Thursday, January 27, 2011

January - What the heck is going on?

So far this month has been wild. Last week my car was rear ended with $5000 in damage. Insurance is paying, and it is getting fixed, but the accident left me feeling very sore, and apprehensive about driving the rental car provided to me. A young guy going too fast in winter weather.

This week...a flood.

You are thinking... right MB a flood in January? Yep a flood left me with a few wonderful impromptu days off of school. The building that all of my classes are held in except for one, was flooded on Tuesday morning by a high pressure pipe bursting.


Right now we are scheduled to be back on Monday morning. Judging from what I've heard regarding the damage, I hope that they can actually get things completed by then. The days off have been nice but everything is so jammed in that it really makes for some scheduling challenges.

The girls were happy with this new development as it meant more time with them.

We did some of this;

then I caught up and got ahead on some reading. Mylee supervised.

After that we enjoyed a trip to our local doggy store Mutt Life where the girls enjoyed some socializing and shopping. Since it has been so cold outside I think they had a major case of cabin fever.

One of Zo's favourite things to do is play frisbee in the backyard. After losing her Chuck IT flying squirrel in the snow we were on the hunt to try something new.

We picked out a Zisc from Westpaw Design. The small sized one and tried to wait for a day to take it outside. That didn't last long as we ripped into it later that night, and did something bad... played with it in the house.

As you can tell by the video Zo adores it. It is a great size for her, and she has a very easy time of picking it up and bringing it back. Much more appropriate than her huge flying squirrel that is way too big for her but she loves so much.

We have since taken it outside yesterday and Zo was equally thrilled with it out there. I'm looking forward to trying more of their products.

Is it February yet?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Continuation of Mylee's Story - A struggle with Chiari Malformation

This week I was very fortunate to be approached by Norma Inglis of Craigowl Cavaliers who writes for Cavalier Chatterbox. Most people who are involved in Cavaliers have heard of Chatterbox. We all wait eagerly as each week a new "Chatterbox is open". Anyone who has read this week's Chatterbox would have seen Mylee's story posted. It was the same version I first chose to share with the SM list originally. If you haven't, go check it out. Thank you to Norma and Chatterbox for sharing Mylee's story with the Cavalier world. It is one that I hope people will revisit, and learn from.

Mylee's story will also be posted in the upcoming Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia Awareness event that is being hosted by Two Little Cavaliers. I look forward to the awareness, and attention being brought to such important health issues. I also look forward to celebrating the accomplishments made so far, a re-commitment to research initiatives, and recognizing those wonderful breeders out there who are working to breed healthy cavaliers.

I used to be very apprehensive about sharing Mylee's story. Whenever I tried to with Cavalier friends, it was incredibly hard. Her story always resulted in questions and criticisms that caught me off guard. They often put me on the defensive, and upset me. Comments and criticisms from people who weren't trying to be mean, they just plain didn't understand how a dog could be clear of syringomyelia yet be so symptomatic and in pain. Almost all awareness and research was dedicated to SM. My little red monster did not fit with any of it.

"Are you sure you haven't missed something?"

Yes I'm sure, everything has been ruled out. She is a healthy little dog aside from her CM.

"What about her teeth? Her ears? Allergies? Autoimmune? She did have a mild amount of PSOM in one ear."

All have been ruled out. Mylee has beautiful little white teeth. 100% better than her sister who lives here and receives the same dental care. She did have a yeast issue in her ears that cleared up easily with a diet change and treatment. From her elimination diets it was easily determined that she has sensitivities to chicken, corn, wheat, and soy. Her coat, skin, and ears look incredible after making changes to her diet and moving to primarily a home cooked holistic approach. Although she was looking better after the changes she was still vocalizing and scratching in pain. Her ears and head still felt like they were on fire with the amount of heat coming through them.

PSOM was also addressed and ruled out. Her Neurologist said several times when I inquired that she sees several cavaliers and other breeds with large amounts of PSOM in *both* ears and that they were definitely not screaming out and vocalize in pain like Mylee does. In her experience they often have no symptoms at all from their PSOM.

