Hello, my family has a German Shepherd named George. George is a long-retired show dog around nine years old. About six months ago, George began falling over when he changed direction too quickly. George would fall, roll over, and immediately spring back up into action. But then George began to drag his feet and would act restrained in his fast movement – first he would slow down before changing directions when sprinting outside, then he would hardly sprint at all. Having grown up with shepherds, my family is familiar with hip dysplasia and my parents scheduled George a vet appointment around two months ago, thinking this could be the cause. After a little research, I learned about canine degenerative myelopathy, breakdown of the “white matter” of the spine. The vet, however, diagnosed George with cauda equina, pinching of the spinal nerves. He based this diagnosis off of an x-ray of George taken while he was on his side. The office attempted to take an x-ray of George on his back, but George would not comply. The vet placed George on two medications, previcox 227mg once a day and amantadine 100mg once a day. Within a few days of beginning these pills, George’s behavior became very lethargic, so on the follow up visit our vet took discontinued amantadine but kept George on previcox. This had a clear effect – George appeared happier and more mobile.
Recently, however, I have started to question George’s diagnosis – even in spite of the x-ray.
First off is the symptoms George displays. George drags his tail and rear knuckles, and his rear end swings side to side when he walks. It has now gotten to the point where his rear legs wobble and buckle as he gets up and walks around, with the buckling decreasing in severity after a few steps. He is still completely continent and can hold himself in for hours at a time. He is still active and playful with a strong appetite, and frequently solicits back rubs. Severe back pain, especially when the back is touched, is listed as the most common symptom of cauda equina. George seemingly shows no pain/showed no pain before starting previcox, and still asks for back rubs which he appears to enjoy. At first I thought this could simply be because George is such a stoic dog. As a show dog, George was bred and raised to show no emotion. But if the pain truly is supposed to be severe, particularly when their lower back is touched, I would imagine any dog would cry out during a lower back scratch.
The second reason I would like a second opinion is because while cauda equina affects a wide variety of dogs and other animals, degenerative myelopathy is documented as being most prevalent in German Shepherds. Our local vet has a great reputation and is clearly very compassionate for animals, but is located in a poorer and very warm area (east coast of Florida) where he likely hardly ever sees shepherds, much less shepherds with a rare breed-specific disease. Every other time an animal comes in exhibiting loss of motor function in their rear legs, it probably is indeed cauda equina, so that may be what he’s used to seeing and diagnosing. It appears George is at greater risk for DM and displays all symptoms of DM, whereas the symptoms of cauda equina he displays are only the ones found in DM.
I am particularly concerned about this now is because George’s condition has worsened very noticeably in the past two weeks. Eight days ago, I took George on a short walk for the first time in at least a month, maybe six weeks. It was only a few hundred yards up and down the neighborhood (with his booties on of course). I did not witness it, but my parents claimed he could hardly move the next day. Because of this, they will not allow me to walk George anymore. I believe, however, that George was sore for one of two reasons, or maybe both. One, his feet were sore. As we got home, I took George’s booties off and he darted off onto the pavement to chase an armadillo, causing his knuckles to scrape and slightly bleed. Two, he is so out of shape. George is lying down virtually all day. I believe his muscles are atrophied, and this atrophy is greatly exacerbating his condition. I would like to start walking or exercising him somehow again. A strong dog with 50% motor function will be able to walk and enjoy life longer and more thoroughly than a weak dog with 50% motor function.
George is a central part of my family. We grew up with three different shepherds, all of whom were great animals, and George is still by far and wide everyone’s favorite. He belongs to my parents, and I am a college student who has been home for the past four months observing George’s decline on a daily basis. I’m sure you hear this all day every day, but I love George very much. He has helped me through tough times and I want to maximize every day he has left. So my question is this: Should I pursue a second opinion, or can I be comfortable with the cauda equina diagnosis? And regardless of answer, what treatment options should I consider discussing with our veterinarian, and can he be walked/exercised?
I apologize for the wall of text but I hope I was descriptive enough. Thank you all very much.