Three Dachshunds Live to Wag Again

Tuesday, Nov. 3, was a busy day at Hulen Hills and Metro West Emergency. Three Dachshunds, Precious, Darby and Matilda Begonia, arrived throughout the day, each suffering from a serious spinal column injury that required emergency surgery.

As a breed, Dachshunds are extremely prone to injuring their backs. In fact, experts estimate that one in four Dachshunds will develop some form of disc disease or injury in its lifetime. Although spinal injuries happen most often to dogs with long backs, any breed is at risk of this kind of injury occurring.

How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Occur?

Between each bone is a cushioning disc that helps to soften the movement of the spine and prevent pain and injuries. To understand what happens during a spinal injury, imagine the disk as a grape. If you squeeze the grape firmly, you’ll compress it without breaking it, and the grape will return to its shape. If you squeeze too hard, the grape ruptures and the insides shoot out. An intervertebral disc is like the grape, but it has a hard center called the nucleus. When the disk is compressed too much the nucleus leaks out, and the only direction it can go is against the spinal cord, which can lead to permanent paralysis. When the discs become damaged, it’s called Intervertebral Disc Disease or IVDD.

Signs of a Spinal Disk Injury

Dogs have high pain thresholds and an instinct not to reveal when they’re in pain. After all, in the wild, the obviously injured animal is the one that gets picked off by the predators. But if you pay attention, you can tell whether your dog is in pain from a disk injury. Look for the following warning signs of spinal disk injury:

  • Shivering — especially when combined with unusual inactivity
  • Refusal to get up and play, even for food
  • A yelp when you pet your dog or try to pick him up
  • A pulled-in head, arched back, or any other strange position
  • A refusal to bend down to the food or water dish to eat or drink
  • Limping of any kind
  • A “drunken” rear end, which moves but looks as if it isn’t completely under control
  • Dragging of the back legs

If you notice any of these warning signs, call us immediately. In the case of dragging the back legs or showing any other signs of paralysis or severe pain, head here right away (24-7). It’s wise not to wait. You can call on the way.

Treating IVDD

Milder cases in which the dog is painful but can still walk, are treated with cage rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and muscle relaxants. Unfortunately, these three girls had severe injuries that required emergency surgical intervention to remove the bone and disc material that was lodged against their spinal cords.

Dr. Hotchkiss is the one of the few veterinarians in North Texas who performs neuro surgeries, and Metro West Emergency Center is the only 24-hour facility in Fort Worth who can manage these patients. Dr. Hotchkiss realized early in his career that time is of the essence when attempting to save dogs who have suffered a spinal cord injury. To ensure he had the skills necessary to perform this delicate procedure, Dr. Hotchkiss committed to a course of extensive training, including over a year working alongside Dr. Peter Early, DVM, DACVIM, a neuorologist who is currently a Professor at the University of North Carolina, College of Veterinary Medicine.  After nursing hundreds of IVDD patients through their recovery, our staff is well-prepared to care for them in the days and weeks following surgery.

Recovering from Surgery

As for these three, Precious was already walking the first day after surgery. Darby and Matilda Begonia are sitting up, standing, urinating on their own, and scooting around – all good signs of a positive recovery. There are many factors that affect the outcome of a dog’s injury, including the severity and the time that lapsed between the injury and surgery. After surgery, healing of the disc is accomplished only with time and rest. Recovery can take weeks to months and can vary from patient to patient.

No Regrets

Although treating IVDD with surgery can be a big investment financially and in terms of the work an owner will have to put in during their pet’s recovery, the rewards can be great. Check out a message that was relayed to Dr. Hotchkiss from Matilda Begonia’s owner, “Matilda Begonia’s parents are so thankful for everything that we have done for her. They wanted to make sure that Dr. Hotchkiss knew that Matilda Begonia was a step away from euthanasia. They are so grateful that they decided to give the surgery a try. Matilda Begonia is very happy to be home!”