Almost 2 years old, diagnosed with a neurological disorder today

Hello Everyone,

This is my first post on this forum, so apologies in advance if I run a little (OK, a lot) long.

We are the proud owners of Trent, a lovable, small basenji that will turn 2 in November. We fell completely in love with him on the ride home from the breeder and this love keeps growing every day.

A few weeks after we brought him home as a 10 ~ 12 week old puppy, we noticed that his front paws seemed very weak. They would angle in, and he would "knuckle" over on them all the time. This got progressively worse over time. Or vet initially suspected a "varus" bone deformity due to the angle of the paws and referred us to a local animal hospital.

The orthopaedic doctor at the hospital diagnosed our little Trent with "carpal laxity syndrome" (a relief at the time as his bones were normal) and prescribed several weeks of rest & relaxation: no hard surfaces, no rough play, minimal exercise. While it was difficult to keep our young Basenji puppy from bouncing off of the walls, he eventually improved as the doctor indicated he would.

His front legs were never what I would consider to be 100% normal, they seemed weak and he was always a bit clumsy, but he eventually was able to go on long walks with us and exercise and play like any normal dog would.

Over the past 2 months it seemed that his leg problems were returning, slowly but surely. Only this time the problems also started including the back legs, but just barely. We assumed that his carpal laxity had returned and went back to the same doctor (who we were very happy with after the initial issues).

This time the doctor immediately noticed something different, after only a few minutes of watching Trent walk around, he said he believed that the condition was neurological and referred us to another specialist at the hospital, who confirmed the initial findings.

Here is the diagnosis:

C1-C5 myelopathy, suspect congenital (such as SHM, hemivertebrae), storage disorder, meningitis, intervertebral disc disease, neoplasia, degenerative.

He also has a previously diagnosed "benign" heart murmur.

Additional summary of the written report:

  • heart murmur
  • previously diagnosed carpal laxity
  • moderate ataxia of all 4 limbs
  • mild quadriparesis (weak legs, all 4)
  • absent conscious proprioreception on all 4 limbs (limited sense of feeling in the limbs)

What they're basically saying is that his brain can't get reliable signals to his limbs, so he has control & strength problems, and his limbs cant reliably send sensory information back to his brain, so he has a poor sense of where his legs are and what position they're in, leading to a very clumsy dog with weak legs.

The initial thoughts on why this is happening range from a defect in the spine near the neck, a growth such as a tumor in the same area (pressing on the spine), a swollen disc in his neck, or (the more scary ones): an inherited "storage disorder" which has a very grim outlook.

They've started the bloodwork and urine analysis, and we're scheduling a chest x-ray and MRI next. My wife and I are absolutely terrified of what the outlook is going to be for our little Trent. He has absolutely changed our lives and we can't imagine life without him. This is at the forefront of our minds right now, with the dramatic costs of the diagnosis and any potential treatments a long distant second… Trent is a member of the family right now and we'll do whatever we can to make him better.

That's where we are at right now. I read the story on how this forum got started by Alex and Vanessa (cerebral ataxia is a word that I've become very familiar with today) and you have no idea how close to home their story is hitting right now.

If anyone else out there has experienced anything like this with their Basenji (or any other breed), we would greatly appreciate any thoughts or advice that you can share.

I'll post more updates (much shorter ones!) and some pictures of our little guy in the coming days.

Please know that my heart goes out to you. How awful. While I've never dealt with anything remotely like this, I'd be tempted to look into some alternative medicines. Please keep us informed and come here anytime you need an understanding ear.

Thank you for your kind words. We are praying for something that is treatable and will fight for our little guy.

For now, we wait for the bloodwork and urine analysis and then the chest x-ray and MRI results with fingers firmly crossed. And Trent gets lots of cuddle time on the couch.

  • Paul

So sorry to hear about his problems…. thank you for taking such good care of him.... any history of this when you talked to his breeder?

Our thoughts and prayers are with you both and with Trent durring this.

Our thoughts & prayers & well wishes go out to you during this very tough time. Good luck to you and your baby boy!

So sorry to hear of Trent's condition. That is heart breaking. We are pulling for all of you.

