As an emergency vet, this presenting complaint is pretty common and often times, clients are baffled as to why this is occurring. It can be very distressing to puppy parents to hear their dogs acting this way so I thought I would review this problem so you can help your painful pet.
Let me tell you a story…
About 6 weeks ago, Carter Howard, an 11 year old cookie crumb of a pug, began showing signs of pain. He was yelping when he was picked up, he would randomly cry or yelp, sometimes when he was moving and other times when he was just laying still.
His little curly tail wasn’t nearly as active as it had been.
If you had to guess where Carter’s pain is coming from, what would you say?
When examined, Carter was found to have pain in his mid spine area and possibly his neck. This is the most common cause of sudden pain in dogs. In most cases, there is probably some chronic pain that they don’t really tell us about or complain about but when they have sudden, sharp pain, they cry out. This happens due to impingement of nerves or the spinal cord.
Occasionally other causes such as gall bladder disease or intestinal problems can cause this but this is uncommon.
Carter had x rays and blood tests and was given medication and rest for his problem. He was doing ok but hadn’t gotten back to his normal self. Carter then began to show a more serious change. He was more painful and he knuckling over on his right front leg. This indicated pressure on the spinal cord in his neck.
An MRI was performed and one of his intervertebral disks was ruptured and was putting a large amount of pressure on the spinal cord. Surgery was performed to remove the ruptured disk and relieve the pressure. Carter recovered great, was walking the next day and now 2 weeks later, and is almost back to his normal self.
If this condition had been allowed to progress, he could have become permanently disabled.
Previous to this episode, Carter had intermittent pain symptoms and he was treated with anti inflammatory medication, joint supplements, laser therapy and rest. These treatments helped make him feel better but didn’t erase or cure the underlying problem.
There are some dogs that can be managed conservatively without surgery. In these cases, it is important to avoid trauma to the back or neck. This can include using ramps or stairs to get on and off beds, reducing the amount of jumping and using joint supplements.
Most dogs with back trouble will get better with time and pain management (including physical therapy) but there are some dogs that will need surgery to recover the ability to walk. When there is too much pressure on the spinal cord, permanent damage can occur. IF your dog ever is dragging its legs or having difficulty getting up, she should be seen by a vet right away.
If your dog ever cries out in pain for no apparent reason, it is most likely due to back or neck pain. The keys to healing are time, rest and if necessary, surgery.