I'm writing this post and I don't know how it will end.
Four months ago we noticed a bump on our puppie's jaw. It was hard, like bone so we took her to our vet. She hesitantly said it could be CMO - craniomandibular osteopathy - and she sent us to an emergency dog hospital to rule out cancer. CMO is a juvenile bone disease that almost exclusively effects West Highland Terriers and sometimes other small terriers. It's a show dog disease, not something that a pitbull ever gets and no matter who gets it it's very rare.
CMO effects the jaw and head of the dog by laying down new bone on top of existing bone. It's often called Lion's Jaw, since the lower jaw can get very big. It can be fatal and almost always is when it gets into the base of the skull. Excess bone there slowly locks the dog's jaw closed and they starve to death. There's no cure for CMO, though the bones stop growing when the dog hits maturity and sometimes the excess even gets reabsorbed.
When the specialists took x-rays, it confirmed that she had CMO, and once I got through the panic and terror I began researching it. All I could find were cases where euthanasia was the end result, and then I found one paper that was more optimistic. I reached out to the author, Carole Owen, who assured me that CMO is something a dog can live through, and I also exchanged emails with a human geneticist, Pat Venta, who is involved in a CMO research project. There isn't much clinical documentation on CMO outside of a few vet school papers, both because of its rarity and because breeders of high end show dogs didn't want to let it be known if their dogs had CMO, given the financial consequences. This seemed to change in the '80's to a more 'let's see what we can discover to eradicate this disease' and a little more literature became available.
Our vet had never seen a case and researched it and reached out to other vets and mostly found what I did. She understood the tech end of things and came up with a med plan for treating it. CMO is very painful when it's active, usually during a growth spurt, and the meds minimized the pain. We started to watch for signs and could usually tell when it was up, and our dog began getting through the spurts as best as possible.
The CMO wasn't migrating to the back of her head and she was doing great. Then over the last six weeks we noticed that her jaw was getting really big, and the top of her head was starting to bulge. We knew it was on the top of her from initial diagnostic x-rays, and though we were dismayed we weren't surprised. We had put her on a more powerful med and all was still okay, though she'd have occasional bouts where we'd have to up her pain meds.
A week ago Friday we took her to the vet hoping to change her meds (to get her off a steroid she was on) and when we started the new med plan she got listless. Her eye got infected and we treated it. Her ear got infected and we treated that. We saw blood on the carpet on Wednesday and ran a urine sample to the vet and discovered she had a UTI. That night she perked up, but Thursday morning she barely ate so we scrambled some eggs and hand fed her. That evening she wouldn't eat and the vet suggested taking her off all her meds to see exactly what we were dealing with. By Saturday we were back in the vets office pumping her with fluids and antibiotics. The plan was to see how she did and if she didn't improve we'd take her to the emergency dog hospital Sunday. All week she'd be listless, her eyes almost rolling around in her head, then she'd revive and suddenly want to walk. Sunday morning we tried to feed her and her head started shaking, like she had Parkinson's and that was it. We got her in the car and took her to the emergency dog hospital.
She's been in the ICU since then. She was zonked on painkillers Sunday when we went to visit her, but yesterday she fought through the daze when she heard our voices. Joe knelt next to her kennel and she immediately lifted her head. He cracked a jar of peanut butter and her nose started, then she laid back down. She moaned when I patted her head, which felt like hello, though her eyes barely opened since she has no strength. She still hasn't eaten (they give her electrolytes, etc.), she's hooked up to monitors and IV's and is undergoing all kinds of tests. Sunday the doctor worried that the CMO had effected her brain and told us to prepare for a hard decision, i.e. putting her down. Monday a whole new host of issues began and she started to jaundice, but the attending doc didn't think it's related to her disease. They can't find the source of what's going on, yesterday they did more tests and an ultrasound, and early today they'll do a liver biopsy. Our vet and the attending are leaning toward cancer.
When I started the freelance gig Joe would often meet me at the subway after work with the dog and we'd walk home together, then later we'd go out at night and do a long family walk. Our mornings were mostly spent at dog runs and we'd spend a good part of the rest of the day coaxing her down the stairs to get out then coaxing her back in and up since she never wanted to be in. We'd run to the butcher to get her marrow bones, we'd go online to buy her beds and order her food, and roaming the city we'd find great toys and treats to train her with. We'd meet our neighbors with her favorite dog on the stairs or out in front of the building and we'd kibbutz while the dogs wrestled and finally konked out together. We'd walk her down the street and people neither of knew would yell her name. A doorman around the corner fell in love with her and always had us in for treats. With both of us working from home our dog made us much more social than we'd normally be during the day and at times it felt very 19th century as we made our way through our 'visits.'
Neither one of has had a dog in over twenty years and having this dog, our dog, a living, breathing animal with a strong personality, has changed every inch of our lives. Even work - the dog lays on her bed in the kitchen and watches Joe work, then when she gets bored she plods into the living room and lays under my chair. When we open the fridge she pushes her nose in to sniff out watermelon or chicken or steal a lick off a yogurt container. At the dog run she runs amok, then will suddenly run through our legs because she can. That's the other thing to having a dog -- watching trust start to build. I remember the first time she looked up at me while I walked her - I mean really looked at me, like we're doing this together and I hope I'm doing it right. Soon after she started putting a paw on our foot when we stopped. If we stopped longer to chat she'd sit on our feet, even at fifty pounds. We became her pack and she became our family. Though I knew I'd get attached to this dog when we got her, the depth of the attachment is profound.
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