Since Indy sustained his back injury in the early part of February this year, I made it my job to find out more about dogs back injuries. The most resonant fact is that there is not one breed more prone to back problem than another, as in fact, and unfortunately, any of our canine friends can be subject to injuries. But, more so as it is not only Borders that can get injured, I want to share our experience, talk about dog back injury symptoms and how to recover from a back injury.
That Fatal Walk
For Indy it all started a Saturday morning in February 2016, when he lunged to a couple of dogs that were walking by our front door (yes, even at his age he still has displays of territorial instincts!). No harm done to anybody involved at the time, as both Indy and the 2 dogs were on the lead – they simply did not like each other. But the lunging must have put strain on Indy’s back.
As we carried on with our morning walk, a little further down the road I pulled Indy (not hard at all, I promised) to cross the road, and that was it. His body did not follow the pull, and a second later he started walking as if he had been drunk. It was pretty apparent that his hind legs were not responding!
I leisurely phoned the vet for an appointment to be made within the next couple of days. To my surprise, once I described the symptoms, the receptionist asked me to make my way immediately. Reality sunk in, this could be something serious!!
Symptoms – The Drunken Walk
So, what to look for in your dog? What signs of distress can your dog display if in pain with his/her back?
The ‘drunken walk’ is a classical symptom. This is possibly caused by nerves toward the bottom of the spinal cord being trapped and not responding to the command from the brain nervous system to move the hind legs in synchronism. Along with that, you may notice that your dog’s hind legs do not have the natural gap between them, but walk or drag quite close together.
This is not the only sign however. Other indications are given by the fact that your dog will want to walk much more slowly – and believe you me, I have seen my Indy walk slowly as tired, or lazy, or too hot in the summer, but I have also seen him walk extremely slowly after he sustained his back injury, and you will recognise the difference!!
A clear factor then, like with many other injuries or illnesses or discomfort, is that your dog might cry with pain. I do not mean the sobbing human cry of course, but rather the yelping which may be accompanied by shivering caused by the pain, by the arching of the back and by the lifting of a paw – to indicate of course that your dog does not want to walk any more as he/she is in pain.
However, not always your dog will be inclined to display signs of pain. My Indy is one of the most stoic dogs I have ever encountered – and that has never made our job easy to find out whether there was something wrong with him. Dogs do like to please their owners, and I believe this is what my Indy wants to do – he will easily disregard the pain and discomfort for the sake of carrying on following us and being involved in his family’s activity, may that be a walk or sitting by my feet in the kitchen while I rustle up dinner together.
The very same happened when Indy got injured. And that’s what made it difficult at first for us to understand the potential danger he was in. Yes, he was walking funny, and slower, noticeably slower (!!!). But at the same time, he did not yelp for help, and in fact kept trying to follow us in the house as if it was business as usual.
We feel blessed to this day that we made that all important phone call to the vet, and that surgery staff were all prompt in recognising the signs and in rushing us in.
My dog is walking funny. What do I do???
If your dog displays any of the above symptoms, or more so a few of the above signs, PHONE YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY!!!
Your vet is going to check your dog thoroughly, and they are likely to manipulate your dog’s back slightly (like a good old back massage for humans) to check if there is any point of your dog’s back that hurts more than elsewhere – in other words, to establish where the injury took place.
Whenever we take Indy to the vet for any of his ailments, we always find out new veterinary techniques that the vet applies on to him to find out the extent of injuries. One of these, when Indy got hurt in February, was that the vet kept bending back the paws of his hind legs. She explained that paws in dogs are designed to ‘shoot’ back in place forward automatically. If this does not happen, that means nerve sensitivity on the paw has been lost – again, a little bit like what is supposed to happen when doctors use the light hammer on our knees to check our reflex response.
Back in February, Indy’s hind paws were found to respond not very well at all. But again Indy was not yelping in pain. The vet talked to us through all the different possibilities, and we then all decided to put Indy on anti-inflammatory drops immediately and review him after 5 days.
Plenty of rest
Further investigations that your vet is likely to recommend are x-ray, or the more conclusive but also more expensive MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, for which you are likely to be referred to a specialised vet college or centre. Both interventions require your dog to be anaesthetised, to avoid his/her moving during the procedure.
Your vet however will try other options first, and only refer you immediately if your dog displays severe signs of pain. Otherwise, your vet is likely to recommend an anti-inflammatory prescription and assess your dog again over a short period of time at regular intervals.
In the meantime, and the key to a prompt recovery, you will be advised to keep your dog still. Yes, KEEP YOUR DOG STILL (!!!). And how on earth could we do that with Indy? or, I guess, with any dog, for all that matter???
