Dog with back disease... how to cope?
May 5, 2015 2:58 PM   Subscribe

I found out two days ago that my 6-year-old dog has something called IVDD, which is Intervertebral Disc Disease. I am hoping to get advice on how to live and help him live a happy life given this diagnosis. I welcome anecdotes, science, warm wishes, advice...

O-dog was experiencing pain, panting significantly and pretty much unable to walk, so we took him to the emergency vet. He's had episodes of this for a few months now, and we assumed he was being dramatic about a tummy issue (our vet checked him and found mild gastritis). Long story short: The emergency vet diagnosed him with IVDD. This is a disease that impacts mostly short long dogs (O-dog is a Jack Russell Terrier). He is not a candidate for surgery (nor could I afford it right now, $7000)... I do need to "manage" it by barring him from walking much for a month, then from jumping or doing stairs for life. I have all sorts of questions and sadness and anxiety that I will try to make into an answerable list for all of you furbaby mamas, daddies, admirers and doctors.

1. How long will he be in pain? He's on meds for 10 days... after that, will he be in pain?
2. How do I help him not hurt without prescription drugs?
3. How do I get over thinking I am torturing him by crating him almost all day for a month?
4. What can I give him in his crate to make it not feel like puppy prison? So far he will not touch a kong or really much of anything that is in his crate...
5. If he seems ok walking around the fenced-in yard or the house a little bit this month, is it ok to let him? Or does he need to be laying down only?
6. Does glucosamine do anything to help, or did I just buy joint relief junk from a pet-store-witch doctor?
7. When he stretches (think updog and downdog), does this make things worse?
8. After this month of "strict crate rest" what will his life look like?
9. How do I know if I need to take him to the vet when he appears to be in pain (vs. put him on crate rest at home)?
10. Will he need wheels eventually?
11. Will he need surgery? Does it "fix" it or only relieve symptoms?
12. How do I fill my life with ramps and cushions and feel like a reasonable person?
13. How do I know when I am being a good dog mom vs. a neurotic crazy person?
14. Will he be able to run again?
15. For now, how should I carry him up and down stairs? Like, how do I hold him to not hurt his back?

Feel free to weigh in on any of these... Thanks and hug your puppies.
posted by hippychick to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, I'm sorry - I know how hard it is to watch our best friends suffer. Watching my dog suffer is also why I'm going to type the following as I didn't take my own advice and if I had to do it over, would do it in a heart beat to avoid the suffering he went trough.

If your friend is in so much pain and you can't afford the surgery, have you thought about putting them down? It is my understanding that with IVDD, even with surgery, the chance of lifelong chronic pain and paralysis is high. Without surgery, the chance of a full recover is about 50/50 but the chance of recurrence is much higher. In the end, the chance that your dog will be in pain for the rest of their life is high and will be at constant risk for paralysis.

I'm sorry but I would seriously consider putting my dog down if they were diagnosed with IVDD. I had a plaque made up of the ten commandments of pet owners and I've always kept #10 in my mind:
"When I am old, or when I no longer enjoy good health, please do not make heroic efforts to keep me going, I am not having fun. Just see to it that my rusting life is taken gently. And be with me on that difficult journey when it's time to say goodbye. Never say "I just can't bear to watch".

You gave your dog a good life, maybe it's time to say goodbye.
posted by lpcxa0 at 3:41 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I wouldn't consider putting him down unless he was in enormous pain and there were no signs of recovery. He is in a little bit of pain now, and getting a lot of rest.

Thank you for the feedback... but that's not a consideration right now.
posted by hippychick at 3:58 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Remember than dogs are incredibly stoic about pain and what you see as far as their suffering may not be everything they are feeling. So as to your question number 2 about your dog not hurting without prescription drugs, please go with the drugs. It's a serious ailment that requires serious pain relief. I'm sorry you and your buddy are going through this. Putting my sweet girl with cancer to sleep was one of the hardest, saddest, and kindest things I've ever had to do.
posted by cecic at 4:08 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

These are all questions to discuss with a vet because they venture into the area of medical advice and I think you'd get a lot of peace from talking to a professional about long term care for your dog. Sending you both good thoughts.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:17 PM on May 5, 2015

I would gently suggest getting a second opinion for a big deal diagnosis like this.

