Canine Spinal Injuries Don’t Always Mean Paralysis

February 11, 2012

 In 2011, our Maggie, a Miniature English Bulldog weighing a stocky 50 lbs, sustained a nasty injury. Unlike a typical, placid English Bulldog, Maggie thinks she is a Greyhound and tears through the house as though she were on the track at the Sarasota Kennel Club. That night, she came in from the yard at her usual break-neck speed. When she rounded the kitchen, she must have hit something because from another room, I heard her scream. It was a blood-curdling shriek, unlike anything I’ve ever heard from a dog. And then there was silence.

By the time we reached her, Maggie was slinking across the kitchen, dragging her back leg completely across her body. At first, we thought it was broken, but it quickly became apparent that she had no feeling at all in it. After examining her body, it appeared that she was no longer in any pain. Because it was already Midnight, we decided to wait until morning, so we could reach our own veterinarian.

X-Rays showed no visible damage. Maggie was examined by the vet, received a prednisone injection and put on restrictive activities for 2 weeks – mostly, life in her crate. Our biggest concern was whether she could recover completely from what appeared to be a spine injury, since most paralysis in the legs stem from damage to the spine.

Many factors determine the outcome of spinal injuries in dogs. Severity is obviously the main concern. Veterinarians look for signs of pain in the paralyzed leg. If the dog recognizes some amount of pain, that is a good sign. Without feeling any pain, the chances of recovery are greatly reduced.

There are many causes of spinal injuries in dogs. Along with a physical injury such as Maggie’s, disease and genetic defects are the leading causes. In order for a dog’s body to function correctly, the spine, brain and muscles must work together. The nerves in the brain and spinal cord make up the body’s central nervous system. A trauma to any part of the nerve pathway can result in a lack of communication to the brain or body, resulting in the body not being able to properly coordinate movements. ( Some dogs lose complete use of their legs; others may lose use of only one or two legs. Still others may lose the ability to control urine.

Treatment involves plenty of rest (crated), possibly physical therapy or surgery, and drugs. Acupuncture and hydrotherapy are also suggested in some cases.

A newer method of treatment, developed by Purdue University researchers, involves an injection of the liquid polymer, polyethylene glycol (PEG). It must be administered within 72 hours of an injury to be successful. The PEG is supposed to prevent the nerve cells from rupturing completely, giving them time to heal themselves.

A week after Maggie’s accident, her leg was showing signs of improvement but still had a long way to go. She was running again (outside on the leash) but walking was slower because her brain had to think about each leg’s movement. Running was more like the graceful leaping of a rabbit with both back legs working together.

Over the next month, she continued to progress but when she was tired, the leg dragged. She stayed on a regimen of rest and prednisone for 5 weeks. Finally, she walked into the vet’s office and amazed the entire staff with her recovery. Dr. Donna told Jim she had been certain she would have to refer Maggie to a neuro-surgeon and couldn’t believe what a remarkable recovery she had made. It was my opinion that the steroid treatment was aided by some divine intervention, because everything I read indicated Maggie was in for a lifetime of partial paralysis. Our girl is doing well and has returned to charming everyone she meets as she walks the neighborhood to rebuild her strength.

If you are ever faced with a similar injury, rush your dog to the veterinarian, because early treatment may mean the difference between paralysis and complete recovery.


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie September 16, 2015 at 10:13 am

I was wondering if Maggie had to have surgery. I have a shephard mix. I came home from work and she couldn’t walk. I have no idea what happened to her. I took her to the vet and they gave her a steroid shot and I took her back this morning for three more shots. I’m worried that she will not recover from this. I will know more when i go to pick her up.

Jim January 9, 2016 at 11:06 pm

Sorry I missed this in responding to comments over the last few months. I hope by now your dog has recovered. Maggie did not need surgery. It took about 3 months but her hips/legs or whatever had been injured did heal. Now a couple years later, she will still drag one leg if she gets tired. We are just grateful that she can walk without pain.

Lacey January 21, 2016 at 4:02 pm

My dog Maudzi had this happen to her 4days ago. The doctor said she’s lucky because she can still bear weight. I go through my moments when I’m hopeful then scared. I’ve never been through this before and she is treated just like my daughter, (I have no children) and she came into my life 10years ago. The vet tech said she’s seen this many times before and she basically said that she can promise a recovery. The vet didn’t want to promise, I guess because it’s his name on the line. But they didn’t do X-rays or blood work. Just a physical exam. I can’t stop worrying about the what ifs though. Like what if she gets worse and I didn’t know because we didn’t have an X-ray. My heart is so broken. We go back Tuesday for a checkup and he’ll let me know then if he thinks surgery is appropriate, but I think he’s pretty certain that meds and rest will do the trick. With the weekend nearing I’m more nervous because what if she gets worse?!? She still the same as the first day it happened, just looks like she’s not having much pain. Legs are still weak though. I guess I’m just venting my sadness. Thanks for your post and thanks for your time.

CarolN January 21, 2016 at 10:35 pm

Lacey, I hope Maudzi continues to recover. Your vet should know best in a situation like this. I, too, wondered if we should rush Maggie to a neurological veterinarian instead of our regular vet. But Dr. Donna reassured us after her exam. There were good days and small setbacks so don’t expect miracles to come about quickly. Maggie is now fine except that when she runs, she still looks rather like a rabbit with both back legs working together. But she is fast. Fortunately, she has calmed down with age and isn’t as wild and crazy in the house as she used to be. Best of luck to your precious dog.


Aman Duhan April 6, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Hey Lacey, read your story. How is Moudzi doing? Did she recover? I found a stray with the same problem and my vet said the same thing to me and im going through the same phase where she looks better for a moment then she seems worse. she has not yet been able to stand up or even sit for long periods of time. im unsure if she’ll ever walk again. so please tell me what happened to Moudzi. Did she recover? Did she recover completely? How long did it take? Thank you.

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