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  1. #1
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    Default Dog spinal problems - see a neurologist?

    So further to the post about Pirate's arthritis a bit back, he has now seen the vet and the vet thinks he's actually got a spinal problem. (I had noticed that it seemed like Pirate wasn't always aware of where he was putting his back feet, but I wasn't sure if that could be due to neuropathy from having arthritis in the wrong places, or what.)

    The vet thought it was probably something degenerative, but everything I've read about degenerative spinal problems says that it's generally not at all painful, and I noticed today when brushing him that there's a very specific spot on Pirate's back along his spine where if you press he flinches. (He doesn't whimper or anything, but it's really obvious. And repeatable.) And dogs can have disc problems just like people, which would also cause neuropathy depending on what was going on and how much the spinal cord was being bothered by swelling/pressure from the disc/etc.

    My mom suggested maybe seeing a dog chiropractor with him. Does anyone know anything about them? I'm kind of uncertain about the concept of chiropractors for people, although I know a lot of folks swear by them, and performance horses seem to have their own entourage of chiropractors and massage therapists and who knows what else.

    I will also contact my vet again but I want to do a little more research first, and see if it's just a temporary sore spot like he bumped himself, or if it lasts more than a day or two. That also raises the question of what to actually do about it if there might be some other problem - at 10 I don't know if Pirate is a great candidate for being sedated, which is necessary for x-rays and so on, and also surgery, and if surgery would even be a reasonable option. Like if it is a disc, and the treatment would be surgery or NSAIDs, and he's not really a great surgery candidate because of the sedation, well - he's on NSAIDs anyway. So is there a point to trying to get more information/going to a specialist/etc.? We do have two dog neurologists in the area.

    Anyway, just hoping for any thoughts or experiences folks have had with back problems in dogs so I can get my head around things and have a meaningful conversation with the vet.



  2. #2
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    If you opt for the chiropractic route, look for one certified through the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Very common for agility dogs to receive chiropractic care.

    Radiographs aren't usually very helpful for diagnosing disc issues, MRI is the tool of choice



  3. #3
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    If your vet feels there is even a slight possibility of a disc, please do NOT see a chiropractor before a neurologist. I have known several clients who have done this and resulted in a permanently paralyzed dog

    However, if neurologist gives the OK...chiropractic/accupuncture care can be wonderful.

    What makes you think he isnt a good candidate for sedation? A good percentage of the anesthesias and sedations we do are on dogs over the age of 12.

    Disc issues are best diagnosed by MRI or Myelogram/CT. You are likely wasting your money on radiographs unless you are looking for spondylosis.

    I wouldnt worry about the age at all...unless he is already on death's door, sedation and anesthesia in the vet world has come a LONG way. Most of the drugs uses today are safe for even the most geriatric of pets.


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  4. #4
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    Yeah, that's one of my worries about chiropractors. They don't know what they're poking at! (I mean, you can know anatomy all you want, but without scans of some type, you can't know what's going on with alignment, soft tissue, etc.)

    There is actually a specialty clinic with two neurologists and an MRI which I can take him to if I can get a referral, and it sounds like that might be a good plan?

    I don't want to subject him to poking and prodding if it's a really high chance that it is something degenerative where there's no treatment, but I don't want him stuck with a problem that can be fixed or significantly improved, either. Which is what I'm thinking may be the case. I'm going to try to observe more carefully for a few days.

    It's good to know that sedation is better now. As far as I know he's in fine health otherwise (no heart/liver/kidney/etc. problems) and it is a specialty place so I imagine they get all kinds of combinations of issues to deal with. (It's not just a neurology clinic - it seems to be a collection of specialist vets in different areas, neurology, dental, etc. that share clinic resources. They don't do routine stuff. So it seems likely that they'd get some complex cases.)

    Is there any reason why I shouldn't poke at the sore spot? I mean, I'm not going around prodding at it or trying to do adjustments myself, but I want to see if it's a persistent thing or if he just coincidentally has a sore/touchy spot there for some reason that will resolve in a day or two and has nothing to do with the actual spine/neuropathy issues. (I'm actually running a finger down either side of his spine, pressing less firmly than I do when I'm massaging my own sore joints - arthritis, yay - but not so light to just be tickling. I originally noticed something about that area while brushing him, so it's that sort of pressure, just fingertips only.) I want to monitor what's going on, but not if it's likely to be shifting something or otherwise making things worse.

    (Er. Not that I'm expecting to do it all the time, either. Like once a day, maybe? Twice if the reaction is less pronounced and I want a second opinion on if he's flinching.)

