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The Wuzzy Chronicles

Ernie Dog

A dog's neurological crisis and his long road to recovery.
Ernie Dog
Published on June 18, 2010 : 17 comments

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

In veterinary school, intervertebral disk disease was one of my favorite conditions to study. The neurological system is fascinating: how it functions, how it heals, how it affects every other system in such an intricate way. As soon as real life hits, I am no longer fascinated. I am crying and holding my good friend Ernie Dog who is scared and flailing and pained. We are racing to Banfield, The Pet Hospital of Papillion where Angela the Pet Nurse waits with life saving medications.

Mom had called me earlier in the morning. "Something’s wrong with Ernie! He’s paddling in a circle!" Luckily the kids and I were dressed. I grabbed my keys and stethoscope, and we ran out the door.

Ernie was born in Ceresco, Nebraska ten years ago. Mom and Dad adopted him as a puppy and named him after the small town’s furniture store, "Ernie’s of Ceresco."  He is a Teacup Poodle, the smallest dog I know, weighing in at a perfect 4.0 pounds. He helps Mom teach preschool at Montessori Children’s Room. He has his own rug on which he works and has an impressive resume with years of experience. EVERYONE loves Ernie.

Minutes after hanging up with Mom, I am in the living room performing a neurological examination. Just looking at my goofy little friend, I know he is in trouble. Ernie is truly paddling in a circle, conscious, but hyper-reflexive, unable to stand, and otherwise severely neurologically compromised, to say the least. Seeing a pet, and even more so, a friend I love dearly, in the midst of a neurological crisis has to be the most disturbing thing I deal with as a veterinarian.

Acute cervical intervertebral disk rupture with spinal cord impingement. I take my tentative diagnosis and my tiny scared friend who is unable to hold any of his tiny legs still or unarch his neck and race to work with a quick call to warn Angela that we are on our way.

Fat dogs get intervertebral disk disease, chondrodystrophic dogs, inactive dogs. Ernie had not even been playing, he had been sleeping! It does not matter right now if this is fair or not. It matters whether I can bring Ernie through his pain, if he can return to normal function. Above all else, I need to protect the hearts of Mom and Dad. I know that I can not, and that is crushing me. I hold Ernie tighter and drive faster.

We arrive at Banfield and begin treatment. Finally, after enough pain killers, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxers to take down a small moose, Ernie is able to rest in my arms. I compound his very small medications (one pill of each medication crushed into enough cherry syrup to last the month) and type his very involved medical notes, all with my left hand while cradling Ernie in my right. He will literally not be set down again for three days.

I call Iowa State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I talk with Dr. Miller, explain his history, signs, medications, and response to treatment. Sometimes dogs with intervertebral disk disease need myelograms (radiographic contrast studies done under anesthesia to assess the location of injury and degree of disk impingement on the spinal cord and nerves). Sometimes they need a veterinary neurological specialist or surgical specialist to perform major neck or back surgery.

Ernie still might, but our plan right now is to provide supportive care and continue to monitor his condition. If he regresses or stops improving, I have orders from Dr. Miller to drop everything and come to Iowa State, day or night, where emergency, radiology, and surgery teams will be waiting. Mom, Dad, Russ, and I rearrange our week’s plans to make room for the trip we hope not to take, so very grateful that an entire crowd of specialists, support staff, and students awaits, just in case.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ernie looks the same but is showing some very slight neurological improvements. Mom and Dad are amazing. They are literally carrying Ernie back to health. I know now he is going to be OK. Until this day, I did not know whether Ernie would survive his injury.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ernie Nelson - a teacup poodleErnie Nelson - a teacup poodleErnie is walking with much assistance. He can potty if he is held up. Dad and I rehydrate him one syringed milliliter at a time. Russ cooks him turkey and rice, which he gobbles up. Today was rough. Ernie fought hard. Ernie is winning. I am so proud of him.

He curls up in his kennel for about an hour in the evening. He could not curl up before this. His legs were so neurologically compromised he could only hold them straight out and bend them with help. He is beginning to heal.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When he is supported on his right side, Ernie can walk for a few steps before he needs to rest. He is compensating for his wide legged stance and ataxia and “high step” very well. He is eating and drinking with help. He is so tired.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ernie is walking without assistance. He looks up at his easy chair as if preparing to jump into it. “Six weeks of strict rest, and then we will see if I let you jump Ernie!” I remind him. He rolls his eyes and stands with his head down to let me lift him.  I know this road to recovery will be very long, but Ernie Dog is going to get there, and we are all going to continue to walk there with him. What a week this has been. What a great family I have. And what an amazing little dog Ernie Nelson is.

