Relax the dog's back'¦please!
My poor Sophie Sue. She’s had a rough couple of weeks. Every morning she gets up feeling creaky and stiff. When she finally gets to walking her head is low to the ground, her sizable ears are pinned flat against her head, angry horse-style and she takes slow, shuffling steps so as not to flex her neck and back at all.
Sophie’s probably got IVD (Intevertebral Disc Disease). I don’t know for sure because X-rays won’t tell me. A CT scan or myelogram (a contrast study of the spine) are out of the question, given the risks of anesthesia and spinal taps (not to mention the limitations of my budget), but both would probably point to a telltale bulgy spot on her spinal cord. That would be the affected disc, it’s innards sidling up to her cord in a painful way.
But Sophie’s lucky. At least the “slipped” disc hasn’t caused enough swelling to affect the nerves that conduct electrical impulses to her limbs. She can walk normally. She has normal reflexes. She just happens to feel quite a bit of pain when she’s not medicated. And while that sucks, Sophie will be OK with a month of rest and pain medication.
By mid-morning, Sophie’s meds have kicked in. Rimadyl and Tramadol have been the mainstay of her treatment these past couple of weeks. She acts almost 100% after her meds, which is when I deliver a soothing massage to help deal with the tightness that inevitably builds in the muscles of her neck. She relaxes into it after a few light passes, settling down in her downy blanket and Christmas sweater for a gentle rub-down.
Next to the big-dog hip and knee arthritis of old age, this kind of back pain is perhaps the most common form of chronic pain we see in dogs. And there’s no telling how many dogs are afflicted, but it’s certainly a very high percentage in certain breeds of dogs. Dachshunds, Bichons, Frenchies, Bassets, Poodles (shall I go on?) and any dog with a long back or dwarfed limbs, regardless of purebloodedness, is predisposed.
I see no fewer than three cases of acute neck and back pain every week—and the vast majority of these are likely disc-related. Although Sophie is turning ten tomorrow (happy birthday Sophie girl!), it’s not strictly an age-related thing in most cases. Discs just happen. Dogs are either predisposed or they’re not. While jumping, stairs and Frisbees in the park don’t help (they might make a disc slip more suddenly, causing more spinal cord damage), that’s not what underlies most ouchy backs.
The hardest part of an ouchy back is knowing how long to rest a dog so healing can take place. And that’s where most humans fail—miserably. A dog like Sophie Sue might get let out to play in the afternoon (she feels better after meds so why not?), or she might be allowed to jump on the bed (if she feels well enough to that means it’s OK, right?). Yet it’s this kind of human permissiveness that prolongs the pain and increases the damage done to a disc-affected spot.
After proving pain in the exam room, my next biggest hurdle is imposing hard and fast rules about what dogs can and can’t do—sadly, common sense is not enough. But crates? They’re great! Tomorrow, Sophie Sue will be celebrating another year of comfortable dogdom while resting quietly inside of hers.