Today we talk to Jennifer and find out what it is like to look after Molly, who was recently diagnosed with fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE), as well as a newborn baby. She shares her story and the handy products that have helped their growing family adjust to their new way of life.
Can you tell us a bit about Molly?
Molly is a rescue pup that we adopted when she was four months old. We found her on petfinder, and fell in love with this adorable video of her playing with a toy. When we went to go meet her we found out that she was a survivor of parvo virus. She was the last pup of her litter, and was very small compared to the rest. We brought her home that day.
Molly proved she was a survivor very early in life and we hope that same determination continues with her most recent struggle with an FCE. Molly's FCE journey is pretty new. She was diagnosed with a probable FCE on June 15, 2018. We had been on a family vacation, about to play a board game, when I noticed that Molly stood up and started walking on the knuckles of her left back paw. We immediately checked her paw for an injury or cut but found nothing. I started googling reasons why a dog might do this and most things suggested a neurological problem.
Since it was about 8pm, and we were in a unfamiliar town, I began looking for 24 hour animal hospitals. I finally found one and described what I was seeing. They urged us to come in right away. In the 20 minutes it took us to find the animal hospital and get in the car Molly went from knuckling on just her left back paw to the inability to move her entire left back leg. After a quick check at the vet they realized that this was not something they were prepared to treat, especially when they realized the paralysis had now spread to the right back leg and she had also lost deep nerve pain. They sent us to an animal hospital almost two hours away that had a neurologist on staff.
After a MRI and an overnight stay we were told her probable diagnosis was an FCE, or a stroke of the spinal cord. They kept Molly till Monday to monitor her and make sure she did not get worse. We went from having a healthy energetic pup who loved running to a dog who was paralyzed in both back legs and had no bladder control. Did I mention we also have a newborn and another rescue pup? Life got suddenly very complicated and overwhelming.
What is a regular day like with Molly?
Molly and her pup sister Penny have always slept in our bedroom, usually our bed. We knew right away that having a paralyzed incontinent dog that is 60lbs was going to make this a struggle. We decided that my husband was going to sleep in the living room with her. It has easy access to the yard, is far enough away from the baby that late night pee breaks wont wake her, and at least for now it prevents having to carry her up the stairs and risking more swelling to her spine. We figure this is temporary, either she will start to regain mobility or she will start to get strong enough on her front paws to walk with assistance up our stairs.
We also decided the best way to move forward was to split the responsibilities. That means right now he is on Molly duty and I am on baby duty. Typically he takes Molly out to express her bladder at midnight, 3 am, and 6am. After the 6am potty break he feeds the dogs and then gets ready for work. Being on maternity leave I have a little more flexibility in my schedule. While he is taking care of Molly at 6 am, I am feeding the baby and settling her back to sleep. Once that is done I begin rehab with Molly. Right now that consists of range of mobility exercises, stretching, and massage. I usually spend about 30 minutes doing this. Then I start my day while Molly naps.
At about 10 am its time to feed the baby again, play with her and find a calm activity she likes to do on her own. While the baby is playing I take Molly out again for some fresh air and to express her bladder. Once this is done, my attention goes back to the baby and getting her ready for another nap and more rehab for Molly.
One of the first things we realized was caring for a baby, recovering from a c-section, and having a 60lb dog that needed a lot of physical lifting was something I was likely to struggle with. We really felt that it was important for Molly to be able to go outside, walk around, and smell things. In order to accomplish this we found a dog walking service run by two vet techs that specialize in caring for dogs needing special medical attention. Right now they come once a day around noon to help Molly outside and spend as much or as little time as she wants walking around and just being out. This allows Molly to get what she needs not matter what is going on with the baby or with my physical limitations. They have been an amazing resource. Its also something we can continue once my maternity leave is over. After they leave I usually get one more round of baby care/ Molly rehab before my husband comes home. Its pretty repetitive but I find having a routine and schedule is helping Molly adjust and keeps the baby happy. It also makes my day pretty predictable and easier to schedule in that me time.
When my husband gets home he takes the dogs out then spends some time with the baby. After dinner we have been trying to add in some new exercises that require both of us, such as positioning her in typical dog stances, assisted walking while moving her legs, and other core stability exercises. A little while later he does some stretching and massage with Molly too. Then its off to bed again.
We are pretty fortunate that our daughter is a great baby, she sleeps for 2 hour naps three times a day and sleeps through the night. It makes it easier to give Molly what she needs while the baby is sleeping. I'm not sure what our day would look like if she was a very fussy baby. The one thing we have been very adamant about was that we didn't want this to change our daughters schedule. I feel very lucky that we were able to add in these extra needs with out any disruption to her.
We have only had one weekend home with Molly since her FCE, and to be honest we are still adjusting. Molly is a very active dog who does not like to sit still so for now we are making sure at least one of us is home with her at all times so that she does not injure herself trying to get around. If we want to go out or do something we have a family member come watch her. Weekends at home have gotten to be more of the norm since having a baby, so although we would like to get out more its not such a drastic change from how we were before. We are a little less strict with the split responsibilities on the weekend. We take turns caring for the baby, Molly, and of course Penny pup. Our schedule stays the same as the week days. We are working on getting Molly a wheel chair so that we can start to add in longer walks for her.
What products would you recommend for paralyzed dogs?
First for any dog with rear leg paralysis I would recommend a rear lift harness. The hospital sent us home with a sling that is great for over night bladder expression, but for more serious walking the rear harness is great. We bought ours from Walkabout. We chose the air lift harness since it is a more breathable material and summer is just getting started. What I like about this company is that they are capable of custom making your harness. Molly is very skinny but has muscular rear legs. She needed a medium for her waist but a large for her legs. They were able to make it the same day I ordered and sent out right away.
Costco has been our go to store. I would recommend a membership to any similar wholesale places. We are able to stock up on dog pee pads, disinfectant wipes to clean up the messes on the floor, baby wipes to clean Molly after accidents, and paper towels.
We also found these interlocking foam pads that are commonly used on gym floors. This is helpful when putting Molly into sitting positions. It lessens the stress and impact from our hard word floors. We were also able to get very cheap towels and wash cloths. You are going to need things in bulk.
I would also recommend a good bed. We have two in case of accidents. I like this bed because it is thick and comfortable for Molly. It is also huge! This allows her to lay flat and in a bunch of positions while still being completely on the bed. Not to mention its cheaper than most of the beds this size. Its also very easy to unzip and wash the cover.
Finally I would recommend something to protect the top of your dogs paws. We learned the hard way that a dog who cant place their feet flat on the ground is prone to cuts and scrapes. Right now we are using a wrap but I am looking into socks and booties.
What advice would you offer to someone with a paralyzed dog?
My biggest piece of advice is to find a support system. It could be service providers, family, online communities, or friends.
If you are anything like me you may be afraid to leave your pup alone at first but it's important to schedule some me time because everything can and will get overwhelming in the beginning. Having a schedule and routine has really helped us adjust and make sure we are providing all members of the family, human and fur, with what they need.
A lot of dogs recover at least partially from an FCE and paralysis. Take it one day at a time. When Molly had the runs it was very challenging because she was soiling herself every 2 hours and the clean up took 30 minutes and almost a daily bath. Now that it has past things are easier. I feel like moving forward most things will be like that. Either they will get better or we will adjust till the changes are no longer struggles just our new norm.
Thanks to Jennifer and her wonderful family for sharing their story. To read more interviews from other amazing owners of special needs dogs click here.
If you have a special needs dog with mobility or continence issues check out the other great product recommendations contributed by our other interviewees.