The dog on the left of this sibling snuggle is Remus, my husband’s husky x shiba inu mix. He is eight years old, and we have had him for seven of those years. He was a stray on the streets of Dahlonega, GA, and we adopted him from the shelter there on my husband’s birthday. He is a runnin’ fool, a chicken chaser, and a lover of car rides.
I hesitated to write this post because I can’t say for sure whether the story will have a happy ending or not, and I equally unsure how ready I am to face that fact. I already lost one dog this year. I’m not ready to lose another. But this illness, which comes out of nowhere, is so important to diagnose correctly, and could hit any of us with dogs that live outside, such as our LGDs. Or, as in Remus’s case, live on the sofa, sleeping peacefully, for 99.9% of the time and merely head outside to pee. Providing it isn’t raining, because you wouldn’t want to get your dainty white paws wet.
A week last Sunday night, Remus looked ‘off’. I can’t be more specific than that, all I know is he looked strange to the point where I got down on the floor with him as I put him in his crate for bedtime and asked him if he was OK. He wagged and licked my nose, and I figured all was fine.
Monday morning, I come to let him out, and he trips on the edge of his crate and stumbles. WTH? He’s a husky, and practically half mountain goat in his sure-footedness. Out in the yard doing his morning potty, everything looked like it was just. so. much. effort. He dragged his paws to walk, tottered unsteadily on his back end and finally, to my utter horror, face planted in the grass when attempting to sniff the ground. I scooped him up and carried him in the house.
Quick call to the vet and he suggested I keep an eye on him overnight, our vet is a ways away and I didn’t have a reliable car with which to transport the dog to the vet. The thought was at this point that he had played excessively rough with our German Shepherd the day before and was feeling wobbly. Sure enough, later in the day, he was more able to move around, but was still slightly unsteady.
Next day, more of the same. I called the vet back at around 3pm, and arranged to take him in on Wednesday afternoon, unreliable car or not. It was going to be a 130 mile round trip in my 25 year old farm truck, with a sick dog and a small baby. Oh, the fun.
By Wednesday am he was entirely unable to walk. He continued to eat and drink, and was mentally alert. At this point, the vet was talking spinal injury, brain worm, or a tumor. At the time, it didn’t seem pertinent, but I remembered that a couple days previously, I had noticed his bark change, and he sounded kind of like he had a sore throat. A small thing, but it turned out to be a crucial piece of evidence in figuring out what the problem was.
We made our way through the veterinary manual: checked him for ticks (good luck with that in his husky double coat) and applied a Frontline just in case… decided that a Coral snake bite was unlikely… took Xrays to rule out an injury… blood work all came back clear… I remember saying that I was 99.9% sure he would not have had access to a raccoon, so we ruled out coonhound paralysis… and we landed on botulism. My dogs are often given raw bones right from the butcher, and generally nom them down in record time. However, we concluded that a feasible explanation could be that he had somehow gotten ahold of a piece of bone that had been left out for a couple days, thus contracting botulism. A call was put into UT to confirm, but we went ahead with botulism treatment in the mean time: fluids to combat dehydration, physical therapy to help with the inevitable atrophy, and steroids.
But when UT called back, they immediately honed in on the change in the bark. Apparently, that is a dead giveaway for the coonhound paralysis diagnosis. And, according to the specialist, it’s a far better diagnosis than botulism, as those dogs rarely survive. I’m not saying that CP is a cake-walk – it’s not. We’re three weeks in now, and it’s hellish, most of all for the poor dog.
I’ll write part 2 over the next couple days, but I really do feel that those of us with outside dogs – yard dogs, guardian dogs – need to be more aware of this illness. For there to be success in rehabilitation, it needs to be diagnosed quickly and correct action taken.
Katy Light has a 44 acre homestead in North GA, where she raises goats, bunnies and chickens. Find her blog at www.poppycreekfarm.com. She can be reached at [email protected]