"Do you know what the long term effects are of prednisone?!"

Yes. I am well aware of the long term effects of prednisone. I make the choice for her quality of life now versus possible *long term* (several years down the road) side effects. If the use of prednisone allows Mylee to be comfortable and happy 95% of the time for 9 years, instead of her suffering in severe amounts of pain her every waking moment, but her living to be 12 years old; my choice would be the same every time. I will take however long I can have with my girl, and not take a single day for granted. I do that regardless with my dogs as you never know what tomorrow will bring.. healthy dog or not.

"I would never have my dog on prednisone for that long!"

Never say never until you have a dog like Mylee. You have never lived with a dog in severe amounts of pain.

A video of Mylee's symptoms
. It does have sound but if you are sensitive I wouldn't watch it or I would turn your sound off. After watching it. Imagine experiencing that level of pain 10-15x a day. Imagine for the rest of the day your dog laying flat out on the floor with her paws under her and her chin flat against the floor and her head and ears radiating with heat. That is what Mylee goes through without being on prednisone.

The combination (yes they have to be in combination) of Lyrica (pregabalin) and prednisone have been wonder drugs for Mylee. They allow her to experience everyday like a dog should. She runs, she plays, and is completely devoted to me.

I DO NOT blame her breeder in the slightest for what has happened to Mylee. I hold the utmost of respect for her and what she has accomplished in the breed. She is an incredible, and highly respected woman in Cavaliers. It was NOT her fault that Mylee turned out this way.

I THANK HER for entrusting Mylee to me and for producing her. She has made made my life incredibly special in ways that I have trouble putting into words. She is a very special "little red dog" to me and I am thankful for everyday I spend with her.

She was so little when I brought her home

First Bath

My Mom's Favourite Picture. She loves to steal Zoey's balls. Zo LOVES her balls but will not take them from Mylee, so Mylee hoards them.

Assisting Dr. Druor with an echocardiogram

The princess in her spot - On the back of the couch. Anyone who has visited here has seen her jump up there to survey her world.

If you must

With her girl - me

Mylee's Story - A little red dog and Chiari Malformation

Mylee means the world to me. She has taught me so much and is my constant companion and shadow. She is extremely loving to those she knows and is completely devoted to me.

What is most obvious about Mylee when you meet her is that she does not have the typical outgoing, friendly to all Cavalier personality. In fact she can be incredibly reserved to those she doesn't know. She often shies away from a strangers touch, giving the impression she is not friendly or that she is apprehensive. To strangers who know Cavaliers this always comes across as very strange. Is her temperament off? Was she not properly socialized? Why doesn't she want to say hi to me? Cavaliers should love everyone!

The truth is; Mylee is afraid that a strangers touch will hurt. She is afraid that you will touch her in the wrong spots. She doesn't trust that you know how to scratch her on her chest and back and leave her head and ears alone. She is afraid that you will hurt her.

Mylee suffers from Chiari Malformation. Yes Chiari Malformation without Syringomyelia present. She has been MRI'd twice a year a part from each other with no changes on her MRI. In fact it was the opposite. Her second MRI was slightly BETTER than the first. She has no hydrocephalus and no central canal dilatation. As an update Mylee had her third and final MRI at almost 5 years old, it was also clear of SM.

Mylee having a very symnptomatic episode. Warning: Do not watch with sound or at all if you are incredibly sensitive. It is hard to watch.

Prior to arriving at CM as her only cause of discomfort, my partner and I spent a ton of money in diagnostics starting with my own personal vet and moving on through different specialists. Allergies, yeast, eyes, teeth, mites, fleas etc were all ruled out long before her referral to Neurology.

Both of her MRI's were full diagnostic scans, not limited studies. Dr. Rusbridge was consulted with  and was a wonderful resource, taking time to look at her CD and her video of symptoms. Ultimately everyone ended up at the same spot. CM has to be her only source of discomfort and pain because *everything* else was ruled out.

