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Dealing with our Beagle's Ruptured Disk: His Story of Injury and Recovery
 

Meet my dog Tinker

He is a 5-1/2 year old Beagle mix. Part Beagle, part Jack Russell Terrier- and all joy. We adopted him in April 2004 from BREW as a companion for our SOS-rescue Beagle, Virginia. At the time of his adoption, we were looking for a well-adjusted, fun and playful male Beagle- and Tinker fit the bill perfectly. His foster Mom aptly named him Mr. Personality. When we first met Tinker, we were struck by how well he got along with everyone- other dogs, men, women, kids, you name it. He is like a person who greets each day with a smile on his face- just upbeat and happy to be alive. For a rescue, he is remarkably well socialized and loves everyone and everything, is sweet and affectionate, and has few fears. He and Virginia have hit it off and developed into a nice little pack.
 

The Unthinkable Happened
Everything was going great until one night this past February when Tinker began to show signs of a neurological problem. Being informed pet owners, we had a pretty good concept of some of the possible predispositions toward physical ailments in Beagles. But until a situation happens to you, it's hard to appreciate the magnitude of the crisis. The onset of Tinkers symptoms happened one night with striking subtlety. He found it difficult to find a comfortable position to sit or lie down. He became agitated and restless and uncharacteristically whiney. We took him to our local emergency vet clinic and they gave him a shot of a steroid and a sedative to help him sleep. Because some dogs can be stoic and not express pain, the ER doc didnt see the need for X-Rays and thought that Tinker had pulled a muscle. The dr. sent him home and he seemed fine for the first half of the following day, but by that evening, Tinker was screaming in pain and losing full use of his back legs (Paraplegia).

We rushed him back to the ER clinic where he was immediately X-Rayed (with the presumption of a disk problem) and admitted for IV steroid administration and observation. The next few days following the injury were a blur of worry and frustration (the first 24-48 hours are critical with disk ruptures and is the ideal time for surgical intervention). This included the logistics of getting Tinker (in a snowstorm) to a place where an MRI could be performed, pushing past an initial mistaken opinion that surgery would be of no use, getting a second opinion from a veterinary neurologist, and ultimately having surgery performed. It turned out that Tinker had IVDD (Intervertebral Disk Disease). This was every pet owner's worst nightmare.

Initial 6 weeks of Complete Rest & Steroids (March-April)
Tinker came home after staying in the hospital for almost a week post-surgery. He was prescribed oral steroids (which he was weaned off of over the course of a month) and 6 weeks of complete rest. That meant confinement to ensure no movement except to "go potty". Rather than using a crate, we used an old portable crib. We began to do passive range of motion exercises with his legs so that they maintained flexibility. We turned him periodically to avoid getting decubital ulcers (bed sores). At that point, Tinker was completely "down"- he could drag his butt, but he couldn't use his rear legs to support himself at all. We wouldnt allow him to drag himself around, because that would only create sores and would do nothing to help him to use his muscles correctly and recover. We remained hopeful and were told that the rule of thumb with disk surgery is that the greatest amount of healing occurs in the first 6 months post-surgery, but improvement can continue for up to 2 years.

Bladder Issues:

Some dogs who suffer a ruptured disk become bowel incontinent, but we were fortunate that this wasn't the case with Tinker. He never lost that sensation and if we paid close attention, he would let us know when he needed to go out. However, he did have some bladder issues.

 

At first, he leaked a bit, which we handled by keeping puppy "wee wee" pads under him (some people find it easier to use diapers on their incontinent dogs). We also needed to help him to fully empty his bladder. This is what is called "expressing" the bladder, and is accomplished by gently but firmly compressing the bladder with your hands, which feels like squeezing a water balloon. It sounds like a big deal, but once you have the technique down, it becomes as routine as anything else. Some owners who are unable to fully express their dog's bladder use a catheter. This, however, may raise the risk of introducing bacteria into the bladder and cause a urinary tract infection.

Then came the hard work.


Rehab and Recovery: Interim Period (April-September)


Tinker went to a veterinary rehab center for hydrotherapy (walking on an underwater treadmill) 3 times a week throughout the first 6 months of his recovery. He also initially received laser treatments to promote healing and circulation. We also took him for weekly acupuncture which helped him to heal. We keep him trim (never an issue for him) and his weight steady and he takes a Glucosomine/Chondroitan/MSM supplement, plus other supplements recommended by his vet.

After the first couple of months, Tinker graduated to an ex-pen (exercise pen) where he could have more freedom of movement but could still be safely confined. Stairs (we carry him up and down- thankfully he's only 20 lbs.) and getting on and off furniture became permanently off limits.

 

We developed a plan to get him up and moving, despite his shaky legs. We bought a cart to help his mobility when outdoors and to keep his spirits up - he took to it immediately! He goes fast as the wind (on a leash of course) and thinks his wheels are pretty cool. When not cart walking, we use a harness which supports his back end, and he basically becomes a wheelbarrow.

The harness and cart helped him to build up the muscles in his front shoulders and to make him feel like he could move more normally. This, combined with physical therapy, built back the muscle mass in his hind quarters and allowed his legs to recover strength. It also increased his muscle mass and strength in his chest and front legs. He has made wonderful progress and gradually improved from not walking at all to standing to walking "up and down" (taking a few steps then stumbling), to staying up most of the time.

Tinker's spirit and energy level remain incredible. He turns heads wherever he goes. Most people have never seen a dog in a cart (except on Animal Planet) and dont quite understand what the'yre looking at. As we walk past people, we hear murmurs of "Wow, isn't that terrific!" and we overhear parents making up stories when their kids ask them "What happened to that dog?"

Where we are today:
Now for the good part. No, make that the GREAT part....
Almost 9 months later, Tinker has made an amazing recovery and is doing great. He walks unassisted around the house. It isn't a pretty walk, but it looks beautiful to us.

 

He has "mild ataxia" (a clumsy motion of the limbs or trunk due to a failure of the fine coordination of muscle movements) - his back end sways and the placement of his feet isn't always correct- but he gets where he needs to go and has learned to compensate for any oddity in his gait. Though we still use the rear harness or his cart for walks outside, we have also begun to walk him with a regular harness and leash as he slowly continues to progress toward normal function.

We have cut back on the frequency of his hydrotherapy to once a week and he gets acupuncture once a month. Tinker moves freely indoors, though the steps are blocked with baby gates. He even joins Virginia in playful Beagle zoomies. Tinker is the same happy and playful "Little Dude" we've come to know and love and he is truly an inspiration to everyone who meets him. When we take him out for walks, he is a crowd pleaser. He romps (yes, romps!) with Virginia and makes us proud of him every day. What an important lesson hes taught us about making the best of things and maintaining our perspective on the things in life that truly matter!

For more information, click on the links below:

Tinker's Blog - More information on Tinkers recovery in words and pictures.
Murphys World - The story and website of another recovered IVDD beagle.
IVDD Explained - Intervertebral Disk Disease explained, courtesy of the Dachshund Club of America.
IVDD Overview - Another comprehensive website full of good information. Read the section entitled "Symptoms" to understand what to look for should you suspect that your pet may be showing signs of a spinal cord/neurological injury. Courtesy of Long Beach Animal Hospital.

 

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