When my dog had back troubles and wouldn't let me near him, I asked my vet how best to pick him up when I needed to. He suggested getting sort of along beside him and using my forearm to support his entire underside while picking up my dog. My dog is small enough for that to work well to support him along his whole body. This video suggests a slightly different way that may be more suited to a dog of O-dog's stature.
posted by freezer cake at 4:35 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had a dog get paralyzed below his waist. Eventually, we got him walking. We had the surgery though. It was around $3000. But, he was PARALYZED.

We found the MOST HELPFUL thing to be hydrotherapy. Yes, water exercises. There are rehab places for dogs that do this. We did it in our bathtub (12 lb Brussels). He was terrified of the water, but he got used to it. You could also do a kiddie pool, filled with warm water. Enough so that he floats. Hold him and let him paddle gently in the water, floating. One of us would put him in on one side of the tub and let him paddle to the other person. Talk to your vet about this before attempting. And maybe buy 2 sessions at a pet hydrotherapy place to be trained to do it at home.

Give him the meds. He's not gonna be a drug addict, he's a dog and it will help relieve pain and reduce inflammation which will make him able to move with less pain.

Massage his back GENTLY where he has pain to alleviate his spasms. If he cries or wiggles away, stop. The point is to give him the same relief a massage would give a person. It should feel good to him.

We bought a dog carriage and wheeled him around in this so he could still go outside for "walks." I also had a basket put on my bike and lined with towels and he LOVED the bike rides. ALWAYS CHAIN HIM IN. So he can't leap out if he wants to chase something or if something startles him.

He might never be able to run again, but he can have fun being wheeled around and biked places so he can feel the wind in his face. It's SO GOOD for his morale.

Adapt your home so he can walk up tiny steps to be on the couch or bed.

We were able to teach our dog to NEVER jump up or down. It's hard and takes time and involves yelling harsh commands and sometimes you'll fail. Our dog eventually learned to stare us in the face when he wanted up or down.

Put gates up where there are stairs and when he wants to go upstairs, he'll stop at the gate and you can carry him up.

He is a dog, he doesn't know he's having LESS fun. Especially if you can take him on bike rides. He'll be thrilled.

The caging him for a month is heart wrenching. But, it needs to be done. Bring the cage in and put his favorite bed inside it with a toy. Get a chew stick he loves (Mine love the Trader Joes Chews wrapped with Chicken - Made in the USA) and ALWAYS GIVE IT TO HIM INSIDE THE CAGE. ie: get the chew stick, and toss it inside let him follow it in. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN the first few times you do this.

Leave the door open in general at first, always when you're home. Let him see that it's a safe place. Dogs love "dens." He'll learn its his special place because he can go in and out when you're there. Our dog loved his cage because of the above reasons: it's his den, it's comfy and good things happen in there.

You might ask your vet if there is a mild anxiety medication you can give him as he make this transition. It's okay. Since you can't tell him what's going on, he'll stress and be anxious. You just want to ease that for him for a couple weeks.

DO NOT PUT HIM DOWN. He will still have a great life and he'll be loved by you. But, you are now the parent of a special needs child. You will have to work harder because you'll have to do more than let him run free. But, trust me, he'll love his bike rides and he has you, his greatest love of all.

Our dog lived another 6 years (to 13 yrs old) after his back broke and he was spoiled and happy.

I'm sorry for this heartache but you're gonna teach him new ways to feel the wind in his face.
posted by generic230 at 4:46 PM on May 5, 2015 [11 favorites]

Generic230 is 100% correct.
posted by crw at 5:40 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify #2... that is for when the meds run out. I am all for drugs that keep him comfortable and healthy. I have 10 days of meds for him. Not sure after they run out whether I should get more, or find an alternative way to deal with potential pain.

Definitely will seek the opinion of a specialist. I also have been working closely with our breeder, who diagnosed this weeks before the vet did. She is great and highly informative.