She is now three years old and is only kept comfortable through the use of pregabalin and prednisone. Her symptoms started at 6 months of age with occasional crying out of pain. She quickly progressed to screaming severe pain episodes by a year of age and had her first MRI at one year old.

Her second was performed at just over two years of age. Before I go on in her story, the use of these two drugs does keep her very comfortable and happy the majority of the time. As much as I hate to use prednisone, it is working for us when nothing else has.

The amount of pain and discomfort my girl suffers from her Chiari Malformation is incredibly heartbreaking. She scratches bilaterally on her neck, ears, head, and face. She is a constant head rubber and will throw herself down on the carpet and roll all over. She vocalizes in pain through very high pitched screaming fits. She often retreats away from touch and is very withdrawn when she is not having a good day. 

One of the first things I notice is that on days that will be potentially "bad" her head, neck, and ears will radiate with heat. If there is snow outside she wastes no time throwing herself in it and rolling all over. 

The actual shape of her CM is not different from any other Cavalier. She is not herniated , nor does the flow of CSF seem to be extremely obstructed.  In comparison to other MRI scans I've viewed, I'd put her about middle of the road.  Not the best but certainly not the worst. 

I used to think that my dog was an anomaly. The normal 'just my luck' type of deal. How disturbingly funny was it that my girl with the beautiful clear scan was extremely symptomatic and my other girl who was and remains very non symptomatic was MRI'd as having SM. How does that happen?  Was I the only one in the entire world to have my clear scan girl be symptomatic and my "SM" dog not showing any sign of it whatsoever?

As time goes on and more people share their stories,  I now know that is no longer the case. My dog is not some random once in a lifetime occurrence. There are several of them who have clear scans but are very symptomatic with more and more popping up on public forums each day.

The first responses to our dogs diagnosis is always,  "we're SO sorry but how WONDERFUL it is that your dog doesn't have SM." Well no, its not wonderful.  So much focus has been put on Cavaliers who are symptomatic with syringomyelia, the fact that they can be symptomatic from chiari malformation alone is not anywhere on the radar.  It doesn't change the fact though that they are just as symptomatic and just as hard to mange.

The best you can say is that you are sorry. Most will automatically ask questions regarding diagnostics and care, assuming that there has to be an error and some obscure condition is lurking that has not been diagnosed properly.   I spent many months doing the same and finally came to terms with the fact that a label does not matter.  It doesn't change our day to day life and whatever will be will be.  Comfort plus quality of life IS and always will be the focus for my girl.  I don't care what her "diagnosis" is. 

SM is a very debilitating a serious condition, however for me physical presentation of symptoms and overall soundness will forever be of utmost importance. I'm one of the biggest advocates for scanning breeding dogs, yet it will forever be hard for me to put full trust in a piece of paper saying a dog is clear of SM.  They may be clear, but they may not be fully sound.

Given the choice,  I would pick having all my dogs be MRI'd with SM and live their lives pain free and not symptomatic like our Zoey, instead of having "clear of SM" MRI scans yet be in so much pain and discomfort.

What do I hope to accomplish by sharing our story? Awareness more than anything.

Maybe some thought that non symptomatic "D" dogs who remain that way for years deserve some thought and credit, and that "A" to "A" breeding's may not hold all the answers. 

After all isn't it the same goal we aim for in regards to MVD? Late onset or extremely slow progression? Clear and symptom free is what we are to aim for, however people need to be more understanding that an A grade on a breeding certificate, does not mean that a dog is symptom free.

In the future I hope to breed healthy and sound Cavaliers under the Canadian Kennel Club registered affix "Embee". Although Mylee has passed all required health clearances and was to be my foundation breeding girl, she will never be bred. When people are looking for "A" grade Cavaliers, somehow I do not think that this is what they are looking for.

