Olympia, my German Shepherd Dog, will turn three years old on August 1. The question is whether she will live to see her birthday. She’s been diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia, bilateral elbow dysplasia, and a partial or torn ACL in her right knee.
I haven’t posted to this blog in a while because I’ve been pre-occupied between a heavy work schedule in my day job, and trying to determine next steps for her. But it’s those next steps that have caused my greatest anxiety.
She is my butterfly, my diva. She shares my home with three other pups: Czarina, another GSD, 5 months her senior, and my boys, two Boston Terriers, Chipper, 9-1/2, and his half-brother Spunky, age 4. She and Czarina have always been inseparable, and it’s almost impossible to follow doctor’s orders and keep her quiet, when the other is playing/chasing ball. It’s coming down to quality of life vs. life; economics vs. heart.
In early May, I took her to my vet when I saw the continuing difficulties she was having walking, getting up, and movements in general. The joint and nutritional supplements, were not having much effect, and my vet now recommended x-rays, warning me that it could be hip dysplasia. And she was right. Another vet at the clinic who specializes in orthopaedics confirmed the diagnosis, along with degenerative joint disease in the right elbow and the ACL injury. After discussing options, we decided to pursue medical treatment first, along with resting Olympia for two weeks, with no ball/squirrel chasing, and only leash walking. She was put on 150 mg/day of Rimadyl and Tramodol for the pain, and would need regular blood tests to watch the liver values from the Rimadyl.
In mid-June, I watched Olympia walk across the kitchen floor and dissolved into tears. I made an appointment at the regional animal hospital. Alas, another facility where with four pups, I’m a regular client. I brought Olympia and her x-rays for a consultation with an orthopaedic specialist/surgeon. He confirmed my vet’s diagnosis, with one exception, he believed the dysplasia to be in both front elbows. His recommendation was surgery to repair the ACL, since that rupture was causing Olympia to put additional pressure on degenerating joints as she compensated for that injury. I had a choice between two surgical procedures, “Over the Top” ($2400), or his recommendation for TPLO ($3500), more expensive, but also longer lasting and more reliable. After watching both surgeries on YouTube, as well as a brief recovery video, I seriously questioned whether I could put her through this, especially given her other complications.
As I leash-walked my girls last week around my block. I could hear and see Olympia scraping her right hind leg’s toes on the sidewalk, and I could tell from her body and gait my little stoic was in pain. By the time we returned home, I don’t know who was in worse shape, her or me. I walked her again yesterday, and she looked much better to my eye, except when we got home and I found streaks of blood all over the floor. I looked at her paw, and it was bloody with the nails being scraped down to the nib. No more leash walking. I’ve come full circle back to the surgery option.
And thus, my conundrum. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster now for two months. I’m a single income homeowner with three other mouths to feed, a mortgage, bills to pay, and trying save for my own retirement (hah!). With what I have spent on my pups in the past four years, excluding food, toys and vaccinations, I could have put an addition onto my house. Gastro surgeries, (note, plural), MRIs (plural again), allergies, corneal edemas, tooth fractures/removal, panosteitis, cystomas, ear infections, to name a few. Earlier, I lost another beloved pup to meningoencephalitis (that bill was five figures). Czarina, after numerous tests including an endoscopy, she was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, another incurable, but medically controllable disease.
Taking all this into account, I’ve done my homework regarding options. I subscribe to an excellent magazine, Your Dog, published monthly by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Their May 2011 medical column discussed one of the latest courses of treatment for hip dysplasia and ACL injuries, extra-corporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT). I noticed in the article that an ortho specialist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville College of Veterinary Medicine was mentioned. Considering that Tennessee is closer than Massachusetts, I called down to see if Olympia might be a candidate.
I’ve now had two lengthy conversations with one of their orthopaedic rehab vets. Three courses of action are available: 1) ESWT; 2) Platelet Rich Plasma injections; and 3) Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy. Of the three, #3 is the most expensive, approximating the cost of ACL surgery. The vet said she has seen varying degrees of success with the therapy, all depending upon the animal and severity of the disease. But she also was leaning toward the ACL surgical option for Olympia, agreeing with the same reasoning of the orthopaedic vet I saw earlier.
I spoke with both Olympia’s trainer and breeder. The former, who also breeds German Shepherds, recommended the hard choice, euthanizing her, because of the pain that she’s in now and always will be. Dysplasia is not curable, she’ll only continue to degenerate, and there is the quality of life issue. If I was thinking of spending $2400 or more, then give it to a rescue or animal shelter, where the money could benefit healthy dogs with a future. Olympia’s breeder told me he has seen some Shepherds live past 10 years with hip dysplasia, while others, much younger, had to be put down, again because of pain and quality of life issues. While he knows I love her, he has seen the x-rays. And when it comes to spending more money on her in her condition, “don’t be stupid, remember she is a dog.” He has a five year written guarantee on all his Shepherds, and “I’ll replace her when you give me the word.”