Weakened legs may indicate a spinal disk problem

Q. My dog “Roger” can’t use his left rear leg and now it looks as if his other rear leg is getting weak. What is this and what should I do?

A. You need to get to your veterinarian as soon as possible. You could be describing a condition in which a spinal disk has ruptured or become mis-shapen.

Intervertebral disks by design are like a jelly-filled doughnut, hard on the outside and soft in the center. These donuts are wedged in between the Vertebrae. Thus the disk provides a cushion between vertebrae and allows the vertebral column (back) to be flexible.

The vertebral column’s job is to protect the spinal cord from outside injury. The spinal cord is an Extension of the brain and functions as the nerve supply leaving the brain. The spinal cord is like a large electrical wire coming off the brain, supplying nerve function to all parts of the body.

If the disk or disks become dysfunctional or anatomically imperfect, undue stress and pressure is placed on the spinal cord. This pressure will cause the spinal cord to dysfunction thus causing any limb that it supplies to become dysfunctional.

These bad disks are usually in the neck or lower back in the dog. Many owners will think their dog is paralyzed in the rear legs. It occurs most commonly in older dogs (older than two years) and in certain breeds of dogs (like Dachshund, Pekingese, French bulldog, beagle, and cocker spaniels) but it can occur at any age and any breed.

A ruptured disk can be treated medically and sometimes surgically. Surgery is usually very expensive and without a 100 percent success rate. Medical treatment has had some success in the past but must begin as soon as possible. The degree of success is directly related to when treatment is started.

If the dog becomes permanently paralyzed he/she can be fitted with a wheelchair. Dogs do very well with these riding devices and can become speed demons.

By Dr. Rob Santos – Columnist

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