Sadie The Sheltie's Battle with FCE
The story of a beautiful Sheltie named Sadie, who was struck down with suspected FCE while running in the park. By Melissa Smith.
We fell in love with Sadie the moment we saw her. She was the smallest pup and the only Sable in a predominantly Bi-Black / Tri-Color litter. With her full white collar and feisty personality, we knew we'd found our girl. We'd later learn that she was born the day we'd gotten married, which just seemed right.
Our beautiful girl grew up fast. She had the most beautiful coat and presence; people were constantly drawn to her. Close friends often joked that she was the Farrah Fawcett of the dog world but sadly she was too tall to show. She had the most wonderful temperament to go with her beauty. Easy going, great with other dogs, eager to learn, loyal, loving and a great sense of humor. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect girl. Sadie was very athletic and did some agility and fly-ball training, which she excelled at. She loved our weekly hikes and her greatest joy was chasing a tennis ball, something she would do tirelessly.
Tragedy struck our happy family in mid July, 2010, shortly before Sadie's third birthday. Had I ever dreamed that such a thing could happen, it would have been my worst nightmare.
Sadie was running at the park across the street from our house, playing with Ginny, her Sheltie sister and two other dog friends. They were all chasing a ball and running at full tilt, like they'd done hundreds of times.
I'll never forget that moment for as long as I live. Sadie suddenly let out a heart wrenching scream. Her pelvis seemed to suddenly collapse under her and suddenly she was rolling, screaming all the while. As she rolled and I ran to her, all I could think was "Something is REALLY wrong."
When I reached her she was panic stricken. As I tried to calm down I realized that her legs weren't working. The front ones were sticking out straight, like they were in spasm, yet they weren't stiff to the touch and could bend. Her neck looked equally stiff and she seemed unable to move it. Her back legs were limp.
When I tried to stand her up her right leg moved but would not support her weight and her left leg didn't move at all, appearing completely dead. Thankfully, she did not act as though she was in pain any longer.
We rushed Sadie to the emergency vet and later our regular vet, who both believed that she had one of two things, neither good.
One possibility was a slipped disk, which happens when a vertebra in the back calcifies and puts pressure on the spinal cord. This seemed unlikely as this is usually a very painful condition and Sadie appeared to have no pain.
The other possibility (and both vets agreed) was more likely FCE (Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy), or a spinal stroke.
The definition of FCE is:
Whichever condition it was, would likely leave her with some degree of paralysis for the rest of her life.
A $2,200+ MRI was just not a possibility for us financially so instead our vet ran blood work and took x-rays, which came back normal. Our vet's prognosis was that Sadie had likely suffered from an FCE, but we'd never know for sure. Our vet began giving Sadie large doses of prednisone and a pain killer to calm her nerves.
Over the course of two days our vet notified us that Sadie was showing some improvement, but was vague as to how much. I was told that if we were lucky she might walk again, but she'd likely never be the same. We were devastated; our only comfort was that she didn't appear incontinent, which is common.
The time came to bring Sadie home, so I was forced to pull myself together. A good friend pointed out that Sadie would need me to be strong and positive while I helped her to recover.
When the vet put Sadie on the floor and she slowly walk toward me, I just about burst into tears. She was wobbly but I was so relieved that she was able to walk on her own that it didn't matter. The vet recommended strict crate rest with the exception of potty breaks and swimming, a rule that we would bend slightly. We also continued with the prednisone.
When we got home it was immediately apparent that Sadie was NOT taking this lying down. She would NOT tolerate being carried around and groaned at us whenever we tried. She did, however, take quickly to the walking support and rubber boots we bought for her, understanding instantly that they would help her to walk. She was accepting of being crated but refused to lie down except to sleep at night. She took her time when out on potty breaks, quietly walking around on her wobbly legs. I began allowing her to walk around outside more and more often, as she always remained quiet and seemed to enjoy it so much.
Life Got Better Again
Over the course of a few weeks we saw a remarkable change in Sadie. She went from having 20-25% use of her back legs to having 80-85%. As her legs became stronger her determination also grew. She became more coordinated and began trotting around like her old self. I was forced to keep a close eye on her so that she didn't try running off after a squirrel or dog or attempt climbing stairs. While I worried she might get hurt I was also relieved to see her making such good progress.
Sadie found that she LOVED swimming, something she hadn't been too crazy about in the past. She realized it was the only activity she could do endlessly that also allowed her to chase a ball. It gave her the freedom she craved, which she no longer had on land.
We also visited a vet who specializes in pet rehabilitation for advice. She too believed that Sadie likely suffered from an FCE and was making a better recovery than most dogs. She was so pleased with Sadie's progress that she said the only rehab Sadie required would be continued swimming and home exercises. We were also told it was possible that Sadie would make a full recovery. We were so relieved that Sadie's ordeal finally seemed to be coming to and end and we could re turn to some semblance of normal life. Sadie had finally beaten FCE.
These few months were a roller coaster of emotions that I wouldn't wish on anyone. It like living a nightmare you didn't realize you'd had.
Since her incident Sadie has reached about 90-95% use of her back legs, with her left back leg being worse than the right. To the naked eye she walks like a normal dog but is still a bit wobbly and drags her back feet when she's tired.
I'd never previously heard of FCE and it isn't typically listed on breed websites as something Shelties may be predisposed to. My hope is that other Sheltie owners won't be as caught off guard as we were, that they will read this story and not only be aware that FCE CAN occur, but have hope that their Sheltie COULD potentially make a reasonable recovery.
By Melissa Smith