Following in Fergus's Footsteps
by Jill Stayte
Our story begins at the end of January, about three weeks after Fergus came home from the Animal Health Trust’s hospital.
I took Wenna to see Craig, our vet, because she wasn’t quite herself - no real symptoms, just no sparkle. He carried out a blood test - (we’re lucky, our veterinary surgery is part of an animal hospital, so basic blood tests are done while you wait.) The white blood cell count indicated she had had some sort of virus.
About a week later Wenna was feeling ‘down’ again, so back we went to Craig. I spoke to him about Fergus but at this point, there was no sign of any neuropathy. I’d chatted with Kim and Caroline a few times and both of them had said they couldn’t see why there would be any possibility that Wenna had the same problem as Fergus – after all ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’.
However, within 4 to 5 days Wenna began to trip up and stumble. Back we went to the vets and now we had the signs – heavy tail, feet remaining where they were placed when tucked under. We rang Kim and Craig spoke to her. He was pretty sure we now had the same condition to face and within the week Wenna no longer had use in her legs or tail.
Soon, from being able to help her outside myself, it now needed four of us to get her up and out. We were so lucky to have our friends Graham & Caroline Lea living five minutes away, who came to help us (sometimes at 5 o’clock in the morning) I bought a hydrotherapy harness, which was a ‘Godsend’, as it had loops at four corners so we could position ourselves more effectively to help her up.
I slept with her for four weeks, as when she was at her lowest point, she was unable to change her position, or turn herself to get more comfortable. There were times when she was desperate to have a wee or pass a motion and got very upset. It took a lot of persuading that it was ok to ‘go’ in the house. I bought some plastic backed picnic mats and puppy training pads so we could clean her up quickly. After she’d ‘been’ it was lots of praise and a small piece of chocolate for ‘going’.
We went to see Craig every 4 or 5 days, thanks to Chris and Les Wright taking us in their much larger and easier to access vehicle.
Wenna’s medication consisted of a steroid injection to start, Synulox antibiotics and SA37 tablets. She didn’t have a raised temperature, so it was just a question of covering as many possibilities with things that might help. Fergus had had all the tests at AHT, so we knew there wasn’t any point in Wenna having them done as well.
Wenna ate well all through her illness, but making sure she got plenty of fluids was a bit more difficult, until we started adding milk to her water several times a day. Her treatment at home consisted of massaging her legs and toes and bicycling actions (yes, I even sang to her when we did the cycling exercises!)
Sometimes her paws seemed very cold, so she and I wore matching pink socks! As soon as she started to drag herself around a bit, I made her some elbow pads to try to prevent any grazing. These consisted of pieces of quilted material, fastened with cohesive bandage, to keep them in place. Each day I tugged at the hairs in between her pads to try to get a reaction, to see if any feeling was returning.
I spoke to Kim and Caroline nearly every day. Some days would be upbeat, some would be dreadful, as even after a small improvement it would be several days before we saw another. But we got there. I think I cried as many tears when each little breakthrough came, as I did when she was so poorly, but then they were tears of joy, not despair.
When she was able to walk into the vets on her own everyone who had been working with her, or knew of her, came to see my beautiful Wenna looking as good as ever. The recovery really seemed miraculous.
Wenna made a complete recovery and was again able to run round the fields with Jenny (our other Wolfhound) at full gallop. She could even jump from standing on her hind legs to landing on them (for her food dish of course!) and is back to reaching up on the kitchen cabinets looking for anything edible.
Like Kim, I too went through various scenarios as to what and why.
Wenna and Fergus were together at the beginning of November - 3 months before Wenna was poorly. Did I take something back with me after I visited Fergus on Boxing Day? - If so, why did none of our other dogs get it? Was there a link between brother and sister? - Jasmine, Blossom andMarley (the other littermates) didn’t get it and their owners, Caroline and Chris bvisited Fergus many more times than I was able to. So no real answers ……. but, we had the happiest of endings for Fergus and Wenna and for all those who knew them and loved them.
Craig our vet, is still very curious and asks whenever he goes on courses, or meets up with other vets who might have some ideas.
by Caroline Sheppard
Since being involved with Fergus & Wenna’s illnesses, we have all ‘tuned in’ to any information, or incidents, we hear of which appear to have similarities.
We developed a theory that this illness appears to be more common in the winter months and may indeed be viral in origin. However, because there has been little or no research carried out, the virus remains unidentified. As with other viruses, the reason some are susceptible and others not, will probably always be unclear.
In view of this, we were concerned that given the severity of the symptoms – especially logistically with giant breeds – many vets will advise euthanasia. As has been demonstrated with Fergus and Wenna, this is something from which dogs CAN make a full recovery.
We all felt that there was a need to share information on similar conditions and suggest ways that could help people and their Wolfhounds cope with such a physically and emotionally difficult experience.
There have been various articles in the dog press over the years, giving details of dogs of different breeds, who appeared to have the same condition. In all of these cases, the owners persevered and the dogs recovered, but the vets remained ‘in the dark’ about what they were dealing with and unable to offer a firm prognosis.
I have heard of another Irish Wolfhound, who was struck down by what appeared to be the same condition. He was completely immobile for some weeks during the latter part of 2007. His condition was further complicated in that he also developed pneumonia. He also made a good recovery and became fully mobile again. Interestingly, the owners had experience of a similar condition, some years previously, with a different breed. This dog also recovered.
My feeling is that this condition is probably more common than the vets lead us to believe. If we share the information, then we may eventually be able to find an explanation – or at the very least - provide encouragement to the owners.
Since this condition appears to be self-limiting, all that can be done is palliative care. With a giant breed, this can be tricky, to say the least. This is the main reason that vets almost always recommend that the dog be put to sleep.
When Fergus was at the AHT, things did look very bleak. With no diagnosis, there can be no prognosis – only a ‘wait and see’ situation. At no time were we told that he would definitely get better, we all just hoped ……………
I feel extremely fortunate that both the hounds I bred, were owned by such caring and determined people. Even though it was a very tough time – both physically and emotionally - for all of them, they remained focussed and positive. They refused to give up hope that their hounds would recover, even when the vets were sceptical.
They were also lucky enough to have a network of support, which was vital to the hounds’ recovery. It is one thing to lift, turn, massage and generally mobilise a 20lb dog – but quite another when the dog weighs 140 – 170lbs!
Fergus and Wenna’s stories were instrumental to the idea of creating the PAWS group.
If these accounts can be of encouragement to anyone who is faced with similar problems, then that is all to the good.
If you need advice about coping with a hound with mobility problems, or have any information you would like to share, please contact the PAWS team.