Agility back injury, or something else? Seeing a neurologist tomorrow
I usually don't post much here but I read posts all the time. I have found so much helpful information on these forums over the past few years and luckily I have not had any major issues with my Cavalier Ollie up until now. I decided to share my story to find and hopefully help others who may be going through similar issues.
On Sunday night April 1st as usual we went up to the field to practice Agility with some friends. From the minute we got there it was apparent that Ollie did not want to do Agility that day. He was very slow, hesitant to jump and unusually distracted. In the middle of our first run he left me and ran over to his Dad who was watching from the sidelines and jumped into his lap. Although Dad initially thought that was cute we all agreed that this was very unusual behavior for him and I began to worry. I gave him a once over and everything seemed normal physically, he just seemed off so we went home. Overnight his condition deteriorated rather quickly and I noticed that he was having trouble moving from a stand position into a sit or a down. I was up most of the night with him, he could not get comfortable and I could tell he was in pain and I was worried sick. When morning came I lifted him out of bed, put him on the floor and immediately noticed that he was having a lot of trouble walking. His hind legs were considerably weak and the rear legs looked to be crossing inward when he moved. His back was arched high like a cat and he would pace a little bit and then remain in a stand position but leaning up against a wall. I immediately called my vet and took him in right away. They did X-Rays and after a full examination he determined that it was an inflamed disc in the middle back area. We were given Dexamethazone for inflammation, Tramadol for pain and 1 week of Alprazolam for the muscle spasms. I was instructed that he is to be on strict confinement for the next three weeks. No running, playing, jumping, stairs and obviously no Agility. He explained that injuries to this area can be very dangerous but as long as he continued to improve over the next three weeks we should be able to gradually return to Agility training and he thought that Ollie should make a full recovery. Within the next 48 hours his condition improved dramatically and at our 1 week follow up we were given the go ahead to start very small walks on a harness. Being overly cautious I waited another week and took him on some very small walks and everything still seemed to be progressing well. I could tell that he was not 100% yet but everything seemed to be getting better with each day. Feeling that we were on the road to recovery I also took him to see a homeopathic vet in my area that does acupuncture and chiropractic work on all the performance dogs in my area. We went two times to see her and he did receive some acupuncture and some cold laser from her and it did seem to help relax him. As he was still on the steroids she requested to see us back in a few weeks once he’s completely off any medication to re-evaluate him. This past Saturday evening I decided to give Ollie a bully stick. He was so excited, he loves bully sticks and he laid on his sherpa mat chowing down on it for over an hour. When he got near the end of the stick he went to stand up and I noticed something was very wrong. The arc in his back had returned and his hind legs showed more signs of weakness. After drinking a bunch of water he laid down on the floor and started panting heavily. By this point I was in tears again and I did my best to try and keep him comfortable. Saturday night was the last night of his meds so I gave him the last one and tried to calm down while I let him sleep. After he woke up from the nap and the meds had a chance to kick in he was much better but I knew something was really wrong. I had our three week follow up scheduled for Monday morning so I just kept him confined and waited for Monday.
My vet examined him yesterday and he confirmed my fears. Ollie’s condition did not show enough improvement from the rest and medications. His gait and the angulations in his legs was not normal and it appeared that although his condition had improved he was still in some pain. He also noticed an odd pelvic thrust that he was doing occasionally and he noted that he has never seen that behavior before in him. We have been referred to a neurologist for advanced imaging and we have an appointment tomorrow morning at 8:30. I was instructed to be prepared for a MRI and to fast him that morning in case they decided to do it that day. He ordered a full CBC panel to prep for the anesthesia. He called me this afternoon to let me know that there was nothing alarming in the blood work and that a copy had been faxed to the neurologist.
A little background on Ollie, he just turned 4 in February, he came from a reputable breeder and there are no known major health problems in either the sire or the dam to the best of my knowledge. We have never had any major health issues with him and his heart, hips and knees are examined every 6 months and all reports have been very good. He does have seasonal allergies that cause him to scratch but so far the scratching disappears in the fall and winter months. He has also been raw fed his whole life and has no food allergies. He is 12.5 inches at the withers and usually weighs in at between 15 and 16 pounds. He has always been very lean and strong with a good appetite and normal digestion.
We have been taking classes and training for Agility weekly since about December of 2010. Our first ever Agility trial was an AKC on February 4th & 5th and his last was a USDAA Trial March 9th – 11th. He was jumping 12” in AKC and I put him in USDAA performance at 12” also. About halfway through the second day of the USDAA trial I did notice that he seemed to be a bit slower than I would have liked and there was one questionable refusal on a jump during a snooker run. After obsessively reviewing the video I came to the conclusion that it looked like handler error that caused the refusal. I thought it was odd but nothing to worry about. The rest of the trial weekend ran smoothly and there were no signs of limping or lameness.
We had class on the Tuesday evening following the trial and again no signs of any problems. About a week later I noticed that he seemed reluctant to jump onto the couch or to jump and touch my hand. I was alarmed but not panicked. I convinced myself that since there were no other symptoms he was just probably a little sore from the past weekend. We took a week off and returned to class and regular training sessions for another week with no signs of any problems until the evening of April 1st.
At this point I don't know for sure if this is an Agility related injury or if he got hurt some other way or even if it could be a genetic problem. My vet did not speculate at this point he just recommended that we get the MRI and explained the risks associated with a back injury. His symptoms seem to me to be in line with IVDD Hansen Type 1 from what I have been reading online. I am also well aware of SM and I know that the symptoms can sometimes be the same. Prior to the injury I had not noticed anything alarming in his behavior but I know that with SM the risk is always there. He has rubbed his face on the floor every morning when he gets up and after a meal every day since he was a puppy. He scratches more that I would like to see but it has always been this way with him and it's never been obsessive like I have seen in the videos. At least with the MRI we will know for sure.
I have been an absolute wreck since Monday. I am still trying to get over the shock of all this. It's hard to imagine that just over 3 weeks ago I was on this amazing high and having the time of my life with Ollie competing in Agility. He really loved Agility and I really and truly loved doing it with him. We were entered into a whole bunch of trials coming up this month and next, he was doing so good everyone was amazed at our success I felt like we were on the top of our game. Fast forward to today, I don't even care about the fact that he will never do Agility again because now I'm fearing the worst. He is such a sweet boy and it breaks my heart to think that he could have been in pain all that time and didn't show it. I can't help but feel guilty, I guess we all feel that way about something at one point or another with our dogs. We can train them to do amazing things but so far no one has been able to tell me how to train them to talk.