Finch93Shawn Finch is a veterinarian and Mom. She works at Banfield, The Pet Hospital of Papillion. She writes for her own website (www.rileyandjames.com), Omaha.net and Carefresh. :)

Comments

Jean in VA. (not verified) says:

June 18, 2010 : 6 years 15 weeks ago

Jean in VA.'s picture

Ernie is just adorable. I hope that he gets along okay. I will be thinking about him and also his family. I know how hard these kinds of things can be with our furry family that we love so much.

Finch93 says:

June 18, 2010 : 6 years 15 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Thank you Jean! We were at Mom and Dad’s last night for Dad’s birthday and Ernie Dog is ALMOST 100%! I had not seen this side of him - fighting so hard to be well - because thankfully I had not had to before! Mom is awesome - she has done supportive care so well that he recovered much faster than expected, though we all wish it had been instantaneous!

AnnDbugz says:

June 19, 2010 : 6 years 15 weeks ago

AnnDbugz's picture

Shawn!
I still have tears in my eyes ;-) I felt like I was right there with you. I just can’t imagine how tough and heart wrenching your calling is sometimes. I know Ernie is grateful for your help and wisdom. SO glad to read such great news about Ernie!

HUGS!

Finch93 says:

June 19, 2010 : 6 years 15 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Thanks Ann! ♥

mamashepp says:

June 24, 2010 : 6 years 14 weeks ago

mamashepp's picture

I have a friend with a dog that looks so much like Ernie Dog and he is also battling disease. I think that my friend knows, deep in her heart, that Buddy is not going to make it long term, but when a dog is no longer just a pet, it’s really hard to just let go. Glad that Ernie was able to fight back!

Finch93 says:

June 24, 2010 : 6 years 14 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

So sorry to hear about Buddy! Yes, they work their way into your heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but so sad for your friend! That is the most difficult stage of loving a pet.

Evelyn (not verified) says:

June 30, 2010 : 6 years 13 weeks ago

Evelyn's picture

There are times, like this, that I’m glad I changed my major! I don’t know how I would have dealt with their pain if I had become a vet!

Great story! Congrats, Shawn, on getting the little guy through it all. OMG! He’s is such a cutie! A lucky cutie! :)

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

June 30, 2010 : 6 years 13 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

Thanks Evelyn! I feel that way too sometimes! But seeing Ernie Dog doing so well is definately the upside of being a vet!

Evelyn (not verified) says:

July 1, 2010 : 6 years 13 weeks ago

Evelyn's picture

I hear that! That’s reward enough! :)

Amazing neurological stuff.

Stacey Watson (not verified) says:

July 12, 2010 : 6 years 11 weeks ago

Stacey Watson's picture

Oh my gosh, Shawn! What a cutie Ernie is, and what a horrible thing to have to deal with. Makes my journey with Addison’s Disease and Xena seem like nothing!

I’m glad to read that Ernie is feeling better, and look forward to reading about further improvemnents in the future. You’re right. Ernie is a fighter!

Noelle (not verified) says:

July 12, 2010 : 6 years 11 weeks ago

Noelle's picture

I am affiliated with the Nebraska Dachshund Rescue. Unfortunately for dachshunds, due to their long spines and tendency to become overweight, this disease is seen frequently in our group. I am ‘mom’ to Telly. He is in a cart. He’s blue. He’s bald. He’s a puppy mill survivor. Check out his facebook page or his website! FB- Telly the Little Blue Dog or www.littlebluedog.org

I also have a standard boy who has IVDD. He ‘went down’ last August. Much medication and crate rest has helped this big boy find his legs again. I have another standard boy who has IVDD. He never went down, but he gets really sore if he overdoes it. Steroids and pain killers are always on hand here.

Our group is always looking for donor carts so that we can help out families who have a dachshund go down. We even have a member who makes ‘temporary’ carts from PVC to help a newly down ‘kid’ while they wait for their custom-made wheels. IVDD is not a death sentence! A dog with IVDD will continue to be your loving companion. A dog will not feel sorry for itself. He will just keep trying to do the things he loves to do…even if it is done in a little bit different way! Telly’s favorite game is to play fetch with his Cuz ball. He is just as fast as the other dogs!

