I’ve been dealing with a back problem for over 10 years. Since the injury, my life has been a series of active periods and recovery periods. That’s the way it is with most active people. Some people are young and lucky (I was that person once too) and they can go full-out, all of the time, with no pain or in spite of the pain. Most are not so lucky though.
Being active is a mindset – a lifestyle choice. Every active person knows they will not be operating at 100% all of the time. Active people know there will be injuries and there will be setbacks. They do it anyway.
That’s me. That’s my attitude. My end goal is to be healthy, active, and enjoy life but I know that journey will always be two steps forward and one step back (or sometimes one step forward and two steps back) but I keep my eye on the bigger goal. I’m in this for the long haul. My attitude is “How can I make this happen?” and “What tools and resources are available to make it happen?”
Some say that a person’s pet is a reflection of themselves – that the attitude of the owner determines how their pet lives. That is definitely true for Chester and Gretel.
Since they can’t speak for themselves, and probably don’t think too far beyond the next meal, it’s up to me to make choices for them, advocate for them, and protect them.
As most of you know by now, Gretel injured her back a couple of months ago. I chose to go with modern science and take a proactive approach to her recovery. You can read more about the science behind my decision HERE.
For a long time, strict crate rest – keeping a dog largely immobile – for 6-8 weeks has been the “best”, and most recommended, treatment for back injuries for a long time. That’s changing though. Veterinarians are discovering that crate rest WITH active rehabilitation speeds and improves recovery. The goal nowadays is to get a dog up and moving as soon as they can to help make them stronger and reduce the chance of re-injury.
Yes, every dog is different and you should go with what your vet tells you. However, rehab vets are seeing dogs who underwent back surgery walking within a couple of weeks using this active recovery method.
Gretel recently had her 11-week post injury checkup. Her rehab vet was super impressed at how well she was doing. The circumference of her thigh muscles had increased by 1 cm, indicating that she was becoming stronger. Even better was that the circumference of both thighs was the same, indicating that she was getting stronger in a balanced way. Developing symmetry and balance in muscle strength is extremely important so the muscles don’t pull things out of whack.
Gretel got the go-ahead to progress the difficulty of her rehab exercises and free rein to continue our hike training.
Then we had a setback
I’ve been taking Gretel to a dog rehab gym once a week to help her learn how to do the rehab exercises and teach me to better communicate with her better. She was doing great there. She was so smart and picking up on everything she was being asked to do. She was working so hard to do the exercises.
It was my fault it happened. I had signed up for a 45-minute session but didn’t say anything when the trainer ran over time. Gretel was doing so well that we increased the difficulty on an exercise she had already been doing. We also tried a couple of new ones. There were no signs that she was getting sore or tired.
As soon as walked out the door, something was strange. I tried to walk her across the parking lot to go potty and she was very hesitant. I thought that was weird but not alarming. However, by the time we got home, it was clear she was in pain. She was squinting a little and she was making small, quiet grunts when I picked her up. I did the test where you fold over their toes and she seemed to be righting her feet ok but I was still concerned she was having a problem with another disc. A couple of phone calls later, we were back in the doggy ER.
The vet couldn’t find any pain points in her spine and there was still no delay in righting her feet. They sent us home with more Tramadol for pain and the ant-inflammatory Meatcam. I feared that we would have to start the crate rest and rehab all over again but they said that she was probably just sore from the workout. I was told to decrease her activity for 10 days. I asked if I should put her on crate again and they stressed that it was only necessary to back off on the hiking and rehab exercises. I think they didn’t want me to keep her in the crate because it might undo some of the progress we had made in her strength.
So, here we are. My eye is still on the goal of keeping Gretel active but we’ve had to take it back a notch for almost two weeks. Now we can cautiously start where we left off. It’s just a blip in her journey to recovery. I’ve always known this was a possibility and was mentally prepared.
I know Gretel has Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) – the spinal disease common in Dachshunds. I know that she will be dealing with pretty much the same situation as I am with my bad back. There will be periods in her life where she can be active with no problems. There will also be periods where she will have flare-ups and setbacks. There will be times when she needs to reduce, sometimes significantly, her activity level to recover.
This won’t be our last setback. In fact, I am well aware that she could rupture another disk. Next time we might not be so lucky and she could have some paralysis and need surgery. Thank goodness I have pet health insurance that will cover that if we need it.
I won’t let my fear of that happening stop us from being active though. Besides the studies I cited in my last article about ACTIVE recovery being beneficial, a survey of Dachshund owners by Dachshund Health UK also found that ” Dogs over the age of 3 that were highly or moderately active were half as likely to have suffered an IVDD incident as dogs described as mildly or not at all active.”
I’m not using these survey results to say it’s guaranteed that more active dogs suffer less IVDD episodes. There are a lot of other factors that play into whether an IVVD dog will have an episode or not (one of the biggest being whether a dog is overweight or not. Click here to see how you can tell if a dog is overweight). However, Gretel’s super-smart and experienced rehab vet feels very sure that an active dog with stronger muscles is less likely to suffer re-injury from IVDD. As an active person myself who does way better with pain and injury when I am strong and in shape, that makes logical sense to me.
So off we go on our trail adventures again. Strangely, as a lot of things along this IVDD journey have been, was a positive. Now I know what a setback from being over-worked looks like. I feel more confident that I’ll know what to do if it happens again.