We took Molly and Graham to the vet a few weeks ago for their yearly round of pokes and prods. They each got a handful of vaccinations, plus some tests done.
A few days later, I noticed that Molly was doing this weird thing when she yawned - she couldn't open her mouth all the way, and she was twisting her head to one side. I didn't really think much of it the first time I saw it, but after a couple of days went by and she was still doing it, I started to worry. I figured she probably just had an ear infection and scheduled an appointment with our vet.
I got out of the pool a few afternoons later to some pretty terrifying text messages from the poet, who took her into her appointment, mentioning things like sedation and x-rays and biopsies, so I zipped over myself to talk to the vet. Essentially, she seemed fairly convinced from Molly's symptoms that she has a disease called masticatory myositis, which is an auto-immune disease not uncommon in large breed dogs. It means that her immune system is attacking the muscles of her jaw, which is why she was unable to open her mouth. There was a whole menu of ways to diagnose the condition, most of which are not even close to definitive. We decided on one of the complicated blood tests that would both hopefully point to a yes or no and rule out some other scary things. Her blood work came back the next day, and it wasn't positive for MMM, but it was "almost positive" (elevated proteins and the like). We decided that instead of continuing to test, we would begin treatment with steroids because that wouldn't harm her, and just watch and see what happened. If she got better on the medicine, that we confirmed the disease by process of elimination, and if she got worse, then we had a BFN, which could actually be a positive thing because than it might just be an infection.
Both the good and bad news was that she responded immediately. After only two doses, she was able to open her mouth much further. It's been almost a week now, and she seems to be steadily improving. We decided to try her on a diminishing round of steroids, in the hopes that she won't need to be on them her entire life. The problem with this disease and the treatment is two-fold: first, the steroids depress her immune system, so she's vulnerable while on them, and some dogs catch some pretty scary diseases during treatment, and secondly, she won't ever be "cured," but instead, we'll spend her life watching her carefully and managing flare-ups as they occur. It also means that we'll be managing her vaccinations differently, because vaccinations poke the immune system with a sharp stick, and while they didn't cause this, the shots she got a few weeks ago are what made it flare-up for the first time.
She seems to be generally happy and waggy, although a little more tired than usual. We're a bit concerned that she'll fly into a 'roid rage and chew the house down, but so far, so good. Graham has for the most part been extra attentive and snuggly (except for last night, when he bit her on the leg because she didn't want to play).
So that's been the cause of extra-strong stress in our house over the past week. Now that we have a better understanding of what's going on, I'm much less worried because I truly believe that it is managable, but I spent a few days bawling my cranky little eyes out. I've actually come to love this little wrist-chewing butt-sniffing waggy tail quite a bit, and it would be awful if she got taken from us this young. We've also confirmed that the disease is not genetic, so we won't have to go through all of this after bringing her long-lost separated-at-birth twin sister this weekend.