Why can’t my pet walk?

There are many reasons a pet loses the ability to walk and this is only a brief discussion of some of those factors.  If you have questions, please contact us.  Laurie is a Registered Veterinary Technician and works in a veterinary surgical specialty practice, she can answer your questions!

*BE SURE TO CHECK OUT OUR REHAB SUCCESS STORIES.  DUKE AND LIZZIE ARE BOTH DOGS WHO WERE GIVEN POOR ODDS OF WALKING AGAIN.  WITH TIME AND WORK, BOTH OF THEM (AS WELL AS MANY OTHERS) HAVE REGAINED THEIR ABILITY TO WALK. 

YOU CAN SEE THEM ALL IF YOU CLICK ON OUR PHOTOS PAGE.  LET THEM INSPIRE YOU TO DO THIS WITH YOUR PET!

Good exercise is essential in the healing process!

Good exercise is essential in the healing process!

1) IVDD.  Dogs with disc disease will more than likely experience one or more episodes of either paresis (wobbly walk) or complete paralysis during their lifetime.  IVDD causes the intervertebral discs to become weak and consequently, they rupture injuring the spinal cord. (If you need more info on IVDD, see our IVDD page.)

We use our carts to help IVDD dogs recover as a part of an overall rehabilitation program which also includes physical therapy.  A dog can safely begin using a cart for light exercise at 4-5 weeks post rupture.  This helps to speed up healing by providing good aerobic exercise.  We start our patients off in a full suspension cart, taking their non functioning feet up off of the ground. 

As a pet heals and begins moving their rear legs again, we convert our cart to walking and this allows their rear feet to touch the ground.  This helps their brain recognize their feet and the proper placement of those feet and this process helps with coordination and muscle building.

2) DEGENERATIVE MYELOPATHY (DM).  DM is a progressive, ascending condition of the spinal cord in which, simply put, the cord slowly loses connection with the dog’s brain.  This causes a gradual loss of motor function and in the early stages, owners most commonly report a wobbly walk, dragging toes or crossing legs when their pet attempts to walk.  This condition can mimic IVDD and is often misdiagnosed and for many years now, it has been widely under-diagnosed. 

There is no pain associated with this condition, but it does progress up the spinal cord towards the brain.  Sadly, this progression eventually becomes terminal, usually as it passes near the diaphram.  This process can take as long as a year or more and often times, the symptoms are not recognized until the disease has progressed for several months.  Once the symptoms become present, it is imperative to get the pet into a progam of exercise to help retain strength and keep the pet up and walking for as long as possible.  This has been shown to slow the progression of this disease.  Other factors, such as diet and supplements also have been shown to have an effect on slowing the process. 

The most common pets we build carts for that have DM are Corgis.  It generally happens as they reach their senior years.  The disease was originally recognized in German Shepherds, Boxers and Dalmations many years ago, but it has also now shown itself in other breeds.  I believe Pugs also get DM, although it has never been studied.  We do build many carts for Pugs with very similar symptoms, so, for me, it is a reality in that breed also. (for more info on DM, go to our LINKS page and click on the DM links.)

Putting a DM dog who is still able to move it’s legs into a walking model cart greatly improves function with use.  These dogs need to stay standing and with the support of the cart, they can use their rear feet, which helps their brains stay healthier longer by retaining the walking process. 

We have seen great results with Corgis and Pugs by doing this at the early stages of DM.  I believe it greatly extends the life of these dogs and it also makes them much happier to be mobile again. 

3) ARTHRITIS AND DYSPLASIA.  Many large breed dogs, as they age, get significant arthritic changes in their hips and knees.  This leads to difficulty getting up from lying down and walking without needing to rest frequently. 

For these dogs, we generally build a walking version of our cart that allows the pet to stand and walk with support.  For an arthritic joint, the very best thing you can do is to USE it!  The pressure caused from putting weight and movement on a joint is what helps the body produce more and better joint fluid.  This joint fluid helps to lubricate sore joints and it also helps the joint to stay healthy and gives the damaged cartilage a chance to repair itself.  Swimming an arthritic dog is also very good exercise, as it does not put a strain on sore joints, and gives good resistance exercise which helps to strengthen muscle around joints. 