Do your research before purchasing a Cavalier puppy. There are many great responsible breeders out there, doing everything they can to breed healthy and sound dogs. Seek them out and support them by buying a puppy from them. It does not guarantee that something will not go wrong with your puppy, but it does ensure the best chance of having a healthy companion.

Make sure you trust them and that you can go to them for advice and expertise. Spend some time with their dogs at their home. It certainly wouldn't take anyone visiting my home long to figure out that I have one symptomatic Cavalier and two who aren't.

Then, when you do end up taking that beautiful healthy puppy home and they grow into a beautiful sound, and healthy Cavalier, keep your breeder up to date. That is information that they want to have for making future breeding decisions.  We are all the keepers of this wonderful breed and owe it to them to do the best we can for the future of the Cavalier.

Make sure you are doing your part.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Let it Snow

I started a post graduate course in public relations at Humber College this week.

I started a course this week that I think I am going to love.

I started a course this week that I believe I am going to be good at.

I started a course this week that I need to be catching up, and moving ahead on my work this weekend.


I have been doing this...



Hurry Up and Throw it Already!





and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

After all public relations is about using social media and creating an online presence. If procrastination from course work involves social media and a slight blogging/photography addiction I think I am off to a great start.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cavaliers Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia - What Makes Sense and What Doesn't

When you type "Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and health" into Google or any search engine it doesn't take long to come across the terms Syringomyelia and Chiari Malformation. From there it takes no time at all to realize that this is *the* hot topic of discussion across many publications, forums, blogs, and email lists. There is *so* much information, research, debate, and yes controversy that many are often left more confused than when they started researching. There has also been a large divide that has been created between some breeders, researchers, and pet owners..always over the same things. What is being done, what isn't, who is in support, and who isn't.

I have been involved in working with Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia for several years now. I have seen research studies start, and be completed. We have come a long way in understanding both conditions, yet we also still have a lot to learn. Research is continually evolving and changing. We are very lucky to have Professionals that do care enough to research and study our breed.

My involvement with our scanning program here has given me the unique opportunity to be in contact with many Cavalier owners and breeders all over the world. I have engaged in both debate, and discussion regarding many opinion and thought. I have viewed a ton of MRI images. I have listened to many heartbreaking stories. As I continue to view more MRI's, talk to both breeders and pet owners regarding results, discuss symptoms, and scan my own dogs, the more questions I have.

I will *always* be a huge supporter of research, MRI scanning, and following protocols, however I also believe in good old common sense.

The supporter of research, MRI scans of dogs, and following protocols part of me absolutely loves that there is being awareness and education brought to both CM and SM. I'm the first to step up and say donate to research. Scan your dogs. Talk about those dogs who have been impacted. Be transparent regarding MRI results. Without discussion and research there will never be any answers.

What we have found so far that does make sense.

* MRI scanning provides much needed support of research, and a greater understanding of breeding dogs. It enables breeders to make responsible breeding choices, and follow set out breeding guidelines in the attempt of reducing Syringomyelia in our beloved breed. The preliminary stats do seem to be favourable in improvement.

* MRIing is the only way to properly diagnose dogs showing symptoms. Neurological symptoms can be very similar between conditions and to know what really is going on with a dog having problems you have to MRI it.

* Much education and awareness has been brought to CM and SM. Pet owners are encouraged to do their research and support responsible breeding practices. Don't go out and buy that cute cavalier puppy in the pet store, or become involved in getting a rescue if you aren't ready to deal with a Cavalier who is likely going to have severe health problems.

The common sense and balance part of me knows that only the popular aspects of CM and SM are continually discussed, and that several of the questionable areas are always quietly swept under the rug.

I'd like to share some of what is hardly ever discussed, yet is happening all the time. Some of what just plain doesn't make sense.

* Clear of Syringomyelia dogs, or Cavaliers with a Grade of A on breed screening reports can be EXTREMELY symptomatic from Chiari Malformation pain.

