Spinal Strokes in Dogs: Symptoms and Recovery

Wheelchair Dogs with Friends

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE), more commonly known as a canine spinal stroke occurs when there a blockage occurs in a blood vessel supplying the spinal cord. When this occurs, it can cause immediate paralysis to one or more of the dog’s legs.

FCE Symptoms and Diagnosis

Spinal strokes occur suddenly, often occurring during physical activity like jumping or running around. Typically, the first sign is a sudden yelp followed by a dog losing the ability to walk. The sharp, sudden pain from an FCE typically lessens. Often the pain disappears after a few minutes, but it can take up to a few hours. Spinal strokes occur in both dogs and cats, most commonly effecting larger breed dogs, although is also prevalent in smaller breeds such as Miniature Schnauzers and Shelties.

Symptoms of Canine Spinal Stroke

  • Sudden, severe pain that quickly disappears
  • Signs of Weakness
  • Partial or Full Rear Leg Paralysis
  • Wobbly or Uneven Gait

Receiving immediate care is vital for your pet’s recovery. At the first sign of a problem, contact your Veterinarian immediately. Early diagnosis of spinal stroke and receiving immediate medical help, will lead to a more successful recovery.

Treating FCE

Veterinary Wheelchair Fitting

Every dog’s treatment plan will vary. The key to your pet’s recovery is allowing plenty of time for rest. Most Vets will recommend crate rest or confining your dog to a gated area while they recover. You Vet will guide you through the correct course of treatment for you dog.

Pet parents play an important role in a FCE recovery. Encouraging safe and supported movement and at home exercises can help speed up the recovery process. In fact, it’s important to encourage dogs to move and walk as soon as its safely possible. Your pet should stay away from stairs until they’ve fully regained their strength.

If your dog is unable to stand on its own make sure they have a comfortable bed with plenty of padding to rest on. To prevent bed sores or discomfort, rotate your dog every four to six hours. To avoid developing bladder or urinary tract infections, a completely immobilized dog, may need your assistance to manually express their bladder.

Learn More: How to Treat Pressure Sores in Dogs

Physical Therapy for FCE

Walkin Wheels Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help your dog improve their overall strength and coordination. With the help of a physical therapist, your dog can work to regain range of motion and improve overall mobility.

It’s important to know that your dog’s recovery will take time. Noticeable signs of improvement and regaining strength times time. Your pet may never fully recover their mobility, but physical therapy will greatly improve their odds. Common FCE therapies and exercises include:

  • Hydrotherapy with an underwater treadmill
  • Stretching
  • Laser Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise

Recovering from an FCE can be a slow process. Pets that experience slow and steady improvement are usually able to walk within two to six weeks, but every dog is different.

Mobility Aids that can be used during recovery and physical therapy sessions:

Milo and Spinal Stroke

When Milo, a nine-year-old Bassett Hound/Boxer mix, was felled by an FCE his rear legs were left paralyzed. Milo’s parents were stunned when their their Vet told that he would never walk again. Refusing to give up on Milo, they agreed to do anything they could to help him.

Milo’s Recovery

Basset Hound with FCE

Working with their Rehab Therapist, they purchased a Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair to help get Milo up and moving as soon as possible. Milo immediately took to his new wheels, relying on his new wheelchair for daily exercise, bathroom breaks and during his therapy sessions. Milo’s parents began to see signs of improvement. After only a few short weeks with his Walkin’ Wheels, Milo could move his back legs.

“We are amazed by Milo’s progress. His wheelchair is the perfect rehabilitation tool – allowing him to exercise in comfort, preventing muscle atrophy, joint stiffening and depression.

Most importantly, it provides stimulation of the nerves lost to the emboli providing physical therapy just as we would in humans with a functional deficit or injury. After two weeks, we noticed his back legs suddenly were starting to move while he was ‘wheelin’ one day, and now he is regaining his rear leg function. It seems he gets more back every day, and the wheelchair has been a huge part of that.”

Milo shows that suffering a spinal stroke is not the end of the story, its simply the beginning. The road to recovery is different for every dog, but with proper care and a quick diagnosis your dog can enjoy a long and happy life.

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