    ETA: Sorry if I have any stupid questions, btw. The only specialist vet experience I have is with helping my aunt take one of her dogs to an oncology specialist, and I wasn't really involved in much except assisting with getting the dog in and out of the car, so pretty much all of my taking-animals-to-the-vet experience is routine get-vacciations-and-a-checkup stuff.



  5. #5
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    Yeah, that's one of my worries about chiropractors. They don't know what they're poking at! (I mean, you can know anatomy all you want, but without scans of some type, you can't know what's going on with alignment, soft tissue, etc.)

    There is actually a specialty clinic with two neurologists and an MRI which I can take him to if I can get a referral, and it sounds like that might be a good plan?

    I don't want to subject him to poking and prodding if it's a really high chance that it is something degenerative where there's no treatment, but I don't want him stuck with a problem that can be fixed or significantly improved, either. Which is what I'm thinking may be the case. I'm going to try to observe more carefully for a few days.

    It's good to know that sedation is better now. As far as I know he's in fine health otherwise (no heart/liver/kidney/etc. problems) and it is a specialty place so I imagine they get all kinds of combinations of issues to deal with. (It's not just a neurology clinic - it seems to be a collection of specialist vets in different areas, neurology, dental, etc. that share clinic resources. They don't do routine stuff. So it seems likely that they'd get some complex cases.)

    Is there any reason why I shouldn't poke at the sore spot? I mean, I'm not going around prodding at it or trying to do adjustments myself, but I want to see if it's a persistent thing or if he just coincidentally has a sore/touchy spot there for some reason that will resolve in a day or two and has nothing to do with the actual spine/neuropathy issues. (I'm actually running a finger down either side of his spine, pressing less firmly than I do when I'm massaging my own sore joints - arthritis, yay - but not so light to just be tickling. I originally noticed something about that area while brushing him, so it's that sort of pressure, just fingertips only.) I want to monitor what's going on, but not if it's likely to be shifting something or otherwise making things worse.

    (Er. Not that I'm expecting to do it all the time, either. Like once a day, maybe? Twice if the reaction is less pronounced and I want a second opinion on if he's flinching.)



  6. #6
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    One of my dogs, a collie, had degenerative disc ds in his back. At 12 was happily trotting around the pool one sec and acutely paralyzed the next. Luckily we had insurance, because MRI, neurosurgery months of cage rest and about 5000 bucks later he was completely recovered. he lived a great life for the next 2 years when another disk failed. Not a surgical candidate at 14 so tried steroids, adequan and pain meds. Looked like he might do ok for a few days but sadly didn't make it that time. Was worth every sent as he was an amazing dog. Still miss that boy. If a disk I can say surgery was nothing short of amazing, even for what was a senior dog. Good luck with your baby.



  7. #7
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    I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Pirate is just trying to make me INSANE. Since seeing the vet, he has gone from 'really very unbalanced/wonky and clearly having problems with both back legs' to 'something is wrong with the right hind and loss of muscle mass, but relatively steady.' Only we didn't DO anything major. And prior to seeing the vet the problem had been pretty consistent for weeks.

    ANIMALS!

    (I probably will follow up on taking him to see a specialist, but it's good to see him much more himself and having fewer problems getting around.)

    It's not just my imagination, either. When you do the knuckle thing that the vet did (pick back foot up, put it down with the toes folded under) at the vet he didn't seem to notice at all. Yesterday when I did it, it took him a moment. Today I tried and as soon as I put his foot down and he put some weight on it, he picked it up and fixed it.

    So I have no idea what's going on, but yay? I guess it's not a thing where he's just going to get worse and worse and never better at all?



  8. #8
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    I had one dog that I took to a neurologist. She was younger or maybe just around 10 with no major problems except that she started pooping without realizing it and becoming a little wonky with the back end. I took her to the specialist who recommended an mri. The mri showed a tumor pressing against her spinal cord. I had the surgery to take most of it off and radiation. Her gaits were totally wonky afterwards, but she lived a happy life for quite a few years. To my knowledge, she never experienced pain in the back end/spine area.

    I have had two older dogs and they have both gotten less reliable with the back legs as they've gotten older. My old dog now-- we like to say she walks with her back old lady slippers on now, shuffling.

    I also had an older dog that died this year who had an exceptionally long back and as she aged, she had some back issues. One time her back "went out." One day she woke up in a great deal of pain in her back. She mostly tried to stand very, very still as any movement put her in incredible pain. I remember sobbing in the car as I took her to the vet thinking that it would be her last trip. The vet prescribed muscle relaxants and she was good to go in a day or two. She never had another horrible back episode, but every now and again her back would pinch her as she would make a slight bark out of the blue. She had an incredibly wonky back end as she aged. It was an amazing thing to see from behind as she had, again, a long back and her back legs would be going every whichaway as she trotted happily down the sidewalk. She had the best of vet care, but I don't think she ever had x-rays, certainly not an mri, of her back. Dogs age.
    Last edited by frisky; Nov. 26, 2012 at 12:23 AM.



