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Trouble walking.

Species: Dog
Breed: Alaskan Malamute
Age: 8-11 years
On Wednesday evening we called our dogs for dinnertime, and our 10 year old Alaskan Malamute Bear wouldn't get up to come eat. We tried to physically help him up, but the more we tried, the more agitated he became. He began whining and shifting from one side to the other, pushed up w/ his front paws, but wouldn't put ANY weight on his back legs. We stayed up with him most of the night, and took him to the vet the next morning. The vet took x-rays and did a physical exam. She said based on the x-rays, he has severe arthritis most likely. Because he's such a large dog, they took 3 x-rays and still didn't get a picture of his entire spine. So she said if its not the arthritis, then it could be something more severe, like a stroke of sorts or something neurological. But to determine that would require more tests and seeing a neurologist. She sent us home with a 7 day supply of Deramaxx (anti-inflammatory) and said to keep her posted with what we wanted to do.

So we watched him all weekend, and the pills did not seem to make any difference. Our dog just lays there and sometimes shifts back and forth from side to side. At first he wouldn't go to the bathroom unless we dragged him outside to the grass, which was hard since he weighs 138 lbs. But for the last day and a half he's started just going on the blankets he is laying on. He has an appetite, but its less than it was before this happened. And he is drinking water. But he cries and growls when we try to use a towel to help him get his back end up, and he refuses to put his legs down to the ground to even attempt to put any weight on them. He sometimes shifts his back legs, but that's the most movement I've seen. He also seems to be having trouble with his front legs, doesn't try to use them to sit up, and doesn't adjust them when his paws are twisted awkwardly. But it doesn't seem as severe, maybe he's just overcompensating for his back legs?

I talked to the vet today, Monday, over the phone, and told her everything I stated above. She said if I want to know what the max is that I could do, its to see the neurologist, possibly have to deal surgery and the costs involved. Or she said if it is a stroke, he could recover on his own but it takes "awhile". Or we could decide that since he's not showing any signs of improvement, it may be time to talk about putting him down, since his quality of life has deteriorated.

I'm truly having a hard time with this decision. I don't have the funds or the ability to care for a long-term invalid dog, especially one that weights 138 lbs! We work long hours, and don't have much flexibility in our schedules to come home to help him go to the bathroom, etc. We also don't have any people we could ask for help. But that's NOT his fault. Bear has done nothing but be a wonderful family dog for the 7 years we've had him. It doesn't seem fair that because I can't care for him and don't have thousands of dollars to opt for the neurological tests that he should be considered a lost cause.

So I need a second opinion on the neuro suggestion and on the stroke suggestion, and what would you do if your 10 year old Malamute suddenly couldn't walk and was in pain? Is it possible for a dog to recover from a stroke, with the symptoms I've stated? Is it possible for Bear to get back to his happy mobile self if I miraculously figured out a way to go through with the neuro tests and possible surgery and caring for an invalid dog? (Which, by the way, the vet has never exactly said what the neuro problem could be.) I've heard Malamutes can expect to live 10 to 12 years, but I don't know if that's true. If I sound like I need someone to tell me what to do, you wouldn't be far off the mark...

Thank you for reading my VERY long message. I would appreciate any help or even opinions!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, I'm so sorry that you guys are going through this. It sounds very traumatic.

I'm concerned that the Deramaxx is not making things better. This makes arthritis less likely. Also, arthritis doesn't usually come on all of a sudden like this.

What you are describing doesn't sound like a stroke. We actually don't see many strokes in dogs...and when we do they are not painful. It sounds like he is quite painful.

I'm wondering if what your vet described as a stroke was actually a fibrocartilaginous embolism. This is where a piece of cartilage can lodge in the spinal column. However this is usually not painful either.

The next possibility is if there is a disc in the vertebrae that is pushing up on the spinal cord. A bulging disc can sometimes go away on its own (or with medications) but sometimes it needs a very expensive surgery.

It's hard to help you without being able to examine Bear, but here's what I would suggest. It really would be a good idea to see a neurologist. These vets are usually better than us at figuring out what is going on. If they feel that it is a disc problem that needs surgery, then I think euthanasia is an option. However, if they feel that it is due to inflammation in the spine they may talk to you about changing the Deramaxx to a steroid. Steroids work better for disc pain, but there would be a time period where he may have to go a day or two without medicine so this could be difficult.

Do you know if you live in an area that sees lyme disease? If so, it's worthwhile to ask the veterinarian if this is an option. Any time I see a dog with extreme pain in multiple limbs I think of lyme. If your vet thinks Lyme could be an option then they may add on a medication called doxycycline.

I would urge you not to give up on him too quickly. But, again, if at all possible it would be great to have him see a neurologist.

I really hope he improves!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.