Alicia Graef is an animal writer who shared the painstaking steps she took to keep her treasured German shepherd Aylin, safe and comfortable after being diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy. Here’s their story.
How to handle a terminal diagnosis
“I had a German Shepherd named Aylin. At our last annual visit to the vet I explained that Aylin had been stumbling around almost as if she was drunk. The vet said it was just arthritis, but I wasn’t convinced. I worried she might be at the beginning stages of Degenerative Myelopathy, a disease that ultimately paralyzes a dog. Aylin wasn’t knuckling her paws like you see in DM patients, but she had started dragging her back feet and wearing down her nails. It had been a slow progression over the last months, so I was at the point where I started asking around and researching DM.
I made a lot of adjustments at home to keep Aylin safe. I covered all the floors to keep her from slipping and falling. I also began using a sling to help her up and down my front steps. The car became off limits because it was too high for her to jump and she was too big for me to lift.
I added supplements to her diet and acupuncture and exercise to her care. I got second and third opinions and I even started to look for a new place to live that didn’t have stairs.
At that time I also bought a harness. Aylin pouted about it at first. I suspect she thought it was quite undignified, or just wished it came in pink.
I’m so glad I got the harness because a little while later Aylin woke me up one morning crying and dragging her body all around the house. We rushed to the emergency vet where they decided she had a slipped a disc. They suggested an MRI and possible surgery, but I wasn’t sure if that would be too much for her, or how I would pay for it. So I decided to go with medication and bed rest to see if there was any improvement before making any big decisions.
Oddly, I went to a different vet about two weeks later when Aylin became very lethargic. It was the veterinarian I thought I would be referred to if we decided to have surgery. The new veterinarian didn’t think it was a slipped disc, but before we could start any treatment or diagnostics, Aylin came down with pneumonia. She passed away that night.”
Alicia lost Aylin nearly two years ago when the dog was 13 years-old. While she reminds herself that she is grateful for having Aylin in her life for such a long time, the events leading up to the dog’s death still tug at her heart. Unfortunately not every health condition can receive a definitive diagnosis from a veterinarian and that leaves a pet owner with unanswered questions and concerns. Alicia’s hope was to get answers from the neurologist, but Aylin couldn’t hold on.
Alicia says the hardest part was watching Aylin when she still wanted to play and do things, but her body wouldn’t cooperate. She tips her hat to everyone who is taking care of a pet with special needs.
DM is a progressive neurological condition that strikes dogs between the ages of 8-14. It strips away the protective myelin cover on the spine that provides communication between the brain and a dog’s limbs. The symptoms begin with a loss of coordination and weakness in the hind legs. That progresses to complete paralysis in the back legs. Eventually the paralysis moves to the front limbs and to the respiratory system.
Alicia Graef is a dedicated animal advocate who writes about worldwide animal causes. She and I worked as colleagues for five years and I am proud to share her story.
Here is the Help Em Up Dog Harness that was a lifesaver to Aylin.