Joint supplements are great, but in my opinion, with a large breed dog especially, they should be given continuously from a very young age to help keep a healthy joint environment.  When given at an old age after problems arise, they are not as effective.  Their cumulative effect over a period of years is what helps the most.  Preventative maintenance basically.  I am not opposed to giving them, and I highly recommend that if you have a large breed puppy, that you begin giving supplements early.

 

4) FCE.  (Fibrocartillagenous Embolis).  This is often times referred to as a “stroke” as it often produces the same symptoms as an embolis type of stroke in a human as we know it. 

FCE is more common in Labs than other larger breeds but is very predominent in Schnauzers.   

An FCE is produced when a small bit or fragment of disc material breaks off and enters one of the blood vessels surrounding and supplying the spinal cord.  As that small chunk or embolis travels through these vessels, it finds itself in smaller and smaller diameter vessels until it finally comes to rest in an area where the vessel is too small for it to pass any further.  This becomes a “clot” and this clot restricts the blood flow to anything downstream of that vessel. 

This restricted flow causes the area of the spinal cord downstream from the clot to begin dying from lack of blood.  Depending on where this clot lodges, the cord may be permanently damaged or, if the area damaged is small enough, the cord can recover once this clot is resolved. 

The animal’s body begins trying to resorb the clot quickly and if it is successful, these animals go on to recover full function of their extremities.  Most often, this FCE affects the pets rear legs.  One or both rear legs may be affected at the time of the embolis.

An FCE is a sudden event.  A pet will suddenly become paralyzed and there will usually be no warning.  This is also to be considered an emergency.  Get your pet to the vet as soon as you can. There is no pain associated with an FCE except possibly when the constriction of the vessel first happens.  (Some owners have reported that the only sign of a problem, was a sudden yelp from their pet right before they went down).  After that, like with an IVDD dog, the area becomes numb due to nerve damage.

Recovery can take several months and a good program of physical therapy and rehabilation are essential to healing an FCE dog.  A cart is a great help in keeping these dogs up and active.  Using those weakened rear legs helps to rebuild muscle and keeps joints, tendons and ligaments flexible. 

We like to put an FCE dog on wheels sooner than we would a dog with a disc issue.  The healing process is a little different, so the FCE dog can begin cart work at 4 weeks.  Getting these dogs up and active again is a key to helping them heal faster. 

 

5)TRAUMATIC SPINAL CORD INJURY.  This category includes being hit by a car, dog fights, gunshots, and any injury which produces a brain or spinal cord injury. 

Big dogs and breeds other than Chondrodystrophic breeds can also rupture discs.  They are almost always a result of a traumatic, sudden blow to the head or spinal cord area.  They can end in paresis or paralysis and some can be permanent. 

With these types of traumatic injuries, it is wise to let the pet have time to heal.  Severe spinal cord injuries take months to rebound.  When a fracture of the spine is also involved, it is best to rest a pet for at least 8 weeks to allow that fracture to begin healing properly.  Many pets do recover from a significant spinal cord injury.  A good program of physical therapy and rehabilitation can greatly improve the chance of a full recovery in these pets.

Our carts have been used as a support for these types of injuries.  It is always important to keep a pet up and active while it recovers.  When a pet is injured and is laying down more often than getting up, the body begins to slowly shut down unnecessary processes to conserve energy.  Organs can eventually slow to a pace that basically only keeps the body alive.  Without exercise, the heart is not pumping at its maximum, circulation is diminished and oxygen is quickly depleted.  With exercise, the pet stays healthy because all of their organs are again in the proper place, blood can flow more easily and oxygen is distributed to organs and to the brain especially, keeping everything working at a higher efficiency.  This speeds healing! 

Whatever type of injury your pet has, we have a cart to help them get back to a more normal life.  Having a happy outlook on life and exercising daily help the body heal faster and that is our goal.  A happy brain heals faster!