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Doc Sara
Doc Sara, Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 952
Experience:  I am a dog and cat veterinarian with a lifetime of experience in our family veterinary hospital.
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My 3 year-old border-collie/australian shepherd mix Charlie

Customer Question

Hello, my 3 year-old border-collie/australian shepherd mix Charlie [very active] became paralyzed [hind-quarters] on Sunday, Sept 27th. He had been playing fetch in the back yard [frequent screeching stops/starts similar to playing squash]. He'd gone into the house and a few minutes later i brought him outside onto our deck to cut the fur from between his toes so that we could cut his toenails. While he was laying on his side he was trembling [i attributed this to him being scared as he was scared of most situations]. When i was finished cutting his fur he was unable to stand up! We rushed him to the veterinarian as we thought he'd had a stroke. We were told that his condition could be attributed to: ***** ***** fracture /x-ray suggested - we did not opt for this as he did not appear to be in any pain, or some loose cartilage that had lodged in his vertebrae or he could have degenerative disc disease the treatment options for these last two conditions were mri and back surgery [vet told us that more than likely he would only achieve 25% function prior to the surgery] or the other possibility was that he had inflamed some ligaments and they were blocking the nerves in the back - they gave him a steroid shot and two pills to be taken consecutively once a day for the next 2 days. The hospital indicated that they thought he had a fibrocartilaginous embolism which had effectively paralyzed him. We took him home and made him as comfortable as possible that evening - we tried and finally were successful in getting him to go to the bathroom the next day(Monday). By the end of the day on Monday he'd become incontinent [we were told due to his nerve damage] and so made the painful decision to have him euthanised. I wanted to add that since he'd been about a year old whenever he went upstairs to the second level of our house/or up our deck stairs he would frequently walk on the diagonal and often would pause when he had to hop up on the couch/loveseat/bed or into the car.
Here's my question: when we came in to see the vet on Sunday evening the vet did a reaction test [she poked or prodded his back feet and he moved them away] as well on Monday evening when we were waiting to bring him in to the vets, he was lying down in the back of the car and moved his back paws [i guess i was partially sitting on them]. If he could feel /move his paws wouldn't the prognosis for his recovery have been excellent? Everything i've ever seen on tv/movies shows the quadraplegic and if they have a reaction in their legs/feet it seems that they could regain function of their limbs yet in Charlie's situation he was just dragging his hind legs. We have been second-guessing ourselves for a week and need to know if we made the right decision.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  Doc Sara replied 1 year ago.

Hi there - I'm Dr. Sara. I'm a licensed vet who works exclusively with dogs and cats. I'm so sorry that you had to make that tough call for your boy. I know that decision didn't come easily, but I think you were absolutely justified in doing what you did. I also have to say that you definitely seem to have a good grasp on what was going on medically with him - I would have put all of the diseases that you mentioned on my list of potential causes of his paralysis. FCE and the other spinal diseases can be a shocking illness that comes out of nowhere. While it's a good sign if they still have some motor function in those back legs (they're able to move them), unfortunately it doesn't come close to guaranteeing recovery. If he were a human and he could be kept clean and undergo intensive physical therapy, he may have recovered enough to walk again but it could have taken months to years. I've seen small dogs with happily stubborn owners who continued to express their bladders, provide for good bedding, keep them clean, and do PT for months before they see any improvement. I have seen these guys walk again but it's not without a long period of time and hard work on the part of the owners. With a larger dog, this type of nursing care can be very difficult and take a huge toll on the pet and the owners. Plus, as a very active dog, he likely would never have gotten back to the level of activity where we was before. Complete recovery in a case like this would be exceptionally rare. Sometimes if there's a compressive disc lesion (an intervertebral disc pushing on the spinal cord), surgery to decompress the cord can get them on their feet faster, but it's no walk in the park and it's also not guaranteed. I think that given everything you've described, you shouldn't worry that you gave up too soon or should have done things differently. You have a very good grasp of what was going on medically and you did a great job of sorting through that to make the best decision for your boy, even as sad as it was. I'm so sorry that you had to go through that. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions for you.

~Dr. Sara