The saying goes that life can change in an instant. This saying applies to dogs, too. Felicia Easley knows all too well the reality of this statement. Her once playful 6-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix became paralyzed in March of 2014. Prior to injury, the dog, Bob, was a happy, healthy dog with no major illnesses.
“Bob (initially) suffered abrupt and complete paralysis from his hips to his tail; he had no movement and no bowel control.,” Easley says. “It occurred when a friend’s dog was visiting and continually tried to rough house play with Bob. This dog was larger and while trying to engage Bob in playing, continually jumped on his back and hindquarters. Within an hour or so, Bob couldn’t move and was completely paralyzed”
Easley isn’t alone in dealing with a dog with some of paralysis and/or spinal cord injury. Poppy the Cocker Spaniel has had 2 spinal surgeries for degenerative disc disease (IVDD). After her last IVDD surgery in April 2012, she spent 2 months in total crate rest, and the next 4 months of mostly crate rest with multiple exercises, acupuncture and hydrotherapy, to gain strength in her back legs so she could walk again. Her mom says, “She still has neurological deficiencies. I don’t think she has normal feeling in her hind end. She can’t empty her bladder fully without my help, although sometimes she surprises me and does just that. For the first year she often pooped in her sleep. She has improved, primarily because she’s on a highly digestible raw diet. It’s a delicate balance of regular visits to potty outside, bladder expression, and learning to read the little signs that she’s “got to go” but just doesn’t know it.”
Dog mom, Kim Kiernan, says Poppy has some permanent neurological deficits. She lost the concept of being potty trained and has a great difficulty fully emptying her bladder on her own.
“I learned to express her bladder and do so at least 4 times daily to prevent a urinary tract infection. She defecates on her own but will occasionally go in her sleep as well,” Kiernan shares. “This is become much less frequent since 2012. These are likely due to neurological deficits. The best thing with her potty problems is to keep her on a schedule. I no longer have to use potty pads in her crate thank heavens!”
Living with a Dog With Paralysis/Back Problems
It isn’t easy, and neither dog mom admits that it is. Bob’s handicap was something Easley had never heard of or seen before. As a dog lover, she was determined to take care of him the best she could.
“It can be very tiring, frustrating and discouraging to care for a handicapped pet, “Easley admits. “My advice for anyone who finds him or herself in this situation with a pet is to do as much research on your own that you can about the disease. Creating a special Instagram account for Bob has been such a blessing!”
On a side note, on Instagram is where I crossed paths with Turbo_Bobby. I loved watching the photos fill my stream: Not of a dog with a disability but of a life well lived and well loved.
Until landing on Instagram, Easley did not realize how many people in the world have handicapped dogs that are suffering with IVDD. Through social media, she has been able to connect with a community of dog lovers and parents of dogs who have IVDD and this has been a therapy group of sorts. They share tips for our dogs about how to care for them and they share in the daily improvements and sometimes the setbacks that our pets experience.
The Long Road of IVDD
Having spent time in the company of Poppy and her mom, I can attest to the can-do attitude and wanting to be just like the other “kids.” As a Cocker, she wants to run, play, and explore. Her neurologist says she can resume normal activity, but Kiernan thinks the dog park is probably out at this stage. Since she has IVDD and it is a permanent condition, Poppy could rupture another disc. So, her mom minimizes jumping as little as possible. In true Cocker form, she does like to try to stand on her back legs to reach food.
What is IVDD
IVDD is intervertebral disc disease, a condition that is serious and more often seen in dogs than cats. Discs act as cushioning pads, as they do in people, and are located in the spinal column between most of the vertebra. On the outside, the discs are tough and fibrous but the center is gel-like. Discs are like shock absorbers for bones (vertebra) of the spinal column.
Disc damage can occur in the neck, back, legs, and can be herniated, slipped, or ruptured. IVDD is a neurologic disorder and often times, aging dogs are more prone to the problem.
According to petMD.com, there are two types of IVDD: Type I (more severe) and type II. Signs of IVDD include, but are not limited to:
- Unwillingness to jump
- Pain and weakness in rear legs (lameness)
- Crying out in pain
- Anxious behavior
- Muscle spasms over back or neck
- Hunched back or neck with tense muscles
- Reduced appetite and activity level
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control (urinary and fecal incontinence, respectively)
Dogs may sometimes require a special mobility device, physical therapy, medication, and ongoing treatment and monitoring, capped off with the best medicine of all: A loving pet parent(s) to be his advocate and loving guardian.
Prevention of IVDD
Some breeds are predisposed or more prone to the disease, so keeping them at a lower weight will help reduce the stress on their backbone and neck.These breeds include the Dachshund, Basset Hound, Beagle, French Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, Welsh Corgi, Cocker Spaniels, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Doberman Pinschers are the only non-chondrodystrophic large breed dog to be predisposed to this disease (referred to as “Wobbler’s disease” in the breed.) Apart from affecting larger breed dogs more commonly, Type II IVDD seems to offer no specific breed predispositions.(Embrace Pet Insurance).
Keep stress off your dog’s neck and never pull or tug on his leash when walking. If your dog tends to be a puller, walk with a harness. Dogs with IVDD should have access to ramps or steps and if at all possible, avoid anything that can put further strain on the spinal column.
It Can Be Managed
There are throngs of diseases that can and do affect dogs (and people), and they can be managed. People do ask ignorant, belittling, or even mean questions about our dogs from time to time. At the age of 46, I’ve learned that getting mad and allowing negative comments to tie me up in knots serves no purpose in my life. Speaking against naysayers and trying to educate the ignorant has become more the norm in my life. Of course, there are some folks who just aren’t worth educating.
Having raised a puppy mill rescue dog with a lifelong host of health problems, I have no regrets: I cannot say the same for some of the rude comments tossed my way in public in reaction to my dog as she aged.
Those of us who care for pets with disabilities are bound to meet the occasional idiot. These are the folks who are “filter-less,” as in they say whatever they please. And the comment that seems to most often come out is, “I’d never spend that much money to help a dog.”
One of the greatest retorts to this I read in a blog post by Dr. Marty Becker. After a customer picked up her prescription for her dog, the amount revealed was well over $100. This caused customer B to say aloud, “I’d never spend that much money to help a dog.” Dr. Becker explained to the rude woman that the dog might be a therapy dog, a companion, or just a pet who adds joy to this lady’s life. Perhaps the dog is the reason this lady gets up in the morning and gives her life purpose. He asked if the woman ever took expensive vacations and she replied that she did. Why then, Dr. Becker, replied is it acceptable to spend large amounts of money on travel but not to save a life? The woman walked away, in a hurry, but perhaps will think twice in the future.
In a day and age where dogs give us so much: From comfort to companionship—from working dogs to search and rescue dogs—and so much more: Please think twice before imparting rude words to a dedicated pet parent like the above. Rule of thumb: Say something nice or nothing at all.
To all of the dog moms and dog dads out there living with and managing life with a dog – no matter the age, breed, health, or situation, we raise our sparkling water bowls to you with love.
Have you ever dealt with a dog with a disability and how did things do for you? If not, then how would you handle rude people?