Living with Duchess’s Arachnoid Cyst

 The progression of Duchess’s arachnoid cyst meant that she needed more care than most dogs. Bill – the one who’d really wanted to adopt her – was still working full time. I was at home due to my own health problems; so, of course, I was the one to take on Duchess’s care.

9-01 Bill & Duch 2004 crop

In the house, Duchess joined our other pugs in a unique “parade,” all three following me as I went from room to room. Sarah and Harley trotted close behind me, with Duchess farther back, lurching lopsidedly from side to side. Her gait would have been comical if it weren’t due to so serious a health problem. She had full control of her front legs, which proceeded forward very purposefully. In contrast, her hips and hind legs followed along haphazardly, wobbling here and there without regard to where her front end was going.

9-02 3 pugs in yard

After about six months, as our veterinarian had warned us, Duchess became incontinent of urine and stool, much to her distress (not to mention mine), for she’d been well housetrained and apparently was proud of it. My heart went out to the little trooper as she tried unsuccessfully to reach the door, leaving behind a trail of urine or “tootsie rolls” on the floor. The disease had progressed to a more dangerous stage: Duchess had lost sensation in the back half of her body, so she no longer could control her bowels or bladder.

9-03 Duchess plays jacks

Duchess’s bladder – an organ that is really just a storage facility for urine – now stayed full, with the urinary overflow leaking out; she had no control over the leakage. To help stem the overflow, I expressed her urine three times a day by squeezing her bladder, which would get to the size of a chicken egg when it was full. To me, this seemed to be a relatively simple way to help prevent the serious, even life-threatening infections that otherwise could ensue.

In fact, I was painfully aware of how Duchess might feel, coping with the sensation of an over-full bladder all the time. The complications of my neurological disease affected my own bladder exactly as it did Duchess’s. Normally, when the bladder is full, nerve impulses cause the muscles to contract; and one senses the need to urinate. But the urine has to exit through the urethra, the tube leading down from the bladder to the outside. For this to happen, the nerve impulses that tell the bladder to contract must be synchronized with other nerve impulses that tell the urethra to relax and allow the urine to pass through to the outside. If the muscle contractions are weak, sporadic, or uncoordinated, the bladder can’t empty completely; only the overflow leaks out. Sometimes medications help; for me, they no longer did.

The drawing below shows the urinary system of the female dog.

Drawing found at:

In a way, our canine neurologic patient landed in what may have been the perfect adoptive home for her: one with a “mom” who was emotionally and technically prepared to empty her bladder by hand.

I was not so well prepared to deal with Duchess’s bowels, which also had to be emptied manually. “Manually,” of course, means “by hand;” and my hands were the ones selected for this less-than-pleasant task, which I did twice daily (with disposable gloves). Doggy diapers also came in handy, especially when we had company. One of the Pug Rescue volunteers sews lovely decorative diapers, trimmed in soft lace, for female foster pugs in need of such lingerie; and we were beneficiaries of her expertise.

Even with these precautions, Bill and I became accustomed to finding what we referred to as “Duchess’s little chocolate drops” on our laps or on the couch.

9-05 Duchess by fireplace

Next week, I’ll get back to some stories of our other pugs. (Duchess just needed more of an introduction than the others.)



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