work for the time and for the circumstances (weather, geography, etc.) you have.
By the way, I am skeptical that any ultrasound exam would cost $3000.00. Could we perhaps actually be talking about an anesthetized MRI or CT with contrast agent instilled around the spinal cord? Further, any diagnostic tool, while possibly simply confirming a clinical diagnosis you feel certain you know she has, gives you the prognostic information you would need to judge quality of life relative to whatever the existing disease process is, and what the future might hold. And that's what you are asking us to help you with here.
Diagnostic tests set you free from guilt and guide the "right" decisions for a pet owner. Not a waste if the information gained gives the correct perspective to answer the questions you have expressed here. I cant answer the when, for a dog in no pain but cant walk and is too big to carry. Not for you or for the several hundred or more other people that have asked me before. Its an individual judgment call, but for you alone to make.
My advice is: Get a cart before muscle atrophy worsens and before skin infections from recumbancy and urinary "accidents" complicate the situation.
Please let me know what you decide and how things turn out.
Dr. Goldman has done a great job here with advice - as always. I have experienced DM both in practice and in one of my own pets. It is a very sad disease and many affected breeds are scrambling to find some medical / genetic answers. I did an extensive post on this last summer and there link is below. with the special meds from the compounding pharmacy in Florida I believe our corgi got an extra year of life. Others are not as lucky. I hope some of the info in the previous post is helpful to you.
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