When we took Duchess to our veterinarian, “Dr. T,” we found that our new pug had many health problems. We’d already noticed her bad breath; this was a symptom of gingivitis, that is, a gum infection, which required a month-long course of antibiotics. Her ears and eyes also were infected and in need of medications. In addition, her body exuded a pungent “mousy” odor. This distinctive smell heralded a fungal infection, which Dr. T confirmed by examining a skin scraping under a microscope. Frequent medicated baths would be required to eliminate the fungus. Duchess also had arthritis in her spine and her legs, so Dr. T prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug to help make movement less painful for her.
Evidently Duchess’s health needs had not been of the highest priority by her former family. Nevertheless, they had not been ungenerous in feeding her; this pug was grossly obese and needed to go on a reducing diet.
Theoretically, Duchess was a petite pug; her ideal weight would have been about 12 pounds. At 24 pounds, she was so obese that she could sit only after carefully arranging herself: She’d spread her back legs out to the sides, and then she’d place a front leg on each side of her giant round belly, like a miniature Buddha. Even after she lost weight, she continued to sit in this unusual way. She reminded me of a little human girl wearing a short black dress, sitting with her legs splayed out to the sides, ready to play a game of jacks. (Do kids play jacks anymore?)
I was relieved that these health problems were curable or, in the case of arthritis, treatable. However, Duchess’s tremors, unsteady gait, and difficulty walking, which we’d noticed at the Pug Picnic, pointed to a much more serious problem involving the neurological system. The cause was an arachnoid cyst. This is a fluid-filled growth of the arachnoid membrane, which consists of fine, entangled fibers that form a web-like covering, like a spider’s web, over the brain and spinal cord.
An arachnoid cyst is not cancerous, but it can become extremely dangerous as it grows larger and ensnares more of the nerves extending from the spinal cord. Initially, the cyst was pressing on the spinal nerves that serve the lower part of her body, causing weakness in her hind legs and pelvic area. The cyst gradually would affect more nerves, proceeding up the spinal cord from her pelvis toward her head. As it grew, it would paralyze the affected body parts.
Before long, the cyst would have an impact on the nerves that govern the functioning of the bladder and bowels. Duchess would become incontinent of urine and stool. Bowel incontinence might be unpleasant and would complicate the type of care she’d need, but it wouldn’t be life-threatening. On the other hand, constant urinary leakage would make her very susceptible to bladder infections. These infections could easily progress up the urinary tract to the kidneys, potentially causing irreparable damage that could result in death. Therefore, I’d need to empty Duchess’s bowels and bladder by hand.
In time, if Duchess survived the urinary tract problems, the arachnoid cyst would block the nerve signals to her diaphragm; in time, she would be unable to breathe. As Dr. T cautioned us, once the diaphragm was affected, asphyxiation could ensue very quickly; and without immediate euthanasia, this would be a terrifying way to die. In the later stages of the disease, therefore, Duchess would need to be monitored closely so her death could be managed peacefully and kindly in a non-emergency setting.
Based on her condition at the exam, Dr. T estimated that Duchess might get to that point in as soon as six months. Bill tried to console me by saying, “Well, Dear, at least you’ll only have to take care of her for about six months.”
… Six years later – yes, I said six years, not months, later – I was still carrying Duchess outside to empty her bladder and bowels manually – and Duchess was still competing with me for Bill’s affection.