Whew! What a whirlwind it has been the last 24 hours or so. Let me start at the beginning. We have volunteered our sled dog kennel to be part of an ongoing study being conducted (by Dr. Dirsko J.F. von Pfeil of the Veterinary Specialists of Alaska, and Dr. Bryden J. Stanley & Michele Fritz with the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University) to study congenital laryngeal paralysis. This is a big word for condition when a dog that has a dysfunction of the nerves which control opening and closing of the larynx (voicebox). In affected animals, the upper airway fails to open adequately during inhalation, so these dogs have trouble breathing while eating and exercising, so few with this condition can be racing sled dogs. They are commonly called “wheezers,” due to the sound they make when breathing.
We are very committed to not only providing the best care and quality of life we can for our own sled dogs, but we are also very committed to doing what we can to improve the body of knowledge for caring and treating all dogs. Since we do a lot of rescue work, we have several dogs with unusual conditions (including, just to name a few abnormalities: hip dysplasia, liver shunts, and exercise induced collapse) and two dogs that are wheezers: Coolwhip and Shagoo.
Coolwhip (photo above) is only about a year-and-a-half old and in addition to being a wheezer, she suffered from at least one other diagnosed condition (megaesophagus – basically her swallowing tube was too large to do its job properly), but she has largely outgrown this as she has gotten older. However, she may still be suffering from another congenital condition in which there is limited nerve functioning to the end of the esophagus (taking part in the study will determine if she has this too).
Since Coolwhip is so young, we thought she would be a great candidate for the study. If she can get corrective surgery, she may still be able to be a sled dog, which would be great since she is one of the most energetic dogs in the kennel. She can’t pull without collapsing, but she can play-run for quite a while without problems. She is such a wild child, but we have been working with her in the house to teach her to be calmer, so she doesn’t hurt herself during post-surgery recuperation. Well, her being the master of disaster that she is, she took off around dinner time the night before we were supposed to bring her up to Anchorage for her surgery.
Buckwheat knows how to open the door to let himself in after playing in the yard. We didn’t hear him come up the front stairs, and when he opened the door himself, Coolwhip ran out it and kept on going. We searched for her until midnight, then gave up to get some sleep. We got up a 5 a.m. to run three teams before heading to Anchorage and hoped the sound of all the excited barking during hook-up would bring her back. It worked, but not when we needed it too.
As we were leaving the yard with two 12-dog teams, Coolwhip popped out of the woods and distracted us and the lead dogs. We took the wrong trail out of the yard and couldn’t turn the teams around. Doing this alternate route took a half-an-hour longer than expected, so now we were going to be late. Fortunatley, when we got back to the yard with the teams, Coolwhip popped out again and we were able to get our hands on her.
To be honest, I think she was just worn out from playing all night. She appeared to have had quite a romp. She was covered in disgustingly stinky rotten fish that she had rolled in after one of our lazy neighbors dumped a big pile of it in the woods, rather than hauling it to the dump as they should have. We had to give her two shampoo baths (see photo above), which wasted another half-an-hour, and despite this, she still stunk badly. Still, we loaded her up, and Shagoo, and started making the 3-4 hour drive to Anchorage. Better late than never, I guess.
Unlike Coolwhip, Shagoo (pictured above) had a throat surgery to help her conditions about seven years ago, but a lot of scar tissue has built up since then, and she was once again struggling to breath. There have been a lot of improvements in the type of surgery available to dogs with her conditions, so we felt she would be a good candidate to take part in the study. After the veterinarians did their pre-operation evaluation of running a camera down her throat, they said it was good we had agreed to include Shagoo. The scar tissue had built up so much, it was obstructing more than half her airway.
They performed the delicate surgery (see above), and Shagoo, being the tough old bird she is, pulled though remarkably well. She still has a trachea tube in (see her hsvaed neck and still groggy photo below), which we slide out and clean every three hours while staying up to listen to her breathing (so not much sleep last night), but this should only be in for a few days. Shagoo is already breathing better than she has in years, We can hardly wait to have her completely healed so we can go back to playing and exercising with her. Seeing the clump of scar tissue that came out of her, there’s no doubt in our minds this surgery has added literally years to her life.
Unfortunately, Coolwhip’s condition requires a little more study before she can have the surgery. They sedated her yesterday and ran the scope down her throat too. They saw that unlike Shagoo, Coolwhip has one fold of the larynx that is paralyzed, but one fold slightly works. To my knowledge, this has not been documented before, so it may explain how some wheezers) like Coowhip) are able to perform varying degrees of exercise, while others (like Shagoo with both folds paralyzed) cannot perform any.
Coolwhip still has to take part in another swallowing study to check the others conditions I already described that she may have, and then depending on the results of those, she will (hopefully) have the corrective wheezers surgery. Time and more tests will tell, but in the meantime, we are happy to be helping improve the lives of our dogs, and hopefully others out there – now and into the future – suffering from this same condition.
We sincerely thank the two amazing veterinarians (Dr. Dirsko and Dr. Bryden) who performed this surgery. We don’t trust just anyone, but like the doctors at our local veterinary clinic, it was clear these veterinarians were truly devoted to helping animals.