Neck Pain Sends a Tai Pei Dog to Surgery
Ten Year-Old Tai Pei Cannot Move His Neck
“Doc, Alex was perfect until yesterday after he came in from the yard. He barely wants to walk. He won’t eat or drink. He’s shaking, even for no reason at all. My daughter went to pet him and he screamed in pain, like she hurt him. But she didn’t do anything, I swear!” said the 10-year-old Tai Pei’s mom.
Alex looked miserable. He did not look up. He did not wag his tail. He walked very tenderly, like his front paws hurt. His eyes were half closed most of the time, then they would pop open suddenly when someone moved near him. Then he would go back to the resting, quiet stance.
The physical exam revealed extreme pain on the left side of Alex’s neck. In fact, he could not turn his neck to the left at all and would let out an excruciating yelp.
“Alex has severe neck pain,” said Doc Truli.
“Why?” said the Tai Pei’s mom.
X-Rays Show IVDD
“Let’s take a few radiographs and see,” said Doc Truli.
We sedated Alex for the X-rays for a few good reasons. First, so he would have less pain. Second, so he would not move and the x-rays could be diagnostic. If a patient moves during an x-ray, the image turns out fuzzy. We needed to see fine details of the intervertebral disc space and the delicate neck bones. When a dog is in pain, he might not feel comfortable laying on his back or his side with a big x-ray machine above him. (I know I wouldn’t!)
Alex’s radiograph showed a white oval object in between the second and third vertebra. Intervertebral discs live in between the vertebral bones. They are made up of a connective tissue pouch filled with a biological gel-like cushion material. Both contain very much water and do not show on an x-ray. The fact that anything showed means that inflammation let calcium settle in the intervertebral disc until the whole thing looks like a calcium pillow on the x-ray.
Calcium makes up limestone and other rocks. It does not make for a comfortable pillow cushion.
Pain of IVDD Comes from Inflammation, not Calcium
You would think the problem was the calcified disc. Nope! The calcium-filled disc just means there is a problem somewhere nearby. It means the dog has a tendency for inflammation and disease in the discs. The calcium-filled area itself may not actually cause the pain.
Alex needed a more detailed type of imaging than x-rays. He needed an MR (Magnetic resonance imaging) procedure performed at a neurology hospital.
“But Doc, won’t he get better without surgery and a specialist?” said Alex’s dad, “We really don’t have that kind of money.”
“Sometimes a dog needs neck or spinal cord surgery to alleviate pain, even though they suffer no paralysis or loss of nerve function,” says Doc Truli. “The pain can be excruciating.”
We just cannot tell which dogs need surgery and which might need surgery if they are walking and eating and generally functioning. A paralysed dog, yes, surgery is the best chance of walking again.
A dog in pain might need surgery.
Painkillers for Neck Pain in a Dog
Alex took 3 kinds of anti-inflammatory painkillers and other painkillers. We tried all-natural supplements and we tried raising his food and water bowls so he did not have to bend his neck. We stopped using a leash around his sensitive neck and put a harness on him.
Two days later, Alex’s family called with desperate news,” Doc, he’s just crying day and night. he won’t sit or lie down and he’s howling in pain every other hour. What can we do?”
Alex needed evaluation for decompression surgery.
Neck Surgery for a Painful Dog
Alex went to the neurologist, went under anesthesia, had an MR scan, and then went for back surgery right away while he was still under anesthesia. The surgeon could see on the MR scan, he had a pinched nerve and a bulging disc at C3-C4 (between cervical vertebra 3 and 4). The surgeon removed the bulging disk and examined the spinal cord. Luckily, Alex’s spinal cord showed no signs of bruising.
“It seems strange that you can remove an intervertebral disc and live just fine without one. It makes you wonder, why does he have it in the first place? I think of it as scaffolding for the body to build it’s design,” says Doc Truli. “You can remove some of the spine’s scaffolding without ill effects.”
Alex was pain-free in the post-operative hours. He returned home to his family the following day. He rested for 6 weeks and now if as good as new!