INTERVERTEBRAL DISK DISEASE: MEDICAL TREATMENT (NO SURGERY)
MEDICAL/CONSERVATIVE TREATMENT (NO SURGERY)
It would be wonderful if there were a magic medication that could completely relieve the pain and inflammation in the spinal cord but, sadly, medications are merely of secondary importance here. While medication can be used to assist in recovery the centerpiece of therapy is CONFINEMENT. Confinement must be strict which means a cage or pen must be provided. This will be difficult as the dog will typically not want to be isolated and may cry or fuss. An owner will be tempted to say that the painful dog will confine himself. In reality, poor results in a dog are almost always traceable to inadequate confinement and if cage rest is not possible at home, consider boarding the dog at the veterinary hospital to ensure proper rest. The dog can be walked (or carried) outside to urinate and defecate but then must be walked (or carried) right back in.
THREE WEEKS OF CAGE REST IS A MINIMUM COURSE.
AFTER THIS TIME, THE PATIENT CAN TAKE ANOTHER
2-3 WEEKS TO GRADUALY RESUME NORMAL ACTIVITY.
Medications typically accompany confinement. Steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and pain relievers are commonly prescribed. Often the patient is hospitalized for the first week or so of confinement so that can be accompanied by injectable medications and progress can be monitored. Ice packing applied for 10-15 minutes (with a cloth separating the ice pack from the dog) is also helpful in relieving inflammation. During the first 3-5 days of an acute episode, icing can be performed as many times daily as possible ultimately tapering to three times daily for the duration of the confinement (or for as long as there is pain).
|(Photocredit: Diana2020 via Wikimedia Commons)
MORE PHYSICAL THERAPY EXERCISES THAT ARE HELPFUL
DURING THE FIRST 3-4 WEEKS OF CONFINEMENT
- Massage the area gently to improve circulation to the area. This is done as many times a day as possible during the first 3-5 days and after that drop to three times daily.
- Sensory input is important caudal to the spinal lesion. This entails tickling and pinching the toes. (A withdraw reflex should be elicited. The idea is to make the dog aware of the feet.)
- Traction exercise for a lumbar disk issue: pick up the dog from the front end under the arm pits and dangle him. This is done 10 times daily to start and down to 3 times daily by the third week.
- Traction exercise for a lumbar disk issue: (Can be done lying down or standing). Pull the tail at its natural angle for 30 seconds or so. This is done 10 times daily to start and drop down to three times daily by the third week.
PHYSICAL THERAPY EXERCISES THAT ARE HELPFUL AFTER THE INITIAL 3-4 WEEKS CONFINEMENT PERIOD OR WITH MORE CHRONIC DISK CASES
- Stand the dog up and see how long it takes before he had to sit or lie down. Do not push the dog to exhaustion. For example, if he sits after 30 seconds then the standing exercise should be 20 seconds. Assist standing as needed.
- Stand the dog and gently push him to one side. Do 5 reps, 3x daily. This is a balance exercise.
- Have the dog sit and then stand. Do 5 reps, 3x daily. This is a strengthening exercise.
- While the dog is walking, follow along and gently pinch the tip of the tail. This also improves awareness of where the limbs and tail are.
- Walk the dog on lumpy ground. An obstacle course can be made by putting broomsticks or a ladder on the ground, setting up a wastebasket to walk around etc. The dog should be walked through this three times daily.
- Flexibility exercise involves 60 very small food treats. The dog is standing (assist if needed). The treat is held up (skyward) so the dog must reach for the treat. This is done 15 times. The treat is held down at chest level so the dog must reach down for the treat. This is done 15 times. The treat is held just at the shoulder blade so the dog must reach for it. This is done 15 times on the right and 15 times on the left. The treat is held back at the level of the hip so the dog must reach around for the treat. This is done 15 times for the right and 15 times for the left.
The dog should at no time be left free to run and jump during the recovery period even if he seems to be feeling good. Agility, jumping and fetching games or other performance activities are best removed from the dog’s lifestyle permanently lest another disk herniated.
Patients who have suddenly lost the ability to walk may be treated conservatively as above but their best chance at regaining the ability to walk is with surgery. Conservative management works best for dogs that are able to walk, have pain perception in their feet, and have both urinary and fecal continence.
Physical therapy for pets is a relatively new field of specialization and we are finding that rehabilitation exercises make a huge difference to patient comfort and ability in many situations. Our area is fortunate enough to have several rehabilitation clinics where therapy programs can be devised and/or carried out. We will be happy to refer you.
To find a physical therapist for your pet outside of the Los Angeles area, please use this link:
Page last revised: 4/4/2017