Some of the most symptomatic Cavaliers I have met, are ones that have had beautiful clear MRI's. Yes even their CM is fairly mild. This is a subject near and dear to my heart as Mylee is one of them. When I first went through this with Mylee I thought she was a rare case. I now know that she is not, and that as we MRI more we are finding more Cavaliers just like her. She is a challenge to keep comfortable and pain free on the best of days. Yet both of her MRI's were beautiful with her second being *better* then the first. Would you like to buy a puppy from my A grade clear Cavalier who is on a combination of Lyrica and Prednisone and screams in severe pain some days?

* Cavalier's who scan WITH Chiari Malformation AND Syringomyelia, can and DO remain symptom free their entire lives. Just because they scan with SM doesn't mean they will develop symptoms from it. Some do yes, however there are many who don't. If a breeding dog has SM, yet never shows symptoms from it, and produces dogs that have SM yet never show symptoms from it, what can be said for that?

* D to D breedings of Cavaliers CAN produce CLEAR Cavaliers. I know several examples of this.

* A to A breedings of Cavaliers CAN produce severe Syringomyelia. Sadly I also know several examples of this.

* Clear Cavaliers and ones with severely symptomatic Syringomyelia can come out of the same litter. Yes a Boy who is an A clear and a popular breeding dog, can have a sister who scanned with severely symptomatic SM.

* Reports and gradings on MRI's can differ greatly depending on who has read them. A dog can be interpreted as a Clear by one expert, and be graded a D with Syringomyelia by another.

* It is not just pet owners who have dealt with the heartache, helplessness and distress, of seeing a beloved pet suffer with severe neurological pain. Breeders are *just as* heartbroken and devastated when their own dogs, or dogs they have bred are impacted with severe CM or SM symptoms. I have yet to meet a Cavalier breeder who is involved with their breed Clubs who do not care about the dogs they produce. They are all extremely passionate, and devoted to their dogs. They may not think the same way, or be supportive of all research or breeding protocols but they do love and care about their dogs.

* Many other dog breeds have been identified as having Chiari Malformations and Syringomyelia. Friends of Lola illustrates some of the breeds impacted. From those breeds you will only find CKCS breeders, and Brussels Griffon breeders MRI'ing their breeding stock.

* Only a very small percentage of Cavaliers are bred by registered Breeders. Almost all are produced by puppy mills, and backyard breeding. No matter what protocols are followed by those of us breeding responsibly, those who aren't are producing WAY more puppies.

I think I will end this list here as it could go on and on.

As you can see this is a topic that I care deeply about. I would love to see the day that CM or SM is not a problem in the breed but I also know that outlook is unrealistic. No matter what breeders do, or don't do, these will be two major areas of concern that they will continually deal with.

Breeders who MRI every dog they own, and breed will produce Cavaliers with CM and SM.

Cavaliers with SM need wonderful unique homes, so some owners and breeders will experience the heartache of owning a symptomatic Cavalier. We will cuddle them when they are ill, pay for their ongoing prescriptions and specialist appointments, love them unconditionally and do the best we can for them.

I also hope that the vast majority can and will experience owning a Cavalier who is healthy. One that we can take anywhere without worry, does not require daily prescriptions, and lets you truly experience how wonderful this breed is. In my house I have experienced both.

What I do hope that some of you will come away with after reading is maybe an understanding of what goes on "behind the scenes". Why questions are asked, and why debate and controversy takes place. Some "food for thought" if you will.

For me I will continue to advocate MRI scanning, research, and breeding to protocol. You have to start somewhere, and work towards a common goal. I also will continue to ask questions, and be both critical and objective in my thinking. Nothing in regards to CM or SM is black and white. Shades of grey is a much better fit.

On to the fun stuff..

I have an awful habit of leaving my camera connected to my computer with it on. Hence draining the battery completely and pissing me off the next time I go to use my camera and the battery is dead due to the same reason again. Iphone 4 to the rescue.

Some pretty girls in my kitchen tonight.