Jasper's Story

Jasper was a healthy English Toy Spaniel that was full of life. It was love at first site and when I found out we had the same birthday, I knew it was a sign that we were meant to be together.

In February of 2014 at the age of eight, Jasper was diagnosed with Granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (GME) and passed away five weeks later on March 18th. GME is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system in dogs that was first reported in 1978. The cause of the disease is unknown, although an immune-mediated cause is suspected. It is most common in young small-breed dogs and brachiocephalic dogs. Female dogs are slightly more affected. There is no cure. The symptoms when the forebrain is affected include blindness, seizures, circling, and head pressing. Symptoms when the brainstem +/- cerebellum is affected include an irregular gait, falling, facial paralysis, and tremors. An auto-immune type symptom is an increase in white blood cells. The onset is acute. The diagnosis is made from a cerebrospinal fluid test. GME has a poor prognosis. Most dogs have a short survival (up to six weeks after diagnosis).

Jasper’s symptoms occurred overnight. I took her to work with me one day and while taking her for a walk on my morning break, she started stumbling and falling over every few feet. I noticed that she was trembling (although the temperature was not cold outside). She did not improve throughout the day, so I took her to the vet the next morning. After looking her over, he thought the symptoms might be neurological, so he ordered a CT scan and cerebrospinal fluid test. I left her at the hospital for monitoring. The results for the CT scan came the next morning and Jasper was diagnosed with hydrocephalus (water in the brain). Later in the day the results came back for the CSF. There were high white blood cell counts in her spinal fluid. The doctor gave me the grim diagnosis and prognosis of GME. He said that with medication, about 50% of dogs respond to the treatment initially and that 25% of those that do respond have the symptoms come back. That left a 25% survival rate. Of that 25%, most dogs are never the same. The vet prescribed prednisone and azathioprine and kept her at the hospital for monitoring. Jasper improved slightly over the next few days, so I brought her home.

Over the next few weeks she seemed a little better and I was optimistic that she was going to beat it. I kept saying “She can’t die”. One day she started falling over again. A few days later she had bloody diarrhea and lost a lot of blood and became anemic. The doctor told me to come back the next week for a blood test to see if her body was reproducing red blood cells. Three days later, in the middle of the night, she had a nose bleed. I panicked and drove her to the emergency hospital. The bleeding stopped when I arrived and the vet tech suggested I take her to my regular vet in the morning.

First thing, I took her to my vet and he ran the blood test. She did not even have the strength to get up. As I sat with her awaiting the results, she looked at me with the most pitiful look as if saying “Why, Mommy?”. I will never forget that look.

The doctor came in very serious looking and started out by saying that we had choices. I knew what was coming. Her red blood cell count was seriously low and there was no hope in her recovering. He suggested euthanasia. I told him I would take her home for a while because I could not bear to do it then.

I took her to a holistic vet as a last resort. I did not want to give up without knowing I had done everything possible. The vet bills had come to over $4,000 (thankfully I had insurance which covered 80% of that), but I would have given up everything I owned to save her. After examining her, the holistic vet said she couldn’t do anything but maybe keep her comfortable for a few weeks. I didn’t want to risk another nose bleed that night, so I went back to her regular doctor to put her to rest. She went to sleep peacefully in my lap.

After doing some research on my own, it is suspected that vaccines and/or over-vaccination may be a cause. GME was first diagnosed in the 1970’s at the same time that vaccinations became prevalent. The ingredients in vaccines include aluminum, thimerosal (a mercury based preservative), animal protein, and other contaminants. Mercury and aluminum are known to cause neurological disorders. While it is necessary for initial puppy vaccinations for rabies, parvo, and distemper, maybe they could be more spread out with time between each shot so as not to overwhelm the immune system. Instead of a “One size fits all”, maybe there could be lower dosages for small dogs. The rabies vaccine is required every three years, but it may be good for a lifetime.