Can a permanently paralyzed dog walk again? A phenomenon known as spinal walking can occur in paraplegic dogs with spinal cord injuries. Under the right set of circumstances, pets that learn to spinal walk can stand, walk, and move their legs on their own or with the additional support of a dog wheelchair. Here’s what you need to know about spinal walking:
What is Spinal Walking in Dogs?
The term spinal walking is used to describe when a paralyzed dog or cat is able to walk despite an irreversible spinal cord injury. The dog is able to walk even though they have no awareness of where their legs are or any feeling in their legs. When a dog spinal walks they are involuntarily moving their legs and use their natural reflexes even though there is no actual communication between their nerves and their brain. So how is this even possible?
How a Dog Can Spinal Walk
Dogs who are able to spinal walk can do so because walking is a natural instinct and their bodies move based on muscle memory. Due to their spinal injury, there is no communication between a dog’s brain and legs, instead the spinal cord creates involuntary leg movements in the dog’s hind legs that are just like taking a natural step.
Although the paralyzed dog is moving their feet and “walking” their gait is not the same as a healthy or ambulatory dog. Movements are uncoordinated, even jerky, but the dog’s legs will support their weight and even help them stand up if they lose their balance. A dog who has learned to spinal walk will look like they are walking, but without any feeling or awareness of actually moving their legs.
Can Every Dog with a Spinal Cord Injury Learn to Spinal Walk?
Not every dog can learn to spinal walk. A dog’s ability to spinal walk varies from case to case. Some factors include, the nature of the injury, the location of the spinal cord injury, and whether there is a rehabilitation plan. Spinal walking occurs in paralyzed dogs and cats with no pain perception that are affected by a thoracolumbar lesion.
Additionally, a recent study found that both younger and smaller dogs have a significantly better chance of being able to spinal walk than others. There is also a higher likelihood of spinal walking among dogs and cats that exercise and undergo physical therapy compared to those pets that do not work with a rehab specialist.
The Benefits of a Dog Wheelchair for a Spinal Cord Injury
Dog wheelchair help pets regain their independence and resume normal activities again. This is especially true for dogs recovering from a spinal cord injury or degenerative disc disease. A mobility cart provides support under the hind legs so that a paralyzed pet can walk, stand, and exercise.
Many injured dogs rely on a wheelchair throughout the rehabilitation process as they recover and build up their leg strength. For dogs and cats with involuntary leg movements, a wheelchair can play a huge part in their rehabilitative plan. With the support of a wheelchair, pets are able to have longer exercise sessions. Potential spinal walkers should be using a dog wheelchair during their recovery.