WOW… I am really sorry you are having to go through this with your guy.
The first thing that came to mind was Leeno, Alex and Vanessa's first basenji boy.
Did your vet believe it was genetic in any way, or a fluke 😕 of nature, as Leeno?
My vet had only seen it in cats, not in a dog.
Do contact his breeder, just to let them know.
I can tell you that seeing Leeno was one of the hardest things I have ever had to watch... but as his breeder, I took him back and filled that empty spot with another basenji.
I know you certainly don't ever want to have to go there, but it would be the right thing to do by contacting his breeder, if at least, to provide them with the information.
Best of luck to you and little Trent.

I am so sorry to hear of your B's illness, I will pray for him. I know how it is to love a B the way that you do, my B, Sahara is also a very important member of our family. I hope you get good news soon, and will find a way to beat his diagnosis.

Thank you to everyone for your support and prayers. It is nice to hear from people who understand just how much you can love an animal like this.

We got the blood and urine test results today. The bloodwork came back clean, no storage products detected in the blood cells! This isn't a guarantee, but we think it's a very good sign towards ruling out the worst case.

He does have a potential urinary tract infection though. The lab is doing a culture to confirm and find out what the best antibiotic is to get rid of it. This comes as a surprise to us as he hasn't had any apparent symptoms recently (other than the fact that he has seemed more thirsty lately).

We're dropping him off for the chest x-ray tomorrow, this is just routine to confirm that he's A-OK to go ahead for the MRI (and maybe a spinal tap, uugh! my poor boy!)

This will all likely take place early next week, just in time for the money to transfer out of the savings account 😞

We haven't contacted the breeder just yet, we are waiting to see if we can get a better idea of just what the cause of all of this is. But we will definitely be giving them updates.

I think we're more fortunate than most people who have puppies with ataxia symptoms. It seems that the more severe cases show up shortly after birth and there is often nothing that can be done, which must be absolutely heartbreaking.

Our Trent is running around right now, with his clumsy little gait. He's completely mobile, unless he's on slippery tile, where he struggles mightily.

Khanis, were you ever able to determine the exact cause of Leeno's cerebral ataxity? Was it a brain or spinal deformity, some form of storage disorder or other systematic defect? We're just curious because, like Vanessa and Alex, we can't find much information about these kinds of disorders in Basenji's.

Thanks again to everyone for the support, it does help!

Some pictures for everyone…

Trent at right around 2 months old:

post deleted, problems posting links…

I am so sorry to hear about your B's problems. I hope it turns out to be the best case scenario. My prayers to you and your adorable guy.

Leeno was Vanessa/Alex's boy.. but he is the one that I mentioned, as I am his breeder.
I do encourage you to pick up that phone right away and contact his breeder. I have not heard ofthese kinds of issues in basenjis in all my years with them, but that does not mean they are not there…. there is not a place for them to be documented, i.e., OFA or CERF, etc.

When Vanessa called me about Leeno, I had a hard time grasping what she was talking about. I had to google it [she emailed me the name so I had it spelled right]. I called my vet and talked to him, he had seen it only in cats. The prognosis he gave me was not very promising. Vanessa and I agreed to meet when I came down to the Nor Cal specialty a week or so later. I was shocked ot say the least in what I saw in Leeno. After Vanessa and Alex left Leeno with me, I just sat in my van and held him and cried. It was not something I'd ever wish for an animal or person to have on themselves.

The dam of my litter was African Avongara and there was some regluar health testing on the imports and a few down the line, but not all of them. Her dam had no health testing at all. So we were going on word that there was all good health there.
The sire did not have anything like that in his horizontal or vertical pedigree that we had ever been informed about… so it is hard to say if anything like that was back there.

My vet said that it was a real fluke of nature and it is a one in 10,000 or 100,000 _chance of it occuring in any animal.

I am sorry that Vanessa/Alex had to have this happen to their baby, but it is not anything that could have been predicted in any way.

PLEASE call the breeder… they do deserve to know about this sooner than later._

I noticed that Avongara Tribal Singer (which is the dam you mentioned, I believe) was littermate to Avongara Nagili. She's in my Zip's pedigree and she passed away at 9 from Cushing's disease. I was wondering if that was significant at all but Cushing's affects the Endocrine system and cerebellar ataxia is neurological so I don't think there's a connection. It just struck me that they were from the same litter…

Best wishes for Trent...

