Cage’s Rehab: Part One

Being a paralyzed dog is hard. Being that dog’s parents can be just as challenging. It’s scary, there are a lot of unknowns and it can get expensive quickly. I don’t deny any of these. From a patient’s perspective they can get frustrated very quickly. Imagine if 99% of what you did today you couldn’t do tomorrow.

Think how you would feel in the pet’s position: To be dependent on others to sit you up, feed you, clean you; To not have the independence to stand up and walk, or to simply sit up. This is why we my team and I look to achieve a comfortable and stable atmosphere for the patient through empathy. We are objective and analytical throughout our treatment, this guides us as we make small, incremental steps in the right direction or re-assess when and where progress slows and stalls.

I met Cage on July 1st, 2015. On my initial physical exam, aside form his neurological deficits and elbow arthritis he had muscle soreness of his shoulders, front legs, neck and back muscles. This is common in paralyzed dogs because they are using tremendous amounts of effort to get themselves up and drag their hind end.

After discussing options and prognosis with the owners, they elected to take him home that night and return the next day to begin rehab. After initial evaluations I break rehabilitation down into three segments:

1) Pain Management – Reducing the pain load on the patient

2) Strength Building – Working muscles to regain motor control and coordination

3) Maintenance – Sustaining gains after treatment


It is the third part that incorporates proper nutrition and regular exercise as ways to protect the body or minimize progression of diseases. A commitment is needed to maintain the hard earned gains from treatment. I also ask for a commitment to get through the first two phases, no matter how dark and dismal they may seem. My patients (and clients) require patience.

Cage had an excellent neurosurgical team in Boston. They worked hard to do mechanical aspects and provide multimodal pain management. Cage had taken meloxicam (an NSAID) for his arthritis for years along with amantadine to provide pain relief. After surgery, they added in gabapentin and tramadol to alleviate the post-surgical pain and the pain from his compressed disc and subsequent infection.

I started acupuncture on Cage the first day. Acupuncture helps to release the body’s natural endorphins (what morphine is made from essentially). This, in conjunction with TENS (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation), would help alleviate the pain in his muscles. He also received daily treatments with our therapy laser. This would target sore muscles and help release cytokines to promote muscle healing and an anti-inflammatory action. After a few days, Cage was more comfortable. His muscles didn’t jerk and spasm in his neck and shoulders.

Each day he was with us, Cage received hot packs applied to his sore muscles to warm them up. Then he was stretched out, massaged gently and all of his joints were put through cycles of normal range of motion. When a body is not weight bearing muscles atrophy quickly. If normal pressure isn’t applied to our joints, they can become stiff from inactivity.

After being warmed up, Cage was placed in either the underwater treadmill or our overhead hoist. This allowed him to stand in a normal position and see the world. It also gave his body feedback (the joints, nerves and muscles all need gravity input to function normally). He would then have electrical stimulation applied to his rear legs to “teach” his muscles how to contract again. After that, he would rest lying down with ice packs on his muscles and joints. A week later, I was able to discontinue tramadol, one of the pain medications he was on.

Each day, we were expressing his bladder and bowels 3-4 times a day. We needed to teach those nerves and muscles to do their job just like the rest of his body. On July 10th, I noticed that his urine had a foul odor to it. A test showed that he had developed a urinary tract infection. These can occur in paralyzed dogs because they are not always emptying their bladder fully. We cultured it hoping that we could just increase the antibiotic he was on for the spinal cord infection, or at least get both infections with one antibiotic. This wasn’t the case as his particular infection was resistant to many drugs. We added in another oral antibiotic to his regiment and carried on.

After the first two weeks, Cage showed improvement. In the underwater treadmill he could pull his rear limbs forward. When suspended on the overhead hoist he could stand and pull himself forward. When I placed acupuncture needles at different points, I saw progress in how the messages were being conducted along his nerves.

During this time, he became very attached to me. He would follow me around the room with his eyes and would take his pills or eat for me when he wouldn’t do it for others. I was a little worried about this but was also glad to have him engaging and participating. After daily updates and then a reassessment after 3 weeks, I recommended we continue with rehab. His parents agreed. They saw he was more comfortable. Our goal now would be to make him stronger.



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