A wonderful wonderful website that is chock full of info for every stage of IVDD is www.dodgerslist.org

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

July 12, 2010 : 6 years 11 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

Thanks Stacey! Addison’s Disease is not nothing! It is a high-maintenance disease and my hat off to you for loving Xena through it!

And thanks Noelle! You are right, when we think IVDD we think Dauchshunds - though ANY breed can be affected. Your rescues and own pets are so blessed to have you. I love Dauchshunds and LOVE rescuers :)

Sharon Nebola (not verified) says:

July 12, 2010 : 6 years 11 weeks ago

Sharon Nebola's picture

Hi Shawn,

I am Janie Helt’s mother-in-law (a.k.a. Moo and Murphy’s grandma). Janie sent me this email because I have a tea cup poodle who looks identical to Ernie but is a female. Her name is Jazzminn Rose. She is 2 years old. She came from a breeder there in Omaha. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. I hope to meet you some day when I am in Omaha visiting.

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

July 12, 2010 : 6 years 11 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

Hi Sharon! I love your kid, kid-in-law and grandkids! (Matt and my brother Dave are at Secret Penguin together) I NEED to see your Poodle - She sounds adorable! I hope I get to meet you soon…Bring Jazzminn! Thanks for your kind words :)

Ken (not verified) says:

August 18, 2012 : 4 years 6 weeks ago

Ken's picture

My dog .. 5 year old Shih Tzu was diagnosed with IVDD today. It breaks my heart that he cannot move his hind legs. I woke up from a nap thinking it was all a dream.

The vet prescribed some NSAIDs and muscle relaxants. I hope he will show some sort of sign that he will get better. It breaks my heart that I have to hold his legs up when he needs to do hits business. It’s hard and I don’t know how I will deal with this.

Your story brought some hope for me … As I know these next few weeks will be rough.

Noelle (not verified) says:

August 18, 2012 : 4 years 6 weeks ago

Noelle's picture

Ken, I hope your vet discussed surgery with you? If it is an option for you financially, then your window of it being a success is slowly closing as each day passes. When another dachshund of mine *almost* went down, the neurosurgeon said that the dog was in the grey area of ‘try meds treatment or have surgery’. I asked what he would do if it were his dog, he said he would try the meds first. His reasoning was that *IF* the dog went all the way down, then the first 24 hours still gives us a 95% success rate at recovery (walking). As each day passes after they are all the way down, that % decreases.

I’m not a vet, nor do I know your dog’s full case history, BUT, I do know that EVERY dog that has had back issues that I’ve known is always prescribed steroids. The standard treatment for pain relief and possible success at healing is: steroids, painkillers (Tramadol), pepcid to help the stomach with the steroids, and CRATE REST CRATE REST CRATE REST!

My little guy who almost went down was on strict crate rest for six weeks. At week five, I made a mistake and he came up one flight of steps…one time. We were back to square one with pain, pain treatment, leg dragging, and crate rest had to start all over again. Motion can be that detrimental!

Many vet clinics also offer a cold laser treatment that is working some miracles on dogs that are down (Rockbrook ANimal CLinic has one) ANd, for surgery, the ONLY vet (neurosurgeon) that I would recommend is located at the K-State ‘satellite’ clinic here in Omaha - MidWest Vet. (but you need your doctor’s referral) If you do happen to call Rockbrook, please ask to see Dr Ramm. Another good route is a holistic vet that offers acupuncture, cold laser, and chiropractic adjustments - 5elementsveterinary.com

Good luck, please keep us updated on your little guy.

Ken (not verified) says:

August 18, 2012 : 4 years 6 weeks ago

Ken's picture

My dog couldn’t pee this morning … And haven’t pee’d for over 12 hours . So we went back to the vet and she referred us to the neurologist .

They discussed that surgery was the route to go and also suggested medical management with meds . She said there was deep pain sensation in his legs … So I made the decision to keep him in the hospital tonight to see if things get worst or stabilizes. They will manually express the bladder tonight since he was no able to pee at all while at home.

I hope I dont hear from the vet tonight at all . And some sort of good news will come on the morning when I pick him up.