Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Coonhound Paralysis? But She's a Retriever!

We live in the suburbs of Sacramento. It's not Daniel Boone country, but we do have our fair share of critters. Our dog has got into it with squirrels, rats, possums, skunks, raccoons and an unfortunate rooster, or was it a chicken? It was hard to tell which when we found it floating in the pool. Molly feels all living things except human beings do not deserve to be on the Planet Earth, and she is good at ridding our globe of breathing things. So far no cats. Thankfully they can outrun her.

She's a sweet dog, she really is. She is great with kids and babies, even the quick moving ones that probably at times sound to her like wild animals. She has not so much as nibbled on any kid toes, even when they steal from her beloved stuffed animal collection. She just walks over to the little thief, gently reaches in ever so gently and takes back what is hers. Not so much as a ruffled feather on her part.

That's why it seemed a bit odd that a few weeks ago she was so subdued at our friend Elliot's Super Hero Party. Molly came as Aqua Dog, with a pack full of water themed toys for the children at that party. Sure she slyly walked over and stole Squirrel Girl's fluffy tail when she wasn't looking, but for Molly, her demeanor at the party was calm. A bit too calm. She didn't jump up or out of the car that night, Ernst had to lift her into the back of my vehicle. She didn't steal any hot dogs or hamburgers, mostly she just sat and had a great time watching all the kids, drinking in the complete canine joy of being the only dog at the party. She got a bit annoyed when the neighbor dog barked, and answered back with a few barks of her own. Deep barks. Serious barks.

We got home that night and she flopped down hard on the wood floors. The next morning we noticed her limping a bit on her left hind leg. It was a super busy day, and a slightly limping dog was not high on our worry list. That night it was worse, and even worst the next morning, so we made an appointment at the vet.

The diagnosis was a relief, a pulled ACL. A relief that is until I started Googling ACL issues in dogs, they can be hard to heal, especially in a nine-year old dog like Molly. But better than something worse, so we knuckled down into making sure she didn't overextend herself and set up her new pain medication schedule.

Wow those pain meds did a number on her. She was weak and loopy and having trouble walking. We backed off the dose. No change, only worse. Googled some more and learned they caused muscle weakness and loopiness. Emailed the vet, and he agreed, stop the Gabapentin. But she just got worse. Her front legs were buckling under her, and her left foot started flapping in a weird and scary way. Back to the vet she went. Xrays to rule out bone cancer had us freaking out a bit. But they came back fine. The vet was perplexed, and began to prepare us for the possibility this was much more than a muscular problem, it was beginning to look neurological. The vet suggested a wait and see approach.

Wait and see became wait and wail, because our dog was becoming incapacitated before our very eyes. She couldn't stand up or walk without falling right back down, the foot flapping was getting worse and we were complete wrecks. The worst of it had me out on the back porch, down on the blanket with Molly, texting my family through big drippy tears falling from my eyes, while sharing a few drops of my Pomegranate Cosmopolitan with Molly. Hey, she seemed to be days away from having to be put down, what harm could a little booze be at that point?

We set up the back room for her comfort, moved the chairs out, moved in a cot for Ernst to sleep on and put up an ottoman blockade so she couldn't climb the stairs and hurt herself even more. We didn't sleep much that night. The next morning had a new symptom. She was barking like a seal. Actually more like a coonhound. Her pathetic deep bark was the symptom that broke our hearts even more, this was sounding more and more like a neurological problem by the hour. Now it was my husband's turn to cry. That bark sounded awful and it was not in our imaginations, our dog couldn't walk and she sounded like she belonged in a remake of Where the Red Fern Grows.

It was time to hit Google with a vengeance. I typed in "NEUROLOGICAL PROBLEMS IN DOGS THAT CAUSE STUMBLING AND THE BARK TO TURN INTO A COON HOUND OR PERHAPS A SEAL ON A WHARF." You know, just one of those typical Google searches.

I found a website that suggested various ailments, one of which was Coonhound Paralysis. I scrolled on down, because we don't have a coonhound, we have a Golden Retriever with a touch of Australian Shepherd. Ernst Googled his own search, probably much more scientific sounding than mine. That's when it hit us, Coonhound Paralyses isn't just for hounds who hunt 'coons, any dog can get it. They can get it from raccoon saliva. It starts with a weakness in their back leg, moves towards the front legs, the dog can barely walk and it starts sounding like a....coonhound or a seal.

Bingo! By this time we were a bit miffed that the vet missed this diagnosis, so we called a mobile vet to come out to our house. Granted, Molly's regular vet didn't have the opportunity to hear her newest symptom of the bizarre bark, but still, we figured it out from Google, or were pretty sure we had. The vet on wheels observed Molly's walk, or lack of walk, and I played the video of her barking. He had taught at a vet school in Oklahoma and had seen a lot of this unusual disease, and was confident we were correct in our Google diagnosis - Coonhound Paralysis, or polyradiculoneuritis.

The prognosis? Good, she should make a steady recovery in the next few months. She is already walking so much better, her little sick room has been taken down and our house is pretty much back to normal. The mobile vet said we had been doing everything right, letting her rest and just get better, with some swim therapy to keep her strong.

As for how she got it? Either from fighting with a raccoon in the yard, or possibly from eating plums on the ground that raccoons had half eaten. There is some evidence that this awful immune system response, which is similar to Guillain-Barre Syndrome in humans, can also come from possum saliva, and we have plenty of those in our neck of the woods too. The good news is she will get better, and she already is so much better. No more tears, no more Pomegranate Cosmos shared with the pooch. Now if we could just do something about all these critters in our yard. Know anyone with a coonhound?

Not quite herself at Elliot's party.

Aqua Dog!

Molly being mopey isn't her usual MO.

Diagnosed with just an ACL pull.
What a relief!

Still happy. Still goofy.

But getting worse by the hour.

And Pomegranate Cosmopolitans.

Thought the cot was pretty cool.

Couldn't walk, but she was still smiling.

Swim therapy! Almost sinking.

She was not happy about swim therapy, but our instincts were right to keep her limber.


Needed a harness and sling to go out.

More visitors!

Playing possum for the mobile vet.

"Draw me like one of your French girls."

Wearing Doctor Busby's Toe Grips.
So fashionable.