When Gretel injured her back, and was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), I was determined that this would just be a blip in our journey together.
I see people every day that overcame physical limitations and continue to be active in the outdoors. Although mild by comparison to some issues, I’ve dealt with injury and chronic conditions before myself so I know it’s possible. My goal with Gretel was to 100% follow the recovery plan given to us by her vet and rehab specialist and then do some ongoing things at home to help keep her active and injury free.
Initially, she spent some time on strict crate rest – laying still in her crate unless I was carrying her out to go potty or we were laying with her on the couch (and holding her tight so she couldn’t jump off). During that first two weeks, Gretel got a few cold laser treatments at the vet. She also got daily treatment at home with the Assisi Loop (Assisi Animal Health was kind enough to send us one when they heard that the “famous athlete” Gretel was injured).
The Assisi Loop® is a FDA-cleared Non-Pharmaceutical Anti-Inflammatory Device (NPAID®). It works of a principle similar to acupuncture. The Assisi Loop uses a targeted electromagnetic field. Pulsing that electromagnetic field near a conductor (such as muscle, tendons, or skin) will induce current flow in the conductor. This current flow in the tissue creates a reaction that reduces inflammation and pain and promotes healing.
The Assisi Loop can markedly increase blood flow and tissue oxygenation, which improves the overall tissue health and reduces pain.
There is clinical evidence that the Assisi Loop works. I know it’s definitely doing something to Gretel’s electromagnetic field because she gets sleepy like she does when she’s getting acupuncture treatment. The Assisi Animal Health website says, “We often hear reports from pet owners that their animal relaxes as soon as they start their treatments with the Loop” and I definitely see that with Gretel. If what they say happens on the outside is what I see then I trust that what they say happens on the inside, where I can’t see, is too.
Lil’ Bub, the famous internet cat crippled by a bone disease, was able to walk again and stop taking pain medication when her owner started using the Assisi Loop on her.
BUB’s dude, Mike Bridavsky, said, “I’m still in shock a little at how much [the Loop] has helped. [She was unable to walk and] Yesterday she ran and jumped, picking up her toy twice. When she was a wee wee kitten, before we even knew that things would be really messed up, she was running around like a rabbit, like a bunny hop. The back two legs working at the same time, and the front two at the same time. She did that this morning. It’s been a year and a half since that’s happened. She was 4 months old the last time she did that. I saw that happen this morning which really blew my mind.”
Here are some other things the vet recommended that I do at home starting in the second week of her recovery:
Passive Range of Motion (PROM) exercises – This is where I moved her limbs and joints with no assistance, or muscle contraction on her part, at each of the joints. It’s something that should be done when the pet is relaxed and comfortable. They key is to be gentle using a smooth, slow, and steady movement while supporting the area below and above the joint. I only did these PROM exercises for her hind legs since those were the ones affected by her back injury and were also the ones most likely to stiffen up while on crate rest.
Here is a demonstration:
Gretel wasn’t into calmly laying on the floor so I could do the PROM exercises but I snuk them when I could. Opportune times were when she was laying on her back for belly rubs, laying in the sunshine out in the yard, or when she was laying on my chest on the couch. I wish I could have done this more but I think even a little bit helped.
Stretching – Keeping Gretel’s muscles long and flexible was important. Laying down for a long time, especially after injury, can cause muscles to tighten and shorten. Stretches should be done on warmed up muscles and held for 20-30 seconds each. When I first started stretching her, she was still on crate rest. It wasn’t possible to exercise her to warm up her muscles first so I just did it gently and for a couple of seconds each. Now I do it after her walks.
Massage – Massage can stimulate and loosen the muscles, increase circulation, and help dogs rehabilitate after surgeries and other traumas. I wasn’t very technical about the massage. I’ve taken an intro to massage class for people before so I just did what made sense to me. I used two fingers to run down each side of her spine, stopping at every vertebrae to make a little scratchy/circular motion. I used my thumb and first two fingers to massage the meaty part of her back thighs.
I did the stretching and massage together. I did them when she was laying on her back for belly rubs or snuggling with me on the couch (on her back). She seemed to like this so it wasn’t that hard to get her to do. When she lays on her back, she naturally extends her legs. I just gently pushed and pulled them a little straighter. I also used my fingers to gently massage her butt and thigh muscle while she was in that position.
After two weeks, she was reassessed by the rehab vet. Her condition was mild (Stage II) so we were able to progress to the active recovery stage pretty quickly.
Although she was still to be on crate rest when she wasn’t doing her limited exercises in a controlled environment, she was given the go-ahead to start active rehab exercises. She began walking on an underwater treadmill weekly at the vet’s office. We started these things at home:
Regular walks – It was important to get her moving so her muscles wouldn’t atrophy any further and to start building her strength and stamina again. The key to making this a “rehab exercise” was to keep her walking at a steady pace the whole time – no frequent stopping or bursts of running. We started with 5-minute walks two to four times a day. As time went on, and as long as she was not showing any soreness or limping after, we were able to increase the duration of the walks. We increased our daily walks to 10-minutes each, then 15-minutes, and then I decreased the number of walks while increasing the length.
Rehab exercises – These can be done at home and were designed to increase her leg and core strength, balance her muscles, and teach her to be aware of her feet and body. I chose to take Gretel to a canine gym once a week for a while until I learned to communicate with her better and she started to learn what I was asking her to do. Exercises included all 4 unstable, three-legged stand, paws us, rear paw target, paws up pivot, walk backwards, and cavaletti rails.
See my other article for a description of each of the rehab exercises and to see some more demonstrations.
Other things I’m doing for her are giving her supplements regularly (see my list of what I give her) and at-home “modifications” to reduce injury. These modifications are both structural and behavioral.
Behavioral modifications are that we discourage her from jumping on us when she is excited, we carry her up and down the steps to the yard (yes, EVERY time she has to go potty), and lift her on and off the bed.
We’ve really only made one “structural” modification so far and that is to get a ramp for the couch and physically block off any way on or off except for that.
I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to modify the porch stairs out the front and back door to include a ramp because we rent. However, we would like to eventually move to a house with no stairs or figure something out that we can do here.
My long-term plan is to make sure I’m walking Gretel around the neighborhood at least 5 days a week for 30 – 60 minutes at a time, do her home rehab exercises 2 – 3 times a week, hike, snowshoe or paddleboard 2 – 5 times a month, and use the Assisi Loop on her after activities that are more strenuous than a 60 minute walk (or as needed for flare-ups). I’ll be doing these things to help keep her strong and pain free for the rest of her life since her condition is chronic.
The Assisi Loop is only good for 150 or so 15-minute treatments, and at this time, there is no way to recharge or replace the battery so I will definitely be buying a new one when ours dies. Since we only do a few treatments a week, and it’s likely to last 6 months or more under those conditions, we still have several months before we need a new one though. Since most pet insurance will cover prescribed treatments, and Gretel is insured through Trupanion, I might even be able to get them to cover the cost.
Do you have a dog with IVDD? Are there other things you do at home besides what I’ve listed? Please leave a comment below if so.