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My Dog Can’t Walk: Sudden Paralysis in Dogs

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It’s one of the scariest moments you can experience as a pet owner: You wake up and go to let your dog out of the kennel, or he goes to jump off the bed, and you realize he can’t use his back legs. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in dogs, especially chondrodystrophic breeds (long back, short-legged dogs such as Dachshunds, Beagles, Spaniels, etc…) due to a herniating disk in their back, known as intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). Here is what a board-certified veterinary neurologist and neurosurgeon wants dog owners to know if their dog experiences sudden paralysis.

Understanding Your Dog’s Spine

Intervertebral disks are the shock absorbers of your dog’s spinal column that are located in between the vertebrae of the vertebral column. These disks are subject to a number of degenerative conditions and forces which make them more likely to bulge or rupture over time. This rupture leads to two potential spinal injuries – compression and concussion. Most intervertebral disk ruptures are a combination of these two forces.

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The Two Types of Disk Disease

To explain the two types of disk disease, we want you to picture the intervertebral disk as a jelly donut. The nucleus pulposus (the inside of the disk) is like the jelly filling. The annulus fibrosis (the outside of the disk) is the outside of the donut.

Type 1: Disk herniations are a result of the nucleus pulposus (the jelly) rupturing and compressing the spinal cord. The majority of these types of herniations are seen in middle-aged chondrodystrophic breeds as the disks in these dogs tend to age faster in comparison to other dogs.

Type 2: Disk herniations are a result of a bulging of the annulus fibrosis (the outside of the donut). This is more commonly seen in older, large-breed dogs.

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Treatment

Here’s the good news – with this condition, even though the clinical signs are severe (you have a paralyzed pet!), seeking immediate treatment with a board-certified veterinary neurologist will often lead to a good outcome for your pet.

In most situations, a MRI will be recommended to evaluate the spine (to rule out other causes of paralysis) and if a herniated disk is found to be the cause of the problem, then surgical decompression would be recommended. Even in completely paralyzed pets, if they can still feel their paws, they have an 85% chance of walking again after surgery.

Even if your dog is paralyzed, please know that there are options for your pet! There very well may be an option to get your dog up and walking again! If you find yourself in the scary situation of your pet being suddenly paralyzed, consider utilizing Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Neurology Service.

Missy Carpentier, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology), board-certified veterinary neurologist, board-certified veterinary neurosurgeon

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