Colorado State University
I’ve always learned the most about veterinary medicine from my own animals. Most recently, Linus (8 yr, M/C, Germ Shep mix) gave us (I’m married to another vet student) a lesson in acute onset hemiparalysis in an otherwise healthy dog. One Sunday afternoon, Linus was running outside, and ran under an electric wire we have for our horses. I didn’t think much of it, since each of our dogs has been shocked before and usually do just fine after the initial yelp. Within an hour, Linus was walking like a drunk, and couldn’t even get himself up the stairs in our house. Shortly thereafter, he couldn’t get up from lying on his side. Of course, with my own pets, I can never think clearly enough to come up with a reasonable list of differentials. I was worried that he was going to be paralyzed from some sort of spinal cord injury from the shock and I was going to have to put him down. We decided to give him some time, hoping he’d bounce back in a few hours from whatever was ailing him. Hours passed, and if anything, he seemed worse. I decided then to head to the Teaching Hospital.
After a thorough examination by a herd of vet students and one exhausted resident, we had a couple top differentials – intervertebral disc avulsion and fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE). They wanted to do an MRI to confirm the diagnosis, since treatment for the two conditions is very different – strict cage rest for the disc, and active physical therapy for the FCE. Being a vet student married to another vet student with one human offspring and several pets in our menagerie, the MRI was out of our budget. Since Linus was not exhibiting any signs of pain (and he is NOT the stoic type by any means), we decided to assume he had an FCE and proceed with physical therapy.
The first few days were difficult – Linus, about 55 lbs, was almost completely paralyzed on his right side. We had to pick him up with a homemade sling to get him outside to relieve himself, and do passive range of motion exercises on his thoracic and pelvic limbs several times each day. His thoracic limb was more severely affected, and completely non-weight-bearing. After just a day or two, we already saw an improvement. Linus was beginning to use his right pelvic limb, but was still extremely paretic on his right side. It took just over a week before he was walking, albeit awkwardly, on his own. He would still occasionally lose his balance and fall onto his right side, but I couldn’t believe how quickly he recovered proprioception and motor function in both limbs. Now, 6 weeks post-FCE, Linus is not back to 100%, but he is walking, running and going up and down stairs happily. His right thoracic limb is still a bit weak, and he does walk with a slight limp, but he is happy and mobile and back to his normal goofy self. If I had my way, I’d learn veterinary medicine at school and come home to healthy, spoiled pets, but I suppose that’s asking too much. I really wish our own pets didn’t teach us quite so much about veterinary medicine.