My rescue dog was diagnosed with Myasthenia gravis about six weeks after I adopted him. In one way, I was relieved hearing this and in another, I was sad and scared. What does Myasthenia gravis mean in a dog? Well, let me share the journey to his diagnosis and beyond.
Symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis
After a long weekend in Florida’s Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches with my little guy Radcliff, I dropped him off at a dog daycare for an “interview.” I was not specifically looking for a dog daycare facility but needed to kennel him a few days later because I was scheduled to work long days and nights later in the week and thought it would be fair for him to have some interaction with humans and dogs. Plus, although I have a pet sitter for my two cats, I have not introduced her to my dog yet so I didn’t feel it would be fair to call on her to watch him.
I picked up Radcliff from the dog daycare (he passed the interview) and noticed he was favoring one of his back legs and had trouble jumping into the back of the car. Upon arriving home, I took him for a walk but about two houses down, he just stopped and plopped down in the road with his caramel-colored eyes beaming up at me and pink tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. With a little coaxing, he returned home and life seemed to be normal.
He Fell Over When Urinating. He Couldn’t Walk
The next day, he was still favoring that leg and seemed to have a weird gait. When he urinated, he didn’t lift a leg as he typically did but had his back legs close together and leaned forward to relieve himself, then fell over. I chalked everything up to having a good, playful day on Monday and he was still in recovery mode. At night, he seemed to mope around and was almost sighing. I thought perhaps he was depressed because he wasn’t with his new canine friends.
Wednesday I dropped him off at dog day camp and tuned into the cameras. He was just sitting there, letting other dogs walk over him. Occasionally he strained to get up then plop down. Something didn’t seem right so I called my vet who was able to see him right away. She suspected he pulled a muscle and sent me home with a prescription. I dropped him back off at the dog daycare and told them he was having back issues.
When I picked him at the end of the day, the best way I can describe how he was walking was like a frog. He could not stand on his back legs and tried to use his front legs to pull his body. I had to hold him up in order for him to pee, otherwise he urinated while laying down. Yes, I had to hold him up to defecate, too, and he let out groans as though he was discouraged. That evening, I watched as he tried to get up and walk but when he did, he usually plopped down and let out a groan of frustration.
Did I Break My Dog?
All sorts of things shot through my mind and I thought something I had done caused this. Did he do something to his back during our visit to the Palm Coast? Did something happen to him at the dog daycare? Did I feed him bad food? (At the time I was feeding him Blue Buffalo BLUE Homestyle Recipe and Rachael Ray Nutrish Zero Grain Natural Dry Dog Food, Turkey & Potato Recipe, Grain Free; and have since moved him all Blue Buffalo dog food.)
I had so much on my mind with work that this added to my stress and I didn’t get much sleep that week. Prior to this, occasionally, to the cats’ displeasure, he hopped into bed with me but now, he couldn’t get out of his own bed so I brought it into the living room and for three nights, slept on the floor with him, crying myself to sleep. I couldn’t imagine losing him so soon after finding him.
Why, Oh Why Didn’t I Purchase Pet Insurance?
I took him to the vet on Thursday morning and she was perplexed that he had not improved. Tests were run and $700+ later, results were negative and the vet suggested it was something with his spine and referred me to an animal neurologist in Sarasota for an MRI. “I recommend you go today or tomorrow,” she told me.
“Do you think it could wait until Monday?” I asked, because I was set to entertain people for work the next few days. I also saw dollar bills flying out the window. I know how much MRIs cost for humans, what would they cost for dogs without pet insurance?
Before she spoke, the look on her face told me I needed to get him up there as soon as possible but it wasn’t until Friday morning when I called the neurologist and took Radcliff up there. He was not getting any better and the guilt would eat me up if something happened to him and I postponed it because of work. In a short time, this little guy had my heart and I was going to do all I could for him, even if it meant running up some credit cards and letting someone else handle work.
Wrapped in a blanket, I carried him into the office and we waited, waited and waited. I sat on the floor with Radcliff, comforting him (which petting and kissing him was a way to comfort me) and reading the dozens and dozens of thank you notes to the doctor and how he was able to assist their dogs in walking again.
An Animal Neurologist. Who Knew?
The young doctor was worth the wait and he conducted a thorough, external examination of his reflexes, flexibility and other actions I don’t know what to call. Afterward, he told me he was quite certain my dog has Myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that basically prevents muscles to work. Rather than me lamely explain it, Google it or read about it on PetMd.com.
I was told there are three types of Myasthenia gravis and it’s rare but common in Jack Russell Terrier breeds. The doctor says he sees about two cases a year. Some dogs that show signs of it die within 24 hours while other dogs can be successfully treated, although 70 percent of dogs diagnosed with Myasthenia gravis survive. There’s nothing specific that triggers it, at least that’s what the doctor said, and this lifted a huge burden of guilt off me. Even better, with twice-daily medication (Pyridostigmine and generic prednisone over the counter) for 6 to 9 months Radcliff should be in the clear.
Saving me $2,500 for an MRI, the doctor opted for a blood test to confirm Myasthenia gravis however he cautioned test results could come back negative if it’s in the early stages. Response to the Pyridostigmine would confirm if indeed he did have this autoimmune disorder and within 5 hours of giving it to him, he was up walking. A week later I learned his test results came back negative meaning he’s in the early stages of this.
Side Effects of the Medication to Treat Myasthenia Gravis.
It’s a good thing most of my house is tile and I only have one big rug because I’ve been swimming in dog urine! A side effect of prednisone is frequent urination and defecation, as in like four times in an hour, which shouldn’t be a surprise because another side effect is increased thirst and hunger. The 4 pounds he lost during the first week has turned into 6 pounds gained in 2 weeks.
Most of the time he lacks personality, is a little cranky, and sleeps most of the time. At least once a day a burst of energy and his perky personality shines through with his wet nose bumping my calf, licking my face, barking to go outside, running in the grass and chasing the cats through the house. There have not been any long walks but I have taken him around the block a couple of times, to the dog park for some socialization and for short car rides.
There was an incident at the dog park and I felt the need to explain what has happened to him because he fell over when urinating. I’m used to seeing it and know it won’t hurt him but other dog-parents gasped. “It’s okay, he an autoimmune disorder that’s not contagious and he’s on medication,” I volunteered.
My Special Dog
I’ve been in contact with both my vet and neurologist frequently and under their directions, have adjusted the medication which has helped with the indoor peeing and pooping. As for his personality, I see it once in awhile and am hopefully I’ll see all of it when this is over.
“You have a special dog,” my vet told me after she spoke with the neurologist, “You don’t see Myasthenia gravis very often.”
Yes, he is my special little guy and although I’ve saved his life from being euthanized at the animal shelter and from this autoimmune disorder, he’s meant to save me.
I’ve started a Facebook page for him to share the journey. Join us at Facebook.com/loveradcliff.
I have full confidence in my vet and neurologist and for now, am choosing to omit their names until after this is over. If you’re in the Sarasota or Southwest Florida area and looking for a recommendation as to where to go, contact me and I’ll provide you with their information.
I really wish I purchased pet insurance right when I adopted him. Although I was spared a $2,500 MRI, I left with a bill less than $500. Thankfully, CVS hooked me up with a discount pharmacy card so his prescriptions are manageable. Yes, he now has a profile at CVS.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links in order to support this blog, my traveling habit and Radcliff’s medical bills.