There are two things dog owners should know about disc problems. The first is that disc problems, in our situation a ruptured disc, can be corrected with a number of treatments, depending on the severity of the problem. The second thing is that therapy works wonders during your dogs recovery. Chester is our 6-year-old dachshund. He’s a very unique dog with a lot of personality and energy. Among the things he liked to do was chasing his half sister Madeline around the house, jumping onto the furniture and off, hardly breaking their stride. A couple of times they set off the motion detector on our burglar alarm. We always knew they shouldn’t be jumping on and off the furniture but it never seemed to bother them, so it went on a couple times a week. That is, until Chester started having painful back problems a few months before his 6th birthday.
We immediately took him to his veterinarian who took some x-rays that revealed many calcified discs in his back and his neck, but no ruptures. The vet put him on Remidyl and Roboxin and crate rest for several weeks. We put gates in front of the furniture to prevent either dog from jumping up there and kept Chester as quiet as possible; not an easy job. We also took him to Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center in Grafton, Massachusetts for a second opinion. It isn’t that we don’t trust our vet. We have taken other dogs to Tufts for the tough problems and that is where Chester’s doctor went to school. They have many specialists on staff and are up to date on the latest diagnostic and treatment methods. They looked Chester over and reviewed his x-rays and agreed with his treatment so we took Chester home.
Crate rest and drug therapy seemed to help until one day he simply woke up from a nap and his hind legs were extremely weak. We called his veterinarian and got an appointment and I rushed home from the office. By the time I got home he was unable to stand or walk. We took him to his vet who suspected a disc ruptured but they don’t have a neurologist on staff. Upon their recommendation we rushed him back to Tufts, about an hour drive from home. Chester was examined that night. The Doctor who examined him told us that surgery was the only treatment, the question was when. He had not lost deep pain yet so there wasn’t a need for immediate surgery. We agreed that he would stay overnight in the Intensive Care Unit for observation and he would be examined by the Neurologist in the morning. It was after midnight and everything that needed to be done right away had been done.
After saying good bye to Chester and assuring him we would be back in the morning, we headed home to get some rest. It broke our hearts to leave him, but he was in a cage right in front of the attendant station and someone would be watching him at all times. We finally got to bed around 1:30 AM, only to be woken up around 4:00. The Doctor told us that his condition was getting worse so they were calling the Neurologist in and wanted to prepare to operate on him. We drove back to Tufts and visited with him for a few minutes before they began. The doctor repaired 2 ruptured discs in his back. One of them was pushing against a nerve as well as compressing his spinal cord. The surgery relieved the pressure, but there would be a lot of work to do before Chester would walk on his own. The doctor made a long incision in his back and closed it with surgical staples. It looked like they had put a zipper in his back. We visited him for a while after he woke up. He looked a mess. They shaved most of his back and had a large bandage covering the incision and his zipper.
The attendants in the recovery room told us about physical therapy for him. They said it has helped the recovery of animals with disc problems. We quickly agreed that it would be a great idea. We viewed it as the best way to make sure his recovery was as complete as possible. The additional cost was minimal compared to the cost of his surgery. His recovery went well and we were able to take him home several days after the surgery. His therapist worked with him a few times while he was there and before we left we met with her to learn exercises that we needed to do with him during his recovery at home. Over the next 2 weeks we did exercises with him three times daily to keep his joints from stiffening. We walked him outside with a sling when he needed to go to the bathroom, but the rest of the time he remained still, either in his create or laying next to us.
Within a week he had movement in his back legs when I walked him outside. He was moving them as he would to walk normally but wasn’t able to carry any weight. I used the sling to support him but let his feet touch the ground so he would move them when he walked. Chester got stronger every day. By the time we returned to Tufts to have his zipper removed Chester was carrying much of his own weight with a little help from the sling. We were concerned that removing the staples might be painful, so we were preparing ourselves for a rough time. Much to our pleasure the doctor pulled out a small tool that spreads the staples open effortlessly and best of all, painlessly. Within a minute or 2 his zipper was gone and he didn’t mind it at all. Afterward the doctor checked him over and answered some of our questions. Julie, his therapist had joined us so it was time to go outside to show everyone what this little guy can do. We went into a fenced area where Julie walked Chester around while the doctor looked on. His only support came from Julie who held onto his tail a little. After a few minute she let him try it on his own. He walked from her to my wife, but his hind legs were not ready to carry him without help.
Before we left for home Julie showed us some different exercises to help Chester restore strength in legs. We also made an appointment with Julie for his hydrotherapy. We still had to keep Chester quiet for the next 4 weeks, but we were able to walk him around a little and we continued to do exercises with him twice a day. Chester continued to get stronger as time went by but still needed help from the sling when we arrived for his first hydrotherapy appointment. Julie put a life vest on him and got into the pool with him to let him swim. The kicking motion dogs make when they need to swim helps improve the strength in their legs. The appointment lasted an hour, and Julie monitored Chester’s heart rate to make sure he was not over-doing it. We noticed an improvement in his mobility and strength almost immediately following his appointment. He was very tired following his therapy but after he rested we could see that he needed less help from his sling. We continued to take him to hydrotherapy weekly for a few months and then every other week for a few more months. Every time we saw more improvement, and in no time we were able to get rid of his sling and Chester walked on his own. That was in the spring and summer of 2003, today in the winter of 2003 Chester is doing fine. He walks on his own with just a little instability and no longer requires therapy. He enjoys walking with us and shows little residual effect from his disc problem and surgery. Even his incision has all but disappeared, and Chester is once again the same dog we enjoyed before his back problems began. We still keep both dogs from jumping on the furniture and have ramps for any doors they go in and out of. We are taking these precautions so Chester doesn’t have to go through the pain of a ruptured disc again.
If you are interested in physical therapy for you pet, check Julie’s web site, pt4animals.com.