  9. #9
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    I would definitley go for the consultation. They may prescribe a whole different course of action to what you are doing now. Is she on any kind of activity restriction right now?

    The neurologists usually suggest a course of steroids and Tramadol along with activity restrictions (with check-ups) if the owners wish to go the non-MRI surgical route (medical management.)



  10. #10
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    I had a GSD puppy who over the course of 3 days lost his rear end. His brain and back legs just quit communicating. Very, very sad to watch. My regular vet set up an appointment with a neurologist immediately. Tests were inconclusive. But due to the specialists having seen similar cases they were able to suggest treatments. Turned out it was most likely something tick borne that passed thru the blood/brain barrier. (yes, he was on flea and tick prevention.) I thought it was neurological. The specialist saved him and he is a wild year old boy today.



  11. #11
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    No real activity restriction beyond just keeping it to what he's comfortable with. (Which means lots of short walks instead of longer ones, mostly. He doesn't do a lot of jumping up/down/around.)

    Medication-wise it's just Rimadyl as needed at the moment. He doesn't seem to be in pain, but it's kind of hard to tell because he's very stoic. But going by general health indicators he seems pretty happy (nice coat, interested in the world, not sleeping All The Time, etc.) so I'm not sure he needs Tramadol at the moment for pain control. Steroids might be an idea, though, if the problem is inflammation-related.

    A big issue is just that where I live, there are hills and stairs EVERYWHERE. So if steps become a big problem, I'm not sure how we'd manage. He's too big for me to carry. Staying on top of things so that it doesn't get to that point (or takes as long as possible to get to that point) seems to be the best solution to maintain a good quality of life for him.



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by riff View Post
    I had a GSD puppy who over the course of 3 days lost his rear end. His brain and back legs just quit communicating. Very, very sad to watch. My regular vet set up an appointment with a neurologist immediately. Tests were inconclusive. But due to the specialists having seen similar cases they were able to suggest treatments. Turned out it was most likely something tick borne that passed thru the blood/brain barrier. (yes, he was on flea and tick prevention.) I thought it was neurological. The specialist saved him and he is a wild year old boy today.
    Eep. I bet that was quite scary. Older dogs you kind of expect to start getting a bit rough around the edges, as it were, but a puppy and in only three days? Ouch.

    So glad he was able to be treated.


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  13. #13
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    The neurologists can offer medical management options based on what they think it is. Having worked with a neurologist, it's pretty amazing what they can learn from their exams...which is why they are specialists. If the feel it is disc related, etc, they can make recommendations. Not every client can or will go for an MRI, etc, so don't think that there isn't a reason to go because you don't plan on further diagnostics. They can still help immensly.


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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beckham03 View Post
    The neurologists can offer medical management options based on what they think it is. Having worked with a neurologist, it's pretty amazing what they can learn from their exams...which is why they are specialists. If the feel it is disc related, etc, they can make recommendations. Not every client can or will go for an MRI, etc, so don't think that there isn't a reason to go because you don't plan on further diagnostics. They can still help immensly.
    That's what it sounds like, particularly since his condition is quite distinctly changing. I know some degenerative stuff can be weird, but the level of improvement on a 'good' day like he's had the past few days is really pretty significant, which seems at odds with it being a degenerative old age thing. I'd definitely feel better getting him checked out by a specialist at this point.

    I'd have to think quite carefully about surgery (he does have insurance which should help with the cost, but there's the stress of the whole thing to think of also) but that's no reason to not investigate the options. He's reasonably happy right now but his life is limited I think more than he'd like. He quite clearly wants to walk further than he's actually able to, I think because of muscle weakness. He'll just go and go and you see his hind legs looking more and more tired/shaky until he finally just goes 'plop' and sits. I try to keep him from getting to that point - sometimes I'll take a car out and park it a couple streets away and then walk home and get him so he can have a 'longer' walk. (Really the same sort of distance, but he's not backtracking for half of it so it's got more smells. )



  15. #15
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    I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Pirate is just trying to make me INSANE. Since seeing the vet, he has gone from 'really very unbalanced/wonky and clearly having problems with both back legs' to 'something is wrong with the right hind and loss of muscle mass, but relatively steady.' Only we didn't DO anything major. And prior to seeing the vet the problem had been pretty consistent for weeks
    This sounds like a CLASSIC case of degenerative myleopathy.
    My male Boxer had it. They DO get wonky, usually presents on one side first with uncoordinated movements, then the muscles begin wasting from lack of use.
    Eventually total paralysis happens. Its NOT painful for them, maybe his spine issue is something else when you touch it...they can still "feel" but the degeneration kills the nerves to the hind just before the hips.

