CERVICAL SURGERY HOUNDS
What a pain in the neck!
Dash’s cervical IVDD journey
She was the perfect match for six-year-old mini shaded red smooth “Mr Schnitzel” who had been suffering severe separation anxiety after a change in family circumstances. Dash was just the bossy little miss for the job and quickly became a much-loved pack member.
I came to learn that Dash had an aversion to some men – no apparent rhyme or reason to it – no consistent trait or feature – she just didn’t like some. Her body would lower, tail tucked, ears back, hackles raised – bark, bark, BArk, BARk, BARK!! At her initial health check, it was apparent that Dash was particularly disinclined towards our vet Dr Andrew Whatmore. Neither his ankles nor his fingers were safe with Dash around. Examinations were difficult, and Dash would sometimes need to be muzzled.
Fast-forward… it was a Sunday morning – 15 January 2017 and I was heading out to watch my niece play basketball when I heard a yelp from the doggy door. It was Dash. I checked her over – no bumps, scrapes or blood – nothing immediately obvious, no more yelping. So off I went; but it niggled at me throughout the game and some family members offered to come by after the match to check on Dash.
When we arrived home, Dash was not her normal self – no regular naughty jumping up, demanding pats from visitors, could not relax, reluctant to use ramps and absolutely would not use steps, not interested in a walk, crying out. It was awful to see her so scared and in so much pain. It didn’t occur to me that it may be IVDD – there was no issues with her mid-spine, no paralysis – Dash was able to walk just fine. My family took Mr Schnitzel home with them, so I could take Dash straight to the vet.
As usual Dash was not pleased to see Dr Andrew – making it hard for him to examine her and determine a cause. We decided to treat as a suspected sprain / strain – including pain relief and crate rest – for review in 10 days. After several days I felt like I was letting Dash down when I did not see any improvement. I had observed something that I thought was a bit unusual – she was holding her head high and hesitant to put it down, even when she was on pain relief and trying to rest. I decided to reach out to an experienced Melbourne dachshund owner Helga Klausgraber via a private message to troubleshoot. I chose just the right person. Lucky for Dash; Helga is also on Team DISA and on seeing her symptoms listed, suggested the warning signs of cervical IVDD were present and to seek specialist review. IVDD in the neck! I had no idea this existed!
I called Dr Andrew to discuss the situation. He did not see any benefit to bringing Dash in to see him again as it would likely be traumatic for her and not achieve much. He understood time was of the essence and emailed a referral to South Paws straight away.
Dash had become withdrawn. During her physical examination at South Paws on Thursday 19 January 2017 she displayed none of her usual fear/aggression, even when her neck was being moved up/down, left to right, not a peep. It was determined that as Dash was in pain, but did not show any neurological deficits, that she was experiencing Grade 1 cervical IVDD. Dash was prescribed further general pain relief and medication for nerve pain. Confinement was to continue, and we were to return to South Paws for a progress review in a fortnight.
After a week or so Dash was still miserable, and her condition was deteriorating. I was concerned that I would be perceived as impatient and dramatic or that perhaps I was overreacting, but I couldn’t sit by while she was still in excruciating pain. I contacted South Paws with my concerns and they arranged to fax a script for a liquid opiate to a local chemist to help Dash until her review.
I took Dash back to South Paws on Thursday 02 February 2017. She was unusually quiet and again continued to be stoic and show them no weakness. It was upsetting and frustrating for me that Dash was not demonstrating the pain she was in at home where she felt she could be more vulnerable. I explained that conservative management did not seem to be achieving the results I was expecting, especially in relation to pain reduction after more than two weeks. I requested imaging to investigate further. I gave Dash gentle pats and kisses and whispered to her to be brave before leaving her with South Paws to undergo a CT scan and myelogram. I cried my heart out in the car – partly in relief that something more was being done for Dash and partly because while I didn’t want it to be anything serious; I worried; as I knew deep down it was. I anxiously awaited a call from South Paws.
A call came later that afternoon. Dr James Simcock advised the imaging revealed that Dash had significant compression of the spinal cord (C2-3) in her neck.
