So many people have expressed concern since I posted about my dog Lulu's failing health that I thought I'd share the details here:
Early in December I noticed that her back legs were a bit wobbly. She tripped on the stairs a couple of times, had trouble making the leap onto the couch, and exhibited a slightly drunken gate while out on walks. Her dog walker noticed the same, and left me a note about it.
I assumed that her knees were acting up again - she has had two separate surgeries in the past to correct a luxating patella on each of her back legs - and given how rambunctious she can be I'm always wary of her knees.
So I took her in to South Bay Veterinary Group (where she's gone her whole life, and has had wonderful treatment), and they detected some arthritis in the knees but nothing else. They put her on Deramaxx (an anti-inflammatory) and sent us home.
About a week later, Lulu stopped eating. It isn't unusual for her to skip a meal here and there, and we've always marveled at the fact that she's a rather finicky eater. Have you ever known a dog to turn her nose up at filet mignon mixed in with her kibble? That's my Lulu. But she'll ususally just skip dinner one night, maybe two, and then hunger gets the best of her and she goes back to eating like normal. So it wasn't until the third night of her skipping dinner that I really started to worry. She wouldn't eat her dog food, but I did get her to eat a scrambled egg (one of her favorite dishes!). That was Sunday, December 15th.
On Monday, December 16th, things really took a turn for the worse. I was getting ready for work when I heard her choking in the next room. I ran out in time to see her vomit, keel over on her side, and lose control of her bladder. It was horrible. I quickly cleaned her up, wrapped her in a towel, and placed her in her bed while I threw on some clothes.
By the time I got her over to South Bay, about 3 miles from my house, she was almost back to normal. Besides the stress that typically accompanies a vet visit and her aforementioned weak back end, she seemed ok. And all of her vitals were fine - temperature, heart rate, blood pressure - but given my description of what happened, her doctor suggested we see a neurologist. All of the specialists at MSPCA-Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston were booked for 2 weeks, so they recommended that I take her to the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital up in Woburn (12 miles north of Boston). I hadn't heard of it before, but they had an opening at 11am that morning (and I've subsequently had 3 different people tell me that they've taken their dogs there and had wonderful care).
Again I put Lulu in the car and we went up to Woburn where I met with the Neurologist for about an hour, explaining everything I'd seen and sharing some videos I'd taken of her gait. And again, all of her vitals seemed fine. She didn't appear to have any pain along the spine, which would indicate some sort of back or disc problem. They asked me to leave her so that they could run some tests, including an MRI.
Four hours later I got the call explaining what was going on: Lulu's MRI revealed a brain tumor - a meningioma - just behind her right eye. You can see it clearly in the scans below:
They think it's been growing for 6 months or more, based on its size. And while this type of tumor won't metasticize (spread to other body parts), it will continue to grow and put pressure on the brain. This is why she was losing control of her legs.
We now have her on Prednisone (a steroid to reduce swelling in the brain) and Pepcid (an antacid to prevent ulcer) twice a day, which seems to have stabilized her. We also have an emergency pack of Valium should she have seizures...which we will hopefully never have to use [on her. Some days I'd like to take it!]. While her back legs are still weak, and she's experiencing increased thirst (drinking), urination, panting, and appetite due to the medication, she's active and eating again. Aside from the occasional trembling, she seems happy and comfortable.
But Prednisone isn't a long term solution, as it can result in muscle atrophy, liver disease, bone weakening, and/or increased potential for stroke over time. The vet said she could probably stay on it for 6-12 months before other side effects would force us to discontinue it.
There is another treatment option: surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, and radiation to slow its return. But I'm not inclined to put her through this. Here's why:
- The surgery is risky and has no guarantees. She could die on the table or wake up worse off than she was going into it. Also, it is impossible to get a clean margin around the tumor without damaging the surrounding brain tissue, so the objective would be to de-bulk the tumor, not entirely remove it. Which means it will grow back at some point.
- The radiation is 4 weeks of daily (M-F) treatments. Knowing how much she dreads vet visits, I can't imagine how she'd handle going in there every day and being sedated. She wouldn't understand why we're doing this to her, and the stress would probably kill her.
- She turned 10 last October (which, sadly, is about the expected lifespan for her breed). Seeing how hard it was for her to recover from the anesthesia she received pre-MRI, I'm concerned that it would simply be too much for her at this age.
So for now, we are going to continue with the Prednisone and take things one day at a time. I learned to do that with my own health, and now I'll just have to do it with hers.