After a difficult start in life, Sam obviously had a wonderful long life with Jean and her other dogs, and here, Jean, tells his story, using extracts from the diary she kept about him.
Sam’s story rings a lot of bells for those of us with Lafora dogs. , Jean’s graphic description of his slow degeneration into confusion is so typical of affected dogs. Unfortunately, as he wasn’t tested before he died, it is impossible to make a definitive diagnosis of Lafora, and as he was a rescue dog, Jean has no record of Sam’s pedigree so that avenue was also closed to her as well.
Clare Rusbridge does say Lafora can affect any breed, though some (mini wire dachshunds, beagles and Bassett Hounds) are more predisposed, so there is a possibility that Sam could have been affected, although there is also the potential for other neurological conditions to mimic the signs. We hope that Jean’s description may help owners of dogs who have experienced similar symptoms, whatever breed or variety. If you recognize the symptoms described here, or in the other Blogs on Dogs, please:
- Get a referral to a specialist
- Get the tests done – that way you won’t risk getting the wrong diagnosis and the wrong treatment.
- If the tests are positive: Do let us know, and we’ll do our best to help, and contact your Breed Club and your dog’s breeder.
Sam was a mini smooth haired dachshund who came to live with us when he was 3 or 4 years old because he was due to be put to sleep because of chronic separation anxiety.
It was June 2004 when we noticed the deterioration in Sam. He stopped playing ball in the mornings with Brian. It was always the routine that when Brian went back upstairs in the morning, to make the bed, Sam would go with him for a few minutes play with the football that was kept in Brian’s wardrobe. He started to lick his back feet and haunches and asking to be carried up the stairs.
Looking back in the dogs’ diaries the first note I made about Sam’s ‘oddness’ at times and his inability to stand correctly on his hind legs was back in November 2007. I noted that he was very odd at times and did not have the same interest or excitement as he used to. His back legs were giving way almost completely.
One day that month, after we had had our evening meal and gone into the living room to sit and read the day’s papers and watch the news, all the other dogs came with us as usual. However, Sam didn’t. He stayed in the kitchen. When Brian went to find him Sam was sitting in his bed, wide awake, but still didn’t come into the living room. That was unheard of. Sam had come to us with separation anxiety and had never, ever not come with us.
I made a note in the diary in January ’08 that Sam doesn’t seem to know what he wants. At the beginning of 2008 Sam became very unwell and couldn’t stand. We took him to the emergency vet who gave him painkillers and the next day we went to see the orthopaedic vet who treats any of my dogs who are referred. Sam was an in-patient for five days, he had x-rays and myelograms. Nothing was obvious on the x-rays. He became much better but Andy was concerned about his ataxia. He said that he was ‘high-stepping’ with his back legs and asked how long he had been like that. We couldn’t think back to a time when he hadn’t been, there was no sudden change, it had come on gradually over the years. Sam was sent home on prednisolone and Gabapentin for nerve pain.
It was around this time that we realised Sam seemed to be ‘jumping’ more often, as if he had been startled. At first we thought we must have made a rapid movement that startled him but then we realised that it was happening at any slight move, any sudden noise, flickering lights on the television, the sunlight. When we were going out the in the car, to his favourite walks, it was a nightmare if it was a sunny day. As the sunlight suddenly streamed between two houses, or between fence slats, he would react as if he was startled – as if he had been slapped in the face. I bought some Doggles for him. If he was on my knee in the car, they didn’t bother him and he didn’t react to the flashes of sunlight. But he would NOT wear them when he was walking. We persevered for weeks, following the instructions on getting a dog used to them but it was all to no avail.
In the old days, whenever we were out Sam just had to carry his ball. He loved to have a tennis ball. Until, in the last two years, he started to drop it after a few yards and just leave it. Then he stopped looking for it altogether.
In April ’08 I noted that Sam seemed to have no traction in his back legs whatsoever. He would be standing still and his back feet would be slowly sliding underneath him, sliding along the floor and crossing over each other. In July that year, he had the first of two vestibular attacks. He had a head tilt and Iused to have to guide his head to where his food was or my hand holding a treat. He was treated with prednisolone again for that and recovered very well.
I can’t remember which came next, so many things seems to happen at the same time. We had realised by this time that dementia had crept up on him. He often didn’t’ know where he was, he would be standing at the radiator in the utility room, thinking it was the door and wondering why he couldn’t get out. He would stand in a corner. He would stand in the bathroom, apparently lost and
I had to go in, gently touch him, and turn him round so he was facing into the right direction. He would walk into the fridge or freezer. If a door opened from the left, he would go to the right, waiting for it to open. He would seem confused until he felt my touch and then it was as if there was a sense
of recognition and relief.
He used to be brilliant at waiting at his ‘station’ until I put his food down but he just seemed to lose it and if I did not put his down first he would follow me with whoever’s feed I was putting down and try to eat it. Bedtime biscuits were dreadful; he had no idea where my hand was or the biscuit. Sometimes he would keel over, as if he had tripped over something or stepped onto something that had thrown him off- balance.
If we were out on a walk and another couple passed us, he would walk after them, thinking it was the two of us. We couldn’t decide if it was confusion or his blindness which had become obvious by this time.
We had put bells on his collar and harness because if we weren’t watching him and we heard the bell either stop or go quieter it meant that he had wandered off in a different direction or followed someone else thinking he was with them and not us.
Then he started to have difficulty going up the stairs to bed. He used to go up and come down on his own. Until he twice fell down the stairs. First time was only three steps. Second time it was top to bottom. From then on he was carried up and down.We had to watch him if he was out and about or on the bed. On the bed the dogs have steps to get up and he had always used these. Until one night he just stepped off the end of the bed!!! Oh, we felt awful. He cried for a minute or two and then was okay and, amazingly for an old boy, he was fine next day.It was distressing for us to see but Sam did not seem worried by it.
He was also quite deaf by this time and couldn’t hear us call him. We had to resort to using a flexi-lead when we were out so that we could keep control of him and he wouldn’t’ get lost. Once he just fell down a shallow hole in the ground in the park but at one time he would have just either jumped across or go round.
We resorted to carrying him in a bag sometimes because our walks were getting a lot shorter but a lot more time-consuming and that wasn’t fair on our younger, fitter dogs.
One day early this year, I was looking at Clare Rusbridge’s site. I have an epileptic dog (my fifth) and have met Clare a couple of times at meetings of the Phyllis Croft Foundation for Epilepsy. I was reading the Lafora Disease page and realised that Clare was describing my Sam! Then, when I watched the video clip, I knew that this was, indeed, what Sam had. I printed off the page and took it to my vets who all agreed that yes, this was indeed describing Sam and that Lafora was the diagnosis for Sam.
None of the meds he was on needed to be changed, he was on ‘old dog’ medication such as Vivitonin and Aktivait and was already on Gabapentin which is a painkiller for nerve pain but also is a treatment for epilepsy. At Sam’s age there was no point in going to see a neurologist because nothing would have changed. It would have been expense for us and distress for Sam, just to tell us something we already knew.
By November 2010 he was an old boy (between 15 and 17 years old). Two days after accompanying us on a holiday in Scotland, it became apparent that his quality of life was finally leaving him and we had to take the decision to put him to sleep. We prefer to think of him now on his beloved Scottish holidays.
Jean Collinson, Lancashire