By Dr. Amanda Rainey
Maggie, a beautiful, long-haired miniature dachshund, was admitted to the ER after having difficulty moving her back two legs. The owners had noticed her reluctance to use the stairs a few days prior. She had been to her regular veterinarian soon after symptoms began and was given anti-inflammatories. Unfortunately, her issues continued to worsen. When she arrived in our triage room, she cheerfully pulled herself around, seemingly unaware of her useless hindlimbs.
This is an all-too-common presentation not only for dachshunds, but other breeds too, such as the Pekingese, shih tzu, beagle and even cocker spaniels. Any dog can develop such a problem; it often stems from intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). In IVDD, the soft disc separating vertebrae calcifies and ruptures into the spinal canal, placing pressure on the spinal cord. The animal subsequently experiences neurologic impairment that takes on different forms, depending on the degree of compression.
Some animals can still walk, but with little coordination and a “drunken” shuffle, easily falling to one side. Maggie could no longer move her legs.
Although I knew she was in pain, Maggie cared more about being petted than moving her legs. A neurologic examination confirmed that, although she could no longer move her hindlimbs, she could still feel them. Prognosis in dogs is much better when sensations are present, with recovery as high as 85–90 percent. When both movement and sensation are lost, it’s less than 50 percent.
We immediately spoke with Maggie’s owners and recommended an emergency CT scan to locate the intruding disc. We are fortunate to have a surgery team on call for after-hours emergencies. When Maggie’s owners gave the go-ahead, we called in our troops.
Maggie was anesthetized. The CT scan had identified a protrusion between the L1 and L2 vertebrae. The surgeon drilled into a vertebra to not only provide the spinal cord with more room, but to remove pieces of disc that were primarily responsible for compression.
She held up well during surgery. After she woke up from the anesthesia, I was relieved to see the same friendly pup. Maggie was discharged five days later. Although she had weeks of limited activity ahead, both her and her family would face the adventure together.