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Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Nestor's fight with an ugly disease

Taking Nestor to the vet

When we have to take Nestor, our Great Dane, to the vet, we have to lift him in the car because he never mastered how to jump in (although I do suspect some laziness). Now, I might be strong, but I cannot lift 170 lbs. So when it is vet time, my husband is the one who has to go. Luckily our dogs like going to the vet (go figure). Obviously I give my husband a very detailed what-to-ask-list.

The first signs of the ugliness

About two years ago I told him he had to mention that whenever you want to pet Nestor’s head, he ducked away. And his head was not proudly up anymore but always down low. They examined him and figured he had an ear infection. However, it just wouldn’t go away with the antibiotics. On the contrary, it got worse. And then he started to walk funny, like he was a bit drunk. But they just didn’t find anything. And he was still a happy big fellow so it was hard to convince people that he wasn't his usual self.

The diagnosis

Until finally, about a year later and completely by chance, we had another vet in that office and she diagnosed Nestor with Wobbler Syndrome immediately. She referred us to a veterinary neurologist.

There, we learned that the correct name is cervical spondylopathy. It is a spinal disorder that is quite common in certain large dog breeds, Great Danes being on the top of that list. The condition is caused by various underlying disorders of the neck bones. The origin of these defects is not exactly known but it basically results in compression of the spinal cord and mild to severe spinal cord problems.

Two options for treatment

There were two options for Nestor: surgery or medication.

Given the fact that Nestor was already more than middle aged, we did not opt for the surgery. Especially because the success rate was rather low.

Medication would suppress the discomfort, but we could expect flare-ups in both directions. We went home with a lot of heavy medication and the knowledge that we had to say goodbye, slowly but nevertheless say goodbye.

During treatment and the progress of the disease

And there were indeed days that he was quasi normal, playing a few minutes and venturing out in the yard for a bit, really enjoying the moments. Days that we were full of hope again. Then there were days that he was lethargic, when even going out to pee was too much.

We tried to make everything easy for him. We built a ramp to go outside, we bought a long rug so he wouldn’t slip on the kitchen tiles, we bought diapers, anti-slip socks and a harness.

How do you know when to stop?

At a certain point, we had started the hard discussion of when enough would be enough. How do you know? Especially with Nestor, a dog who was in tremendous pain but never, ever lashed out, he was always just his same old sweet personality.

And then one Sunday morning, he just wouldn’t get up. He had soiled himself and unaware of it, he was more lethargic than ever. We carried him outside, put pillows around him to keep his organs safe, tried to have him drink a little water, tried to feed him pain killers with biscoff paste. All to no avail. He had decided for himself that enough was enough.

What I wanted to tell you our story

I think what I would like readers to take away from this is the following.

We all know vets are overwhelmed, they have to see too many animals every day to keep their practice afloat. And as the result of that hastiness, they do not always acknowledge the fact that you, as the pet parent, know your pet better than anyone. Most of us intuitively know when something is wrong because you can read the subtle signs like no-one else. Not even the vet. We might not know what is wrong but we know something is. So if you are sure something is wrong, make your vet pay attention to you.

Anyway, I am glad I did at least a small end-of-life session with Nestor. When things get a little tough, like when I find another sock in the yard, I have those images to go back to.

Pet photography a man with this lab mix and great dane

pet photography headshot of a great dane
Notice the low head, typical for wobblers


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