Around 2006, Niko was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called nodular dermatofibrosis which caused lumps (some very large) to grow all over his body. The lumps grew steadily until there were so many of them on his feet and in between his toes that in 2008 he needed to have them surgically removed to be able to walk comfortably. Because Niko was my “Energizer Bunny,” it was hard to get him to rest long enough for his surgical wounds to heal. He made at least two trips back to the vet to have a few spots sutured closed again.
During the slow and frustrating healing process, Niko had to wear “The Cone of Shame,” which he hated. It didn’t help that Rocky tormented him when he had to wear it. And, okay, okay… I didn’t help either. I may have played the “toll bridge” game (where I tossed a treat into the cone like it was a toll as I passed by) once or twice. I might have even laughed. On a regular basis.
Before you start to feel too sorry for Niko, he got us back. He would often walk up and down the hallway with the cone scraping the wall making a sound that was akin to nails on a chalkboard. Or he would walk up “innocently” behind me and slam into the back of my knee almost knocking me down. Rocky often got smacked upside the head with Niko’s cone as he passed by. So, really, the torment was a two-way street.
Back to the story… Niko had to wear the cone and have his wounds medicated several times a day – both things he hated. One morning, I guess he had had enough. When I approached him to put the ointment on his feet, he collapsed down on the floor with all four feet under him. (Think of a duck sitting on her eggs – except instead of a duck it was a large German shepherd and instead of eggs it was his giant feet.) His feet became powerful springs – just as I would get one pulled out, it would spring right back under his body. Pull. Boing. Pull. Boing. It was HILARIOUS!! I was trying to be stern but couldn’t keep myself from giggling.
During one of my fits of laughter, Niko saw his chance to escape and took off. Though I was laughing hysterically, I was quickly in hot pursuit. Down the hall and around the corner we went. He ran into the bedroom, leaped onto the bed, and shoved himself under the pillows. (Seriously, did he think he could hide there??!) Pull. Boing. Pull. Boing. His legs were incredibly strong and he was incredibly determined, but I had an ace in the hole. I played the mommy card. I was able to finally pull myself together long enough to say “That’s enough!” in a somewhat convincing tone, grab his foot firmly, and squirt the ointment on it before he knew what hit him. Once he realized I had won, he gave up the other three paws. He knew he’d been beaten. But he also knew he was going to get a treat. It was a win-win for everyone in the end.
When I replay that scene in my mind I a) am thankful no one was there to see us and b) often laugh so hard I cry. It was very Tom and Jerry (sans the malicious intent) and totally Niko. He was saying, “No way! I don’t think so! Thanks for playing!” He was such a good boy!
End note: At that time, there wasn’t really a treatment for nodular dermatofibrosis. (I’m not sure if any advances have been made in the last few years.) In addition to unsightly and sometimes uncomfortable lumps, the disease ultimately attacks the kidneys and causes renal failure. Some of Niko’s growths came back though they never got as big as they initially were. After battling an unrelated adenocarcinoma, a large cyst was found on one of Niko’s kidneys. We let him go once we discovered that he was in the mid-stages of renal failure. He was 12 years old.
I am sharing this because I want others to know nodular dermatofibrosis isn’t a death sentence. If your pup has this disease, work closely with your vet/doggie dermatologist to keep growths in check and to monitor the kidneys. Your pup can live a full and happy life. I am extremely thankful Niko was able to!