We discussed a ventral slot procedure which would involve making a small bony window in the bottom of the spinal canal to remove the prolapsed disc material and decompress the spinal cord. Dr James explained that whilst this was a major complex surgery the success rate for this cervical IVDD procedure was in in the mid to high 90s with a return to a good quality of life. He advised that if I wished to go ahead with the option of surgery it would be best for Dash if this was immediate whilst she was still under anaesthesia from the imaging process. I elected for Dash to undergo the ventral slot procedure – I wished that I was able to see her again beforehand, but I wanted to do what was best for her and not delay.
A few hours later I received an update to advise that the surgery had gone well, and Dash would continue to be cared for and monitored overnight. Dr James had also been in touch with Dr Andrew to give him an update on Dash. Dr Andrew made a follow up welfare call to me. We had a laugh about when Dr James told him how quiet and good Dash was that he had to ask if he was sure they were talking about the same dog! No ankle or finger injuries inflicted!
The next morning I called South Paws. They were very pleased with her progress, she had a little to eat, had no trouble walking and had made a beeline outside for a wee – she could be discharged in the afternoon just 24 hours after being admitted. Dash was SO HAPPY to see me and come home. The sparkle had returned to her eyes – my girl was back!
Whilst these instructions were specific to Dash the points may be handy for other owners to be aware of / consider following a ventral slot procedure:
- The wound for a ventral slot procedure is along the underside of the neck (along the throat / chest)
- Dash had intradermal sutures in place. I checked her wound daily for signs of unwanted redness or discharge. The sutures did not need to be removed – her body slowly broke them down and dissolved them.
- Dash was discharged with a small bandage where the intravenous drip was taken out. I was able to remove this upon return home.
- Dash was sent home with a fentanyl patch to assist with pain management. It needed to be removed four days after surgery. She was also prescribed additional oral pain relief / anti-inflammatory medication to be taken with food.
- Dash was able to continue with her normal diet.
- Physiotherapy was strongly recommended for Dash. We attended a session with Dogs in Motion where I learned techniques I could use to help Dash at home.
- To decrease the force on the vertebra of the neck, from now on a harness was to be used to walk Dash, rather than a collar.
Dash needed to be restricted to a small area indoors for four weeks. Mr Schnitzel was very happy to have his sister home but not at all pleased she could not run, jump or rough play!
I used a crate to confine Dash and invested in a small flat bed trolley to move her around the house and yard, so she could be with Mr Schnitzel and I wherever we were. I stayed home with her for the first week of recovery. Dash was only allowed leash walks out to the toilet. I had to return to work – surgery was expensive and I needed to be able to pay bills. I was so worried about leaving Dash. I am terrible at asking for assistance, but with encouragement from Helga I found when I reached out that both my Dad’s partner Sharon and my neighbour Marsie (a fellow mini dachshund owner) were more than happy to help. Sharon and Marsie were integral to Dash’s recuperation and I cannot thank them enough for all their support.
Dash returned to South Paws 7 days and 14 days for recheck post surgery. Each time she had made excellent progress. Her exercise regime increased to a five minute daily walk after the first week and a 10 minute daily walk after the second week. It was clear Dash was on track and feeling better, when for the first time in weeks, she did a full body shake and when fingers and ankles of South Paws staff became endangered on return visits1! On longer walks with Mr Schnitzel, Dash came along in a pram. It took time for Dash to regain her full strength. As we built up to longer distances Dash would sometimes stop for a little rest and then be happy to continue on.
Dash’s former family still liked to keep in touch with her. I got in contact to let them know what was happening and provided them with regular updates. It was good to share the challenging times and the happy improvements with others that loved Dash as much as I do.
12 months on I am pleased to say Dash is one of the lucky ones and has made a full recovery. Today you would not even know she ever had an issue. My only regret is that I didn’t trust my instincts and wasn’t more confident that I knew my hound and to insist on more for her sooner.
Cervical IVDD is not as common as in the thoracolumbar region. I have shared Dash’s story in the hope that it may be a useful source education, particularly for owners looking for information in relation to similar symptoms and the possibility of hope for their furkid.
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