Spinal Cord Disease

Spinal cord disease can cause leg weakness and back or neck pain. There are numerous possible causes such as disc prolapse (bulging disc), trauma (accident), neoplasia (cancer) and inflammation (swelling). Fortunately the most common cause is intervertebral disc disease which can, in most cases, be fixed with surgery.

How would you know if your pet develops a spinal cord problem? Your pet will develop a combination of muscular weakness and ataxia (incoordination) resulting in stumbling and dragging of the feet. If this deteriorates, your pet may not have sufficient strength to stand and walk without your help. You may also notice hunching and alterations in the way they posture (stand) which can be a sign of pain. Other pets will start yelping and whinning if in pain. Look at the nails – sometimes the central toes have worn toe-nails.

Diagnosing Spinal Cord Disease

The first step in investigating for a suspected spinal cord problem is to have an experienced vet perform a thorough neurological examination. This involves a systemical assessment of each limb, testing reflexes and looking for clues as to the style of spinal cord disease that may be affecting the patient. Further imaging tests which can be helpful include: plain survey spinal radiographs, contrast myelography (dye study), CT & MRI scanning. We can also analyse the cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that bathes the spinal cord).

Spinal Cord Disease Surgery

What do we do when performing spinal surgery ? If there is a broken neck or back, we can align the bone and stabilize it with implants and the bone will heal. If there is a disc herniation (prolapse) we drill an access hole in the bone (laminectomy) and decompressive (relieve the pressure) on the spinal cord. Sometimes the spine is unstable so we can place implants after decompression to reduce motion. If we are dealing with spinal cord cancer, the treatments are limited to reducing the tumor mass; rarely do we achieve a cure.

The recovery process after major spinal surgery can be prolonged. Clients can experience an emotional roller-coaster as there may be good days followed by bad days. The rehabilitation process begins after surgery with passive limb exercises performed by our veterinary and nursing staff. We offer underwater treadmill hydrotherapy to aid in faster recovery as the bouyancy of water helps reduce the weight passing through the legs. This is available for in-patients but can also be arranged for out-patients too.

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