I am so sorry to read about all you are going through! I hope that the tests find something that is easily managed and will allow you and Trent to get along with your lives! Be strong for him, he's still the happy pup you know and love!

Thanks again to everyone for the support.

We will definitely be contacting the breeder, but I want to wait for the MRI results first, as if this is a 'mechanical' issue then I think that's important to know.

The chest x-ray came back normal yesterday, so he's good to go for the MRI next week.

Also, Vanessa sent me a very touching email about her experience with Leeno (so many similarities to Trent that I cried), thanks again Vanessa!

Khanis, I read that Leeno was Vanessa & Alex's boy, and that you were kind enough to take him back when the cerebral ataxia took over. I re-read what I wrote and can see where it might have seemed otherwise. Sorry about that!

I know I'm asking you (as well as Vanessa and Alex) to recall a painful memory, but can you tell us anything about the timing of Leeno's progression? How old was he when the symptoms first showed up, and how long did it take for the symptoms to severely worsen? I'm asking because it seems that Trent has stabilized as far as symptoms go. He's clumsy, still 'knuckles' over on the front and sometimes the back paws, has a hard time when standing in one place as far as balance goes… but other than that he's OK.

Thanks again to everyone, more updates when we know.

Also, GO BEARS! (and White Sox!)

Oh, goodness, thoughts and hearts going out to you and your sweet boy.:( And thanks again for everyone who keeps this forum going - it is so valuable in good times and bad.

Sorry it took so long to come back with an update… it's been a crazy week.

We had the MRI done on Tuesday, they confirmed that he has multiple issues with his spine. This is a relief for us as it confirms that his symptoms have a mechanical cause, rather than the terrifying prospect of a systemic storage disorder (no treatment for that). Since the problem was detected on the MRI, no spinal tap was done... we're really glad about that too. I can't imagine how painful and uncomfortable something like that would be, especially for a little dog.

Here's what they found:

  • A 'minor' birth defect in one of the vertebrae which is putting pressure on the spinal cord.

  • Two swollen discs, one of them right on top of the birth defect, and one of them 2 discs up (swollen, normal, swollen+defect).

We're starting off with what they're calling a 'medical management' strategy: a 2 week course of steroids and 3 weeks of extreme rest to give the steroids the best chance to reduce the pressure on his spinal cord:

  • He only gets to leave his crate to go outside and do his business, or if we have him cuddling on the couch. No jumping on or off of anything, no running, no B 500, nada. They even told us to keep his various toys away, any of the ones that he likes to grab and try to shake around, as that would stress his neck.

  • They told us to stick with the harness only any time we are walking him with the leash, no more leash attached to the collar (ever again)... this isn't a big deal though... the harness works a lot better anyway.

I'm sure the fellow B owners out there will know how difficult the extreme rest is going to be. We feel terrible having to keep him in the crate (you all know the sad face I'm sure... it's heartbreaking), though we do spend even more time on the couch with him than we had in the past. We just have to be ultra-paranoid to make sure he doesn't jump off... so far so good!

He's also on an antibiotic for the UTI, and a 10 mg dose of Famotidine (generic Pepcid), once per day. The antacid is to try and reduce the stomach discomfort that results from both the steroid and the antibiotic.

He's definitely enjoying his twice-daily peanut butter + pills.

They warned us that the steroids would make him very thirsty and that he would likely have a few accidents. They weren't kidding... there have only been a few accidents, but we have to take him out 5 times as often to pee... he seems to have a never-ending supply of it now.

So far it seems that the antacid is working for his stomach, no diarrhea or vomiting yet.

It's only been 4 days so far for the medications, but it does seem that there is slight improvement when we take him outside walking. He isn't knuckling over on his front paws anymore on the sidewalk and has lessened in the grass as well... so no more bloody scrapes on his little toes (he is such a trooper, we had to tend to his paws very often after even short walks because of the knuckling over).

That's it for now... We're praying that the steroids do the trick and we won't have to even discuss 'plan B', which includes two different back surgeries of varying risk and difficulty. So far it looks like they might be working!

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