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The Dog Who Improved Thousand of Other Dog Lives

The Dog Who Improved Thousand of Other Dog Lives

TopDog's First Patient:

by Dr. James St. Clair

A lovely article from Dr J St. Clair - isn't it amazing how a dog can change our lives forever and how patience and perseverance, and trusting your own judgement as well as your Vets can really pay off in the long term

Her name was Kali and she changed my life.

August 1, 2004 was the first day the doors opened at our newly constructed Top Dog Canine Rehabilitation and Fitness facility. It was a 2400 sq. ft. facility with all the bells and whistles. I was pumped that day for sure. It was my first business and I was passionate about the progressive services we were offering to not only the local community but to my veterinary colleagues.

Expecting a flood of traffic that first day, I was humbled quickly as I patiently sat twiddling my thumbs until finally at 5:15pm the door slowly opened and a kind faced gentlemen walked through the door. Right on his coat-tails behind him was his dog, a 8 year old German shepherd, literally dragging her hind legs struggling to make her way through the door.

Getting to know Kali

I clearly remember the uncertainty on both of their faces.

I had no idea that on my very first day, my very first patient was going to be the one that set the course for my entire career. In hind-site. How lucky was I!

The owners name was Paul and the minute he began talking, tears welled up in his eyes as he began to tell me the story of Kali and how he came to find me.

Kali's strength and function in her hind legs had slowly been deteriorating over the last 6 months and both Paul's veterinarian and even his family had been trying to convince him that her condition was hopeless and that it was Kali's time and that he should put her to sleep. A wheelchair was unfortunately not an option for them.

The Misdiagnosis of DM

Kali had been given a diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy by the family veterinarian. Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a fairly common neuromuscular disorder found in German shepherds, where they progressively loose function in their hind legs. It starts with a slight scuffing of the hind leg nails that progresses to a full drunken sailor walk in the hind legs. Most of the time it is a slowly progressing disease that eventually leads to complete inability to use the hind legs and eventually incontinence.

Though there are some holistic treatments available, in general it is accepted by the veterinary community to be an untreatable disease.

Always Be An Optimist

I was young and naïve at the time but no doubt a hopeless optimist. In my simple mind, I thought if Kali has been progressively loosing strength in her hind legs and she is not in any kind of pain then hypothetically if I simply served as a personal physical trainer and exercised Kali aggressively just maybe she could build muscle and regain function. Just maybe, I could help Paul and Kali beat this thing. When I explained this to Paul it made sense to him and he agreed that it was worth a shot.

Just maybe!

We worked hard and Kali worked even harder every session, 2 times a week. As with anything in life when you work hard you expect to see results. I distinctly remember Paul coming in after 6 sessions and saying to me that it doesn't seem to be working, Kali was still dragging herself around and she did not appear to have built any muscle mass in her hind legs.

Perseverance Often Proves Itself

We discussed his options to either keep trying or believe what others were telling him and put her to sleep. Paul choose to push on. In total dismay on that seventh session the door opened and guess who came walking through the door. 

After that session I asked Paul if he could bring Kali up to my hospital, which was 20 minutes north for the day and let me x-ray her head to toe to see if there was a good reason for this, his veterinarian had not taken any radiographs previously.

Guess what I found?

Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover

Kali did not have DM at all in fact she had severe arthritis in both of her knees. Some of the worst I had seen, in my short career at that time. That day it all FINALLY clicked for me. I finally got it. Kali in fact had been suffering with joint pain for a long long time and yet no one ever knew (not her family, the veterinarian or even myself). Her early signs of joint pain were most likely just passed off as Just Getting Older€ and the later signs of hind end weakness were misinterpreted as Degenerative Myelopathy, most likely because it is a classic German Shepherd condition

Because of daily chronic pain I am sure that Kali was slowly moving around less and less and sleeping more and more. We have all heard the saying if you don't use it you lose it€. Well Kali lost more and more muscle in her hind legs that eventually she had lost so much that she reached what I now call The Critical Mass€, which I define as the minimal amount of muscle mass to support the skeletal structure. Muscle atrophy is generally not a fast process, instead it is a slow and gradual process. Since the skeletal system is supported by muscle there is a critical point where you have lost so much muscle that you simply are not able to get up anymore.

Moving Forward Everything Changed for Everybody

From that point forward EVERYTHING CHANGED for both Kali and myself. Kali's was started on a comprehensive joint supplement and an aggressive pain management protocol until we had rebuilt substantial muscle mass back into her hind legs. Kali went on to live another 4 years of life in comfort and happiness. It was amazing. She was my angel and I was hers.

For me, as a young veterinarian, I was sincerely humbled by my experience with Kali. I learned never to just believe another doctor's diagnosis and to make my own conclusions. I learned the massive value in utilizing proper diagnostics before making assumptions of what is going on. I became obsessed with learning the early detection signs of joint pain and sharing that with as many pet owners as I could. I went on to work with some incredibly smart and talented individuals to develop a joint health supplement that I wanted for my personal patients and a handful of other products to help dogs like Kali.

To this day it still bothers me and makes my heart so sad that this poor dog for years had to silently suffer and that she was completely misdiagnosed because of quick stereotyping and lack of proper diagnostics. From that point forward I made it clear to myself that a situation like this was never going to happen under my watch again.

I am forever grateful for everything that you taught me Kali and because of you, we are improving other dog dog at a time.


If you suspect your dog has CDRM please get in touch with us at Zoomadog for advise in helping and rehabilitating your dog. We have a Biko Physio Brace which is fantastic for slowing down muscle wasting, while helping your dog walk when they suffer from degenerative myelopathy.

Previous article Reasons Your Dog May Lose Hind Leg Mobility
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