There are some dog breeds that seem to be more predisposed to back issues that others. You have the Daschund (poster child for IVDD, right?), Basset Hounds, Corgi and any mix making a long backed/short legged dog. There are also Pugs and French Bulldogs to round out the smaller dog list with Dobermans and German Shepherds having a solid representation for the large breed dogs. Some of their spine issues stem from congenital or developmental defects, but primarily in the veterinary hospital we see dogs with type I or type II disk compression.
When a disk (the shock absorber between vertabre) changes to put pressure on the spinal chord, we usually see pain and loss of function in our pets. It can happen gradually over a few days to months or all of a sudden. The pain can be excruciating and dogs can become completely paralyzed and lose control of body functions. When this issue presents itself, it is important to seek out medical intervention as soon as possible for the best outcome.
My Dog May Have IVDD. Now What?
What are my options if I have a dog that suddenly looses the use of their legs or seems to be really stiff and can’t turn their neck? At the very least, an exam by a veterinarian would be a great place to start to localize where they think a disk lesion may be and to rule out other possibilities such as tick diseases.
The next step could be a visit to a neurology specialist to evaluate the symptoms and recommend a treatment plan that may include an MRI +/- surgery. Sometimes this option is not the best one due to the cost of the procedures or a patient’s age. If this is the case, does that mean that an owner should consider euthanasia as a treatment option? That really depends on the pain factor. If we can not effectively manage a dog’s pain and surgery is not an option, euthanasia may be the only way to humanely treat the issue. In particular, cervical lesions can be one of the most painful and difficult IVDD places to manage without surgery in some pets.
I strongly feel that if a pet’s pain can be controlled and the owners are committed to the intense home care needs of their dog, trying the conservative management strategy is definitely worth it. Time and good care can lead to partial or full recovery in some dogs. You just have to be willing to try with an unknown outcome possible. Recovery is not guaranteed but it is possible. Continue…
So What Have I Learned?
I have spent an exhausting yet rewarding 23 years in the veterinary field as a technician. During the last four years, my time has been devoted to the area of animal rehabilitation therapy (doggie physical therapy but we can’t call it that due to rules and regulations, blah, blah, blah). This has been a rewarding and challenging area of focus with some triumphs and flat out failures. As a perfectionist at heart, the reality of my new field has humbled me with it’s ups and downs and uncertain outcomes. The technician’s rehab experience will be different than that of a veterinarian or human physical therapist. In my rehab case, I went from being a worker bee (carrying out the doctor’s orders) to being a decision maker and treatment planner. The patient’s outcome rested mostly on my shoulders with the rehabilitation plan that I designed. Talk about a whole new level of stress! Upon reflection of theses last few years, I have come to a few conclusions about rehabilitation therapy.
Pearls of Wisdom That I Have Learned
1. The classes and text books are only small part of the learning process when trying to develop a rehab program or protocol. The real learning begins when you are on your own and managing your own cases. Reality can be harsh but a great teacher. Make your mistakes, learn from them, move on.
2. There are way more tools and modalities then you will ever need or use in general on a daily basis (this is just a practical truth). Pick the ones that you feel will allow you to achieve the most reliable results in the best amount of time. For me, laser and aqua therapy are my core modalities with land exercises (using Fitpaws equipment) coming in third.
3. Your eyes and hands are the most valuable assessment tool that you have. Place your hands on every patient and learn to trust yourself.
4. Some dogs just don’t get better. Rehab is not guaranteed to always have a positive outcome. There are a variety of reasons that this may be true such as surgical complications, progressing disease process, and/or overall body condition. Except this and find a good solution for their needs.
5. Rehab (specifically the underwater treadmill) can’t fix everything. Sometimes surgery or (gasp) plain old rest is a better solution to the problem. In a few cases such as disk disease, exercise can even make the symptoms worse. Continue…
As our pets approach their senior years, things begin to change for them. Their vision and hearing can become impaired, weight can become an issue (too heavy or too thin), and their activity levels seem to slow down (often times due to arthritis or degenerative processes). From a rehab therapist’s perspective, it is very important to not let these changes negatively impact a pet’s mobility and independence if we can help it. Keeping our senior dogs on their feet and moving is one of the most important things an owner can do for the aging pet. Once an older dog (especially a larger one) goes down and decides that they do not want to get back up, it can a difficult situation for everyone. So how do we avoid this problem? Keep them healthy and moving!
Keep Them Moving!
Exercising a senior dog does not have to be complicated. If we keep in mind some basic goals and expectations, then we can turn a daily routine into an enjoyable home rehab therapy session. What should our goals be? To keep the geriatric pet up and moving at a level that is comfortable for them. Combining activities that challenge body awareness (Where are my feet?) and support strengthening are an ideal senior exercise plan. To put it in simple terms: older pets need to find a low intensity activity that engages their mind, gets them walking with changes in direction (circles and turns are important), and has them stepping over stuff.
Many of our older dogs still have a huge play drive and desire to go-go-go, but what we need to do as pet parents is to channel this energy into a more structured and controlled play time. It is better to be able to participate in that loved activity such as swimming or ball play for a shorter/less intense time every few days then to go all out with high-drive fun in a single day and then be sore for the next few days or weeks. On the other hand, some senior dogs could care less about going for that walk or being active. These pets are a challenge because we need to find what motivates them and then use it to encourage productive activity.