Coping with Disc Illness

“You know, saa-shaay! Its rear end sways from side to side and it falls down very low at the back. Prance. Towing downtown. You know, “Shawty got low, low, low.” Not her normal doxie dance. “

I wasn’t trained on the hottest TikTok moves, but rather the sudden strolling style of a 5 year old Dachshund named Dorothy. Apparently I didn’t get it.

“She starts doing it for no reason. Lying next to me, she jumps down and then begins to walk, hunched over, pulling her back end. If I touch her back, she’ll be a bit muzzled. “

To make her point clear, Dorothy’s mother pulled up a sleeve to reveal a nasty cut on her forearm that was cut over an extraordinary tattoo reproduction of Picasso’s “rascal” dachshund.

Note to yourself: avoid Dorothy’s pointed end while examining the back pieces. Also ask your mother who made her ink.

Disc disease

I noticed immediately that Dorothy was noticeably weaker in her hind legs. I also noticed a grimace as I approached her middle back. My results quickly confirmed my initial concern: disc disease.

Disc disease (IVDD) is the most common veterinary diagnosed disease of the spine in dogs.

Typical clinical symptoms are:

  • Sudden weakness (paresis) or paralysis in one or both hind legs
  • Intense localized pain along the spine
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Reluctance to stand, walk, or climb stairs

If the injury is in the neck area, all four legs can be affected. There are many conditions that can cause similar symptoms, including trauma, arthritis, immune-mediated or infectious diseases of the spine, blood clots, neuromuscular diseases, and tumors.

There are three types of IVDD veterinarians that need to be distinguished between.

Hansen Type 1 IVDD occurs when part of the intervertebral disc, the protective “shock absorber” located between the vertebrae, tears or protrudes and compresses the central spinal cord. This causes severe pain and impairs nerve transmission, resulting in weakness or paralysis. Type 1 is most common in chondrodystrophoid breeds (“short-legged” or “dwarf”) such as dachshunds, corgis, frenchies, and basset hounds. Dogs with genetic mutations CDDY or CDPA; and obese dogs. These injuries usually occur in the middle of the back, known as the thoraco-lumbar junction or “TL”.

Type 2 More common in older, large breeds, it is a progressive, usually painless disease that can lead to gradual paralysis of the hind legs.

Type 3 are also known as “acute non-compressive” or “rocket disks” and often follow trauma or injury.

The diagnosis is made based on medical history and physical examination, neurological tests, x-rays, and MRI or CT scans. I will be the first to admit that I consider any “sausage dog” an IVDD until proven otherwise.

Testing and Monitoring

Dorothy’s mother recognized the problem early on, and my tests showed that both feet were feeling pain. I explained the importance of the simple “squeeze test” in determining the importance of spinal cord compression in a dog. If a dog with suspected IVDD is unable to retract its paw when the skin is pinched between the toes, drawing surgery is urgently needed.

Another essential test is the “knuckle-over”. I gently bent the tip of Dorothy’s paw so that she “stood” on it. Healthy dogs turn back their paws immediately. Dogs with worrying IVDD either remain “knuckled” or very slowly bring the paw back into normal position.

Finally, I emphasized the importance of monitoring normal urine flow and painless bowel movements. Many dogs with IVDD develop poor bladder function, which puts them at risk for infections and complications. Other dogs experience painful defecations leading to constipation or worse. If Dorothy showed any changes in urine output or the power of the current, or cried or whimpered while potty, she had to come in immediately.

Time for treatment

Treatment for IVDD depends on the type, location, duration, severity, and course. Dogs that are paralyzed or have lost sensation must routinely have immediate surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, relieve pain, and restore function. The longer a dog has had severe IVDD, the worse the chances of a full recovery become. Most cases, especially with early treatment, get better with a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs, rehab, and rest.

Help your dog shed a few pounds with the diet to relieve the pressure on the spine.

Dorothy passed all of her neurological tests, suggesting a likely slight disc protrusion and compression of the spine. X-rays showed no obvious spinal abnormalities, so we decided to postpone a neurologist’s referral and MRI unless her condition got worse.

  1. I gave a strong anti-inflammatory injection and started grade 4 laser therapy that day. We made sure to have one of our veterinary technicians treat her at home two to three times a week for the next four to six weeks.
  2. Strict rest and restricted mobility for the next two weeks were also emphasized. Short, closely monitored leash walks to go to the bathroom and sit quietly on her mother’s lap or next to her were her only activities for the time being. Dorothy had a comfortable porter that her mother would make extra cozy while she was resting.
  3. In addition, we would later initiate oral anti-inflammatory drugs in combination with an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
  4. I also prescribed a weight loss plan to help Dorothy shed a few unhealthy pounds that were putting pressure on her weakened spine. Since the safe weight loss in dogs is about 70% diet and only 30% exercise, she could safely start losing weight before increasing activity.

Immediate treatment = better results

Dorothy was pain free within a week. When she was one month old, I allowed her to leave detention as long as she didn’t jump up (or down) or climb stairs. She had already lost a pound and looked stronger every day. We continued laser therapy for another two months and kept the omega-3 DHA on for life. I’m happy to report that within six months Dorothy was back to normal, albeit a little slimmer and smarter! Dorothy’s mother attributed the strength and vitality to the DHA dietary supplement for the joints; I credited the weight loss. We’re both probably right!

Immediate detection and treatment enabled Dorothy to break off the “pull” and continue her “doxie dance”. Back injuries must be investigated promptly for the best results. If you think your dog is having weakness or pain in the back or legs, or is “getting too low” or “dragging around”, contact your veterinarian immediately. And be sure to tell them it’s not about TikTok.

Dr. Ernie Ward is an internationally recognized veterinarian known for innovations in general small animal practice, long-term drug monitoring, the special needs of older dogs and cats, and pet obesity. He is the author of “The Clean Pet Food Revolution” and has been a frequent guest on numerous television programs.

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