Sunday, February 28, 2016

How to prevent your dog from back injury and surgery (IVDD) --- based on experience with my own dog

My dog Beethoven injured his spine and had to go through surgery. I made this video to tell what happened and warn dog parents about preventable accidents like the one he suffered.

Since our dog Beethoven was a puppy big enough to be able to jump on and off furniture, we always encouraged him to do so. He was so agile and confident that we'd open the car door and he'd immediately hop on without hesitation.

That all has been fine for the past 5 years until about 2 weeks ago he suffered an accident doing exactly that. He injured his spine when he jumped off the car seat --- the vertebral disk ruptured and started compressing his spinal cord, causing a lot of pain and temporarily loss of sensitivity in the rear paws. It was scary.

We took him to a regular vet who found he had a neurological deficit (proprioceptive) via the knuckle test. She immediately referred him to a neurologist. After a more comprehensive examination and MRI, surgery was recommended.

Beethoven underwent a laminectomy surgery in which the disk material was removed. It took about 2 hours and he had to stay that night at the hospital. Thankfully all went well and he was discharged the very next day. Although he has a 6-inch incision on his back with 16 staples, he's been recovering very well.

I'm writing this as a warning for folks to avoid letting their dogs jump on and off furniture. In more severe cases, it's not uncommon for the dog to become paralyzed. As I read about it, I learned that , "the impact of such a leap on a little dog is equivalent to that a human would face when jumping from the roof of a one-story house". In particular, dog breeds known as chondrodystrophic (those with long backs and short legs) have a much higher risk of suffering spine problems. Beethoven is a lhasa apso, which is one of those breeds. Some others are  Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Yorkies, Poodles and Bassets.

After he's fully recovered (2 weeks of crate confinement + few more weeks of limited activity + maybe physical therapy) we'll be very happy to have him back for long walks, hiking, running and playing but no jumping on furniture allowed anymore!

One may think that it's difficult or harsh to prohibit dogs on the couch or bed. Well, you don't need to block it, just workaround it. Beethoven loves the couch. Since he's small, that's his "watch tower" where he works monitoring passerbys, squirrel, fox, etc. The plan is to use ramps or small stairs to make it easier to access the furniture without jumping. Of course, if the dogs must not go somewhere, then a gate or pet pen would be a good solution. There're plenty of products you can buy online or even make yourself.


Beethoven has fully recovered and is back to normal routine -- except now he can only go to his favorite place in the sofa using a ramp and we carry him up/down the stairs. Although we're very happy with his recovery, we worry the problem may recur eventually in a different disc (dogs have 27 discs!!!). Thus, we decided to buy pet insurance only to find that a recurring incident would likely be considered pre-existing and not covered. For those interested, here are the answers from a few insurers I inquired specifically about my dog's situation (these are email exchanges and not official/legal statements):

"Petplan is set up to cover signs or symptoms of any accident, illness, or injury as long as it is not preexisting to the policy.  Any condition related to this particular disk would be excluded from coverage.  Also, if it turns out that the previous disk injury is related to degenerative disk disease, anything related to this would not be coverable.  If a completely unrelated injury occurs to a different disk, we may be set up to cover it."

Healthy Paws
"Conditions which show propensity to recur would not be eligible for coverage if there were signs or symptoms of the condition present prior to enrollment.  Ruptured spinal discs are typically considered pre-existing, as IVDD can often predispose the pet to future spinal injuries.  It is safe to assume that future ruptured discs would not be eligible for coverage. All of our claims decisions are based on the medical records and written opinion of your veterinarian, however, so an unrelated, acute spinal issue could be eligible for coverage if your veterinarian believes it to be new and separate from previous issues.  Without the medical records, we cannot guarantee coverage for any particular condition.  Medical records are reviewed at the time of your pet's first claim with us."


"Trupanion would be unable to cover future health costs if a different disc is involved.  This holds true if there was any sign or evidence of the potential manifestation of it in any part of the spine prior to the Policy Enrollment Date or during any applicable waiting periods."

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