Dear Dr. John,
Our older Lab was overweight when we adopted her as a young adult and we were repeatedly told that she was much too heavy. Despite the weight issue, she was always healthy and happy. Last week, she jumped down off the sofa and a few hours later, she could not use her hind legs at all! We took her in to an emergency facility and were told that she presented with paralysis but deep pain intact and that an MRI revealed material in her vertebral canal which was a combination of herniated disc material and hemorrhage. The next day she lost the deep pain and had no anal tone. Another MRI was done and they spoke of our dog having what looked like myelomalacia. What is that exactly? They said it could even worsen and spread over time, as well as her condition being irreversible. She cannot move. We have to express her bladder and clean her feces out, but she has already defecated on the floor and all over herself. We cannot easily lift her due to her weight. Is it cruel to keep her alive or is it cruel to let her go? – S.C.
I am sorry to hear of the challenge that your family and your dog face at this time. The weight might have contributed to what happened, but one cannot say for sure.
The progressive development of her condition leading to the loss of deep pain confirms the likely irreversibility. Myelomalacia is defined as a softening or melting of the spinal cord due to the trauma brought on by pressure on it from disc herniation, bleeding, or other acute causes.
Your dilemma is difficult, and every dog owner must deal with their own comfort levels of what they can manage. If you choose to keep her alive, in time you could consider getting her a wheelchair type of cart, but I find that works much better in smaller dogs. She will always require constantly being turned over so as not to develop bed sores on bony pressure points. What is your tolerance level for doing all that she will require? Only you know for sure.
I suggest you follow your hearts here. Good luck and know that my thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic.He can be reached at 781-899-9994.