We immediately got Indy a crate, which Indy had never used before. I have always maintained that Indy was never in pain. But we believe he was in discomfort, as he took to the crate quite willingly. He understood straightaway that he had to rest there, and for the first week or so he was only allowed briefly to the garden for the all important toilet trips. It made it more inviting for Indy to be in the crate the fact that one of us sat next to him for most of the times – as the crate was in the sitting room, I ended up sleeping on the sofa for 3 weeks and watched plenty of telly, but do you know what? I didn’t mind that at all.
And another thing that your dog will be recommended to avoid is stairs. This was not the news we wanted to hear, as our house does have plenty of stairs. We carried him, and carried him a lot, but again he did not mind at all – sign again, I suppose, that he could feel his back needed all the rest it could get.
How did the story end?
If you remember, when we first took Indy to the vet, she advised to review after 5 days. Well, 3 days later we asked to see her again, as we did not think Indy’s walking was improving – he was still walking like a drunken dog!
However on the second consultation, she found the Indy was much better responsive to the paw test. Again, we discussed whether to put Indy through the anaesthetics and through MRI (which is what we would have wanted for him, as more conclusive), or whether to wait and see. We decided on this option.
Indy was seen by the vet another 3 times over a period of 8 weeks. He was kept on the anti-inflammatory medication for a total of 2 weeks, and he had plenty of rest. And the rest, I have to say, is what played the trick.
I get emotional even now thinking back of when we started seeing Indy regaining his mobility slow but sure! Progressively Indy started wanting to walk more, and it was us that had to put a stop to his regained youth enthusiasms. And yes, partly it may have been as he was now fed up of the crate, but we also believe this was as he was feeling better within himself.
We kept checking Indy’s hind legs, which progressively started looking more apart when he was walking. But again, it took him a good 8 weeks of rest or very reduced activity. In the interim, I got him a pushchair (Amazon has a wide range at affordable prices), so we could still have adventure trips without him walking for too long. And during the convalescence period, but even after he was finally discharged from the vet, we kept carrying him as much as we possibly could so as to avoid stairs for him. I still try to do so, even if he tries to run away from me as he wants to do it all by himself!!
A different end
We bless every day that God allows us to enjoy more time with our Indy – and I curse those times when I cannot spend as much in quantity and quality of time with my Indy due to external factors or to my health. But the story could have had a different end.
If MRI had been necessary, it could have revealed severe damage which could have required surgery. Sometimes damage to dogs’ back nerves is permanent and irreparable. It is wide, and growing every day bigger, the community of dogs who have to use other mobility means to walk about. And this can happen in bigger as much as in smaller breeds, such as Border Terriers.
I would like to mention, and pay homage, to Indy’s very good friend Benson (@borderonwheels and HomeOfKatkin on YouTube), whose story turned out to be completely different. Benson still enjoys a healthy life, after 6 years ago he had to be given a set of wheels as a result of his hind legs not working anymore. It must be extremely upsetting and devastating to see your dog to go through such pain, but an irreparable injury is not the end of the road for dogs any longer. Benson is living proof of this. His thirst for life and adventure should be inspiration to all dog owners that there is always light at the end of the channel.
So, a big thank you to Benson and to his mum Katkin from Indy and from all of us, for supporting us every step of the way during our times of darkness, and for helping us keep a positive mind.
K9 BackBack and their wonderful support
And thank you to Katkin as well for pointing us in the direction of K9 BackPack (contactable from their website or on @K9BackPack), a wonderful online charity that provide vital advice and support, should you find in the position of having to face hard times after your dog has sustained a back injury.
Most of the information I shared in this blog comes from them. They in fact propose a theory where a lot of dogs are born with IVDD, or Invertebral Disc Disease, which will only flare up at some point in the life of your dog.
K9 BackPack will advise strongly about keeping your dog as immobile as possible. But the best advice you get is also to keep a positive attitude. The first thing that you are invariably going to think as you see your dog walking all funny like that, is that your dog may not be able to walk anymore, that he/she is in pain, and that it may even be the end of the road for him/her. K9 BackPack give ‘healthy-minded’ advice and support, encouraging you to take steps that could in fact make a difference in your dog’s future life outcome.
We have been blessed to see a relatively fast but steady recovery in our Indy from his back injury. You may not have been so lucky with your dog, or may want to find out more. By all means, I hope what I jotted down in this article will be of minimal help, but do leave a comment below, and feel free to share your experience and your concerns. I shall try and answer as best as I can.