West Highland White Terriers are one of the most popular breeds of dogs. They are bright, active, energetic creatures, oozing with personality. Unfortunately, like many pedigree breeds, they are prone to some inherited diseases: allergic skin disease is the most common example. Of course, many individuals never have a problem, but it’s important that people buying a puppy are aware of the potential problems before making a commitment to a new animal.
Kevin has owned Andy since he was a young pup, and although his skin has been healthy, Andy has had the misfortune to suffer from some unusual and complicated problems in the past two years.
The problems began in May 2011, when Kevin noticed that Andy was sore and stiff one morning. He didn’t get out of his bed as usual, and didn’t want to go for his walk, which was most unlike him. When he was lifted out of his bed, he hobbled around, hunched up and in obvious pain. Kevin brought him straight to the vet.
A physical examination confirmed that Andy had a painful neck. He was given simple pain relief for a suspected strained muscle. He seemed to make a good recovery at first but over the following few days, his situation deteriorated dramatically. The pain returned and was worse than ever, so that Andy literally screamed if his neck was manipulated in a certain direction. He ended up being referred in to the UCD veterinary faculty for a specialised investigation.
He had CAT scans, dyes injected into his spine, and samples of fluid collected from around his brain. It turned out that Andy had a rare problem in dogs: meningitis. It so happened that Kevin had suffered from this himself, as a teenager, so he understood some of what his dog was going through.
In dogs, there are different types of meningitis. Andy had the most benign type: so-called “steroid responsive meningitis”. The cause of this is not fully understood, but it’s linked to an over-reaction of the immune system (like a type of severe allergy). The good news is that dogs with this condition often make a full recovery with high doses of steroid medication.
Andy responded well to treatment: the only problem has been that steroids have a wide range of side effects, including a ravenous appetite and a huge thirst. Over time, the dose of medication has been reduced to minimise these, but Andy can never stop the steroids completely: when this has been tried, the painful neck has always recurred.
Last month, Andy fell ill again. He went off his food, and became dull and miserable. At first Kevin thought that this must be a recurrence of the meningitis, but a blood test showed that he now had a completely different problem: diabetes. His blood sugar levels were no longer being controlled properly. Andy was started onto twice daily injections of insulin, and within a few days, he was back to being a bright, active terrier. He’ll need to have the insulin injections for the rest of his life.
Diabetes can develop for a number of reasons, but in Andy’s case, it’s likely that the cause is linked to the fact that he’s been on a high level of steroids for several years. His diabetes would be helped if he could stop taking the steroids completely, but if this is done, the meningitis will probably recur. The answer for him is to find a balance between the lowest dose of steroids that keep his neck comfortable while not upsetting his blood sugars too much.
Dogs are lucky in that they know nothing of the complex medical issues that may affect them: Andy’s pain-free and feeling good about life: why would he worry?
- Severe neck pain can be caused by meningitis in dogs
- Treatment sometimes involves high levels of steroids
- The side effects of such strong medication can be complicated and unexpected