The Perils of the Canine Spine

The Perils of the Canine Spine
May 9, 2016 by Steve Duno
Frisbee catch

My dog Rico has been a leaping bundle of energy throughout all of his 9 years of life. A GSD/Pit mix, his medium-sized body carried 60 pounds of dense muscle and bone, and an unquenchable desire to run, jump, weave, chase and leap. No lithe Border Collie this one; he has been a Sherman tank traveling at light speed.

The Frisbee was his favorite toy, one he would do anything to catch. Then one day two years ago, he got air, caught his toy, then came down wrong. Very wrong.

He yelped, which for him was odd. Then he seemed to shake it off, and was okay. For a day or so.

A few days later he began to limp, and favor a back leg. Then he stopped lifting his leg to pee. Then he whined and seemed to be in discomfort. Not Rico at all.

Off to the vet we went.
Apparently Rico had blown a disk upon landing; the physics of 60 pounds crashing down from four feet up just didn’t play in his spine’s favor. But the vet felt that it wasn’t serious enough for surgery, and so recommended a few weeks of crate rest, pain killers, and some prednisone.

After a few weeks, he seemed pretty well heeled up. We got back to normal life, except for hanging up the beloved Frisbee in favor for a tennis ball (and a few yard rats that he managed to run down and demolish).

Then, around two months ago, we noticed that Rico was beginning to have trouble relieving himself, and was also walking like a punch drunk sailor- crossing back legs and falling over randomly. It wasn’t a good sign, so off to the vet again. This time we opted for an MRI, and discovered that he had an 80% compression of his spine in the thoracic area. Without immediate surgery, he would become paralyzed, and in great pain. In was surgery, then.

$8500.00 later, he is slowly recovering. But he will never be the same old Rico again.

The moral? I have learned the hard way that a densely muscled dog, no matter the size, should not be encouraged to jump high, then land hard. Thinner dogs like Border Collies and Whippets can get away with it, but Pits, Shepherds, Mastiffs, Labs, or even smaller dogs like French Bulldogs, Dachshunds, or Beagles should not ever be encouraged to leap high, or jump down from height. It’s just too potentially damaging to their spines. And when a dog blows a disk, it usually means major surgery asap.

The other moral here? Get pet insurance as soon as possible for your new puppy! You’ll avoid the huge bills, and free yourself from that horrid decision that so many must make; namely, do I euthanize simply because I cannot afford?

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