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Overboard Indomitable (Squeak) Remembered

Squeak was the only boy in his litter and a special needs pup. We lost him on April 28, 2000 to canine muscular dystrophy. In the brief year he was with us, Squeak warmed our hearts, made us laugh, and demonstrated for us daily the power of sheer pluck and positive thinking. His was a very bright spirit. We still miss him.

About Canine Muscular Dystrophy

Canine muscular dystrophy is virtually identical to Duchennes muscular dystropy in humans. Like hemophilia, it is an x-chromosome linked disease, carried by females but affecting only males. It is a hideous, tragic, wasting disease that takes the lives of its victims young.

Because Squeak was undersized at birth, weighing in at somewhat under 7 ounces, we didn't realize for several weeks that he had a serious neurological problem. Even our vets were unsure for some time whether he was ill or just underdeveloped. When his tremors and wobbly gait failed to improve significantly as he grew, we had to accept the fact that he was handicapped... but exactly how remained a mystery for quite some time.

We tried swimming, T-touch, and acupuncture as therapies, but nothing really helped. Then, sometime after Christmas of 1999, I was organizing my home office and filing things when I ran across an article in the September/October issue of the Australian Shepherd Journal entitled "Normal Neurological Development and Disorders in Puppies." How I missed it before, I'll never know, but I sat down and read it thoroughly. By the time I had finished, I knew in my heart, heavy as it was, what we were up against. The description of canine muscular dystrophy fit Squeak like a glove.

Further research revealed that a blood test for an elevated level of an enzyme called creatin kinase is indicative of the disease. When I asked our vets to do this test, they referred us to Tufts, which oddly enough was lacking a staff neurologist at the time. They in turn referred us to Angell Memorial in Boston, and on March 14 we had our diagnosis. The staff neurologist at Angell had never seen canine muscular dystrophy before, but he had little doubt that's what he was looking at. Squeak's creatin kinase levels came back sky high.

Boys who suffer from Duchennes muscular dystrophy typically are bedridden by their mid-to-late teens and die by the early twenties. We were told that dogs with CMD have a life expectancy of 5-6 years, but Squeak didn't make it to his first birthday. After the appointment at Angell Memorial his condition began to deteriorate rapidly, and on April 28 we were forced to say goodbye to our sweet, brave boy.

Although Squeak was the first reported case of CMD in Aussies that we know of, it's unlikely that he was truly the first--or that he'll be the last. Because we are hobbyists with a small number of dogs, and because Squeak was part of a small litter, we had no problem keeping him and trying to work through his problems. Because he had a decent quality of life until very close to the end, we never seriously considered euthanasia. But the fact is that most breeders would have--and would have missed a diagnosis in the process.

CMD is most highly reported in Goldens; it has also been reported in Irish terriers, Samoyeds, Rottweilers, miniature Schnauzers, Welsh corgis--and now, Aussies. It is a horribly difficult disease to eradicate, because even though it is known to be carried by the bitch lines, the gene that causes it also mutates freely. What this means is that although we know that our bitch, Annie, carries the gene, there is no reason to necessarily believe that the bitches behind her do. CMD can crop up anywhere, without warning.

If any breeders reading this have a feeling of deja vu, we can only hope that they will take the implications to heart and will have any suspect pups thoroughly examined and tested before euthanizing them. It is the only means for the moment of identifying carriers and preventing the spread of this terrible disease in our breed.

If you would like further information on CMD, please e-mail us for a recommended reading list.

© 2006 Overboard Aussies
Updated July 10, 2007