Poozer is getting old.
He's slow to get up and he has trouble keeping his hind legs underneath him when he walks. He is especially unstable on smoother surfaces such as tile floors.
Kathy has been giving Poozer a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, or NSAID, for arthritis pain for five months; it seems to help, but Poozer's weakness has gotten worse.
Kathy takes Poozer on short walks and helps him up when necessary, but his problem now includes some loss of bowel control. He often will arise and leave a bowel movement on the ground.
Kathy said Poozer does not appear to realize he is defecating and seems quite embarrassed when it happens. There are times when he does know it's time to go and he will do so normally, but the frequency of normal bowel movements is greatly decreased.
Kathy is describing true fecal incontinence. Poozer simply is not aware at times that he is having a bowel movement. This condition is neurologic, meaning he is losing voluntary nerve control to the anal sphincter muscle. This is the muscle that, when contracted, holds back stool.
This problem is somewhat common, especially in older dogs and larger breeds. I believe it is more common now than 15 years ago because these types of dogs are living longer.
Poozer's condition has likely resulted from a condition affecting the nerve pathways from the lower portion of his spinal cord; these pathways link to the muscles of his rear legs and his anal sphincter. There are several possibilities as to the underlying cause, which is key to proper treatment.
Poozer has had a thorough work-up, including radiographs of his spinal column and pelvis, and has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, secondary joint disease in his hip joints, and lumbosacral instability. The hip dysplasia, a malalignment of the hip joints, results in the secondary joint disease from chronic arthritis. This is why he is on NSAIDs. The lumbosacral instability is the likely cause for his neurological weakness leading to the symptoms in his rear legs and his fecal incontinence.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lumbosacral instability. I have had some success treating these patients with anabolic steroids, which help strengthen muscles. This treatment, though temporary, can be effective. I am familiar with this condition, as my dog Al has the same problem.
Another avenue of treatment is veterinary chiropractic care. We have had some marvelous results in these types of cases. Again, this is not a cure, but it has shown great promise in helping to return some of these patients to more normal musculoskeletal function. For Poozer, and I suspect for many other companions, chiropractic care may provide some relief.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.