    I hope this is not your dogs issue. There is nothing you can do to stop the progression...eventually it runs its course. You could try hydrotherapy or acupuncture, but its not really going to work much to slow the disease. We did none of that. Kept the boy happy, got him a wheel chair when that hind leg was useless, and he was laid to rest when the other leg started going and he was clearly depressed.



  16. #16
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    Is it usual for the weakness/issues to come and go, though? Because he was gradually getting worse, but then since seeing the vet he's been much better - more stable on his feet, less wonkiness in his gait, more use of his back end in general. He still has muscle loss, but I imagine it takes dogs some time to build muscle the same as it does people.

    I know some degenerative stuff can be inconsistent in that way, it just surprises me how much better he seems at the moment.

    At any rate, I was posting to also ask if anyone knows if it makes much difference if I use a collar on him for walking vs a harness? He's quite good on the leash and doesn't pull, so I'm not particularly worried about a collar regularly putting stress on his neck, or a harness teaching him that he can pull me all over the place. I was just wondering about his possible comfort. He's so stoic about pain in general that I can't tell from him if something is bugging him just a bit. Maybe someone else has had a dog with similar problems who was more of a drama queen and expressed an opinion one way or the other?



  17. #17
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    Has anyone checked him for neck pain? It is possible to have multiple sites in the spine...in which case a harness would be better. As would raising the water bowls. If the neurologist suspects DM, there is a blood test that can be sent off. It is around $100 for the test. They also may be able to tell enough from the exam. Is his weakness symmetric, as in the same in both rear limbs?



  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beckham03 View Post
    Has anyone checked him for neck pain? It is possible to have multiple sites in the spine...in which case a harness would be better. As would raising the water bowls. If the neurologist suspects DM, there is a blood test that can be sent off. It is around $100 for the test. They also may be able to tell enough from the exam. Is his weakness symmetric, as in the same in both rear limbs?
    Not really. He got a relatively basic check by the vet. (It's a clinic that aims to provide need based low cost care, so I think they tend to just go with the conservative and less expensive routes because that's what most of their clients can afford. I got Pirate from the associated shelter, so I want to use them at regular rates for routine stuff to help support the low cost program, plus the vet is very good with him.)

    I've been leaving his collar off in the house just in case it might be bothering him, but of course going out he needs to have tags on. He doesn't seem to have trouble with the bowls on the floor, but I'm thinking of raising them up a little bit anyway, since it is a bit of a stretch and particularly if he's on medications, I want to make sure he's drinking plenty.

    His weakness isn't symmetric - his right hind is worse than the left, although he does have some muscle loss on both sides. I think maybe the muscle loss looks about even but there's some additional thing going on with the right? And overall, his degree of problem isn't consistent - I had him out today and he was moving around quite happily, much more steady on his feet than he had been, less trouble getting into the car, etc. Fewer instances where it looked like he just wasn't sure what was going on with his back end, the right leg specifically.

    Oh, and at the vet he did one test where he picked Pirate's right hind foot up and put it down with the toes folded under and Pirate just stood on it like he didn't even notice? I did that today and he fixed it right away, the way you'd expect. Even got my dad to watch (he went to the vet with me) and he agrees that it's a different response to what he was doing at the vet.

    So I'm kind of confused and definitely going to see about the neurologist. I need to get a referral from the regular vet, but I can't imagine that will be a problem. But I feel like seeing a specialist will help give me more information about what's going on and what to expect so I can make realistic decisions going forward. Right now I feel like I don't know what to expect because he was getting worse, and now he's better than he was but not normal, and should I expect this to be his new 'normal' or is he likely to get worse again quickly so I should plan for that, or what? I know there's no definitive 'this is what's going to happen' step-by-step prediction, but having SOME idea would be better than none.

    (Particularly because I live at home with my parents because my mom has cancer, which eats up a lot of time and energy, so I can't count on having time and energy available to do something like go hunting for a ramp to help him get into the car if he suddenly starts needing one. If it's likely, it'd be better to put it on the to do list so I can get it done when I have time, so I have it. That sort of thing.)



  19. #19
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    I would definitely do the neurological consult first to rule out anything that would contraindicate chiropractic, but if they recommend it, I'd give it a shot. My dog gets a chiropractic adjustment every three weeks to manage some sort of a neurological related incontinence problem, and it's the only thing that works for her.



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