It’s been 6 weeks and 4 days since Gretel hurt her back and was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)…. not that I’m counting or anything 🙂
The initial diagnosis of Gretel’s IVDD was scary. I knew that Gretel wasn’t past the “window” when IVDD is most likely to occur if it’s going to at all – 4 – 7 years old – so in a way I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I suspected IVDD because of the pain symptoms Gretel was showing when I took her to the ER vet so I was prepared for it. Still, it was shocking. In In 5 minutes, my life did a 180. My summer plans, and potentially any plans I had for Gretel in the future, came crashing down.
We’re lucky because I caught Gretel’s back issue early. Her IVDD was in stage II, which is basically the earliest state of symptoms where the disease can be diagnosed. Surgery was not on the table because it was so mild so conservative crate rest was the recommended treatment.
We’re also very lucky because Gretel was already at a healthy weight and active. According to the vets, being overweight is one of the biggest challenge that dogs diagnosed with IVDD face. The extra weight puts stress on a dog’s spine and can lengthen and complicate the recovery process. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if I was told that my dog had to lose weight while locked immobile in a crate for over a month. As it was, I was very, very careful with Gretel’s food but she still put on a little over half a pound.
One of my first questions to the vet was, “If we do everything we can for her recovery, will she ever be able to hike again?” She said, “Yes, almost definitely.” That was a big relief but I was told Gretel would need 6 – 8 weeks of strict crate rest no questions asked. I immediately made an appointment for a laser treatment and to see a rehab vet.
The rehab vet gave me a different treatment plan. I was to rest Gretel in the crate for 1 – 2 weeks but then we would start walking her on an underwater treadmill and doing strengthening exercises at home. I was glad to hear we could do SOMETHING to aid in her recovery but was also confused. How do you go from “6 weeks of strict crate rest” (a recommended treatment I have heard about for years) to “It’s OK to let her walk and move around some of the time”?
After taking to the rehab vet, and my neighbor who happens to be a veterinary surgeon, I felt better about our course of action. They both said that every dog is different and because Gretel’s symptoms were so mild, and she was already in good shape, her recovery would be likely quicker so she could get moving sooner. The biggest “ah, ha” moment though was their explanation that the “6 – 8 weeks crate rest no matter what” recommendation that has been around forever was outdated due to advances in veterinary medicine and rehab.
They explained that it’s been found that a dog actually recovers from IVDD quicker if they are able to do exercises because they keep and build supportive muscle tone and strength. The recommendation is no longer “no movement” in most cases. Instead, It’s “no movement except specific movements in a very controlled environment”. All the information you see on the internet saying that there can’t be any activity during crate rest is “old school” and no longer necessary accurate (it does, of course, depend on each dog and their vet’s specific recommendation for them).
For the past month Gretel has been going to hydrotherapy to walk on an underwater treadmill, a routine of home strengthening exercises, laser treatment, supplementation, acupuncture, home treatment with the Assisi Loop, and walking around our neighborhood. Walking on the streets by our house started with 2 to 3, 5-minute walks a day. Time has been added to the walks each week. She’s now up to walking 1 – 2 times a day for 20 – 30 minutes at a time.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45hGinPjZ0s]This walking routine has been good for all of us. Honestly, I never walked Gretel every day before. We still miss a day here or there but we’re walking more now than we ever have. Getting Gretel back out on the trails to hike is real motivation for me. More walks for Gretel means more walks for Chester too so he’s liking this whole rehab thing. More walking is also good for me. I need to get in shape and lose some weight so I can shake this pre-hypertension and pre-diabetes. Hubby has even been going on more walks than he used to.
I’ve been giving Gretel more supplements and sticking with it. I admit I used to get lazy and drop off giving her, and myself, supplements for days or sometimes weeks at at time. Now I feel like it’s her “medicine” and I can’t. Because I’m committed to giving Gretel her supplements every morning and evening, Chester is getting his too. I’m remembering to take my own vitamins supplements every day.
Ironically, I think this IVDD experience has kicked me in the butt and it’s made me, Chester, and Gretel healthier than we have been in years. Well, maybe the healthier part is to come but we have a routine with more regular activity than we had before.
Last Friday was Gretel’s 6-week re-assessment. It was good news. Her muscles have gotten stronger and she seems to have regained most of the feeling in her back legs. When she was diagnosed with IVDD, she wasn’t flipping her feet back over when the vet curled her toes under. Now she’s doing it right away or with only a slight delay. Our treatment plan going forward involves more exercise and a little more freedom from the crate.
The vet said that Gretel can now be allowed to wander around the house if she is being closely supervised. Hubby and I are still keeping her in the crate for now but will let her out more once our barricades for the couch arrive so she can’t jump on an off of it.
Gretel will continue with treatment to heal and get strong. My vet’s approach is a realistic one. While jumping off high things and running should be minimized, she knows that those things will happen. Therefore her goal is to get Gretel strong enough so she won’t get injured when she does them.
Part of that treatment is continuing the hydrotherapy, laser treatments, and acupuncture for now. Eventually we will taper to once every two weeks and then once every three weeks. We’ll reassess after that.
I’ll probably use the Assisi Loop® (an FDA-cleared Non-Pharmaceutical Anti-Inflammatory Device similar to acupuncture or laser) for the rest of Gretel’s life after strenuous activity to help with inflammation and recovery.
We were given even more home exercises for Gretel. I’ve been aware of all of these exercises before, and even thought they would be “fun” and maybe a good idea. We tried a couple short-term but I never stuck with it. Now, conditioning exercises will have to be a part of our lives if I plan to keep her active and minimize injury. Gretel will also continue weekly walks on the underwater treadmill.
I asked the rehab vet about returning to some of our regular activities. I think this was one of the first times she had been asked about paddleboarding with a dog 🙂 She had to think about it for a few minutes but said, since Gretel just stands there and that would strengthen her core, we can go on a few short trips. Since we’ve been walking almost 2 miles around our neighborhood, she said that Gretel could try going on a 2-mile hike on a relatively flat trail. As with all cases where a dog is allowed begin increasing activity after an injury, we have to take baby steps and see how Gretel feels afterward. It’s exciting to know that our life may be getting back to normal though.
I’m looking forward to many more adventures and giving other people hope by showing that a dog with IVDD can still be active!