Thank you!
posted by hippychick at 5:43 PM on May 5, 2015

When my puppy had a hard time with separation anxiety in the crate, I would put peanut butter into a hollow bone. She would spend all day trying to get out the last bits.

I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:51 PM on May 5, 2015

Best answer: Our Dachshund had a really bad bout with IVDD 4 years ago. It was probably harder for us than him, but we kept an incredibly strict crate protocol where we built an enclosure with ottomans that was just big enough for him to walk out of the crate and eat and drink. He got picked up to go outside using the two hand technique, (hand under the chest, hand under the crotch) and wasn't allowed to walk outside, AT ALL. He also slept in the crate with the door closed.

I think we did that for 6 weeks, and he came out just fine. When he was diagnosed, his hind legs were flopping on the ground, and now he's chasing squirrels in the back yard.

So, I vote for a very restrictive crate regimen. The less your dog moves now, the more likely the "conservative" (nonsurgical) approach works.

Hope it works out for the best, but also agree not to put the dog down. That's why they make wheel carts for dogs.
posted by hwyengr at 5:56 PM on May 5, 2015

One other thing, you can't mix the steroid and nonsteroid pain killers, so find out whichever one you're on, and if you have to switch, you need to let it clear from their system before starting the new one.
posted by hwyengr at 6:01 PM on May 5, 2015

Best answer: We had a basset hound with IVDD. We did eventually have to put him down because of complications from the IVDD, but this was a year or more after the original diagnosis, and he was an older dog (11 years). We didn't even discuss putting him down until it got bad enough that his back legs were paralyzed.

Unfortunately the answer to a lot of your questions is "it depends." With our dog, things got better after the initial crate rest, then we had to do several subsequent rounds of crate rest when he had relapses. Your dog probably has a better outlook for a more full recovery since he is younger, and I'm guessing he's smaller (and shorter-backed) than a 40-50 pound basset hound.

Our vet recommended that we not do the surgery because even surgery isn't a guaranteed fix. We did crate rest for at least a month the first time around. (And then when the problem flared up again, we did more crate rest). I'll nth to be very restrictive about it. One thing that you might consider is setting up more than one crate throughout the house. Especially if he's used to being with you at night, you could have one crate in your bedroom, and then another crate in the living room or wherever else you spend most of your (non work, non sleep) time.

When you get to the point where the vet okays letting him out of the crate a bit, you could set up some sort of pen area using baby gates (or even a premade play pen like they have for babies) and let him have access to that small area. The number one thing is just making sure he doesn't jump onto couches/beds/etc. This might mean that you have to temporarily or permanently block him off from certain rooms or you could put gates up in front of pieces of furniture that he might jump on. Ramps were a no-go for our dog, but they might work better for a smaller dog.

As far as the glucosamine, I'm usually skeptical of supplements, but our other older dog seemed to benefit from it when he had joint pain, and my grandfather who was a rheumatologist used it himself for arthritis, so it's one of the few supplements that I think is at least worth trying out.

As far as treats/toys, Did your puppy play with the kong before? You might find that once he settles in he's more inclined to play with things. If you haven't tried this yet, you could put some peanut butter inside the kong, freeze it, and then let him lick it out. Your dog might also appreciate having some old towels or T shirts to use as a "nest" in the crate. If you have any towel or t shirt that smells like you, he might find that particularly comforting.

Obviously it's not ideal for a dog to be in a crate around the clock, but keep in mind that dogs do spend a lot of their day sleeping, and it's probably as hard (or harder) on you than it is on him.

Oh, and for the pain meds, I think we kept him on them for most of the last year of his life, but again, he was an older dog so we were less concerned about super long term effects. (I believe we used carprofen.)

I'm sorry that you're having to deal with this, but I'm sending my best wishes to you and your pup!
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:46 PM on May 5, 2015

3-4-5) I had to keep my fuzzy guy from walking around for about six weeks and whenever I was home I spent almost all my time in the living room with him and tied his leash to the couch leg (kept short so he couldn't jump and barely long enough to sit up) and at night I did the same in the bedroom. He didn't seem too distressed by the arrangement.

Hugs for both of you.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:51 PM on May 5, 2015

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