Dogs With Sports Injuries

Helping your dog recover.

By | Posted: Thu Jul 29 00:00:00 PDT 2004

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Disk Problems
The most common career-threatening injuries, and some of the most frustrating to treat, are problems in the neck/cervical disks, and in the spine. The cartilaginous disks between adjacent vertebrae separate the bones, and are filled with a gelatinous material. When a disk is damaged, it can swell and press on the nerve roots that exit the spine at that point, or on the spinal cord itself. Pressure on either set of nerves will cause severe pain. Or, the disk can deteriorate, thus changing the spacing between vertebrae and causing compression on the nerves.

Often minor disk problems do not show up on X-rays, and that's good news. If they don't show up, you are lucky and the dog may heal with rest and drugs. The veterinarian identifies these smaller disk problems by manipulating the head and neck, looking for signs of pain or diminished range of motion. Typically the vet will turn the dog's head back towards his shoulder on each side; then raise the head so the dog is looking straight up; and then lower the dog's head until the nose reaches the ground.

During this exam my vet told me about the Doberman Pinscher he gave that exam to, and as he lowered the dog's head to the ground, the disk failed completely and the dog collapsed. This story never reassures me. But so far my dogs with damaged disks have all healed with rest and an anti-inflammatory drug. In severe disk problems, surgery may be necessary.

For both people and dogs, once a disk is injured slightly, episodes of pain tend to recur over time. My dog Tiger was 3 years old when he was knocked off his feet by a rambunctious puppy. Tiger dropped straight down on his elbow on a linoleum floor, and the transmitted force of the impact inflamed a disk, which gave him neck pain for the next few weeks. Six years later, we were running a track for his Tracking Dog Excellent title. The site was very hilly and had some s erious ravines. We had crossed one of those and, near the end of the track, came to a second ravine. Tiger dropped down the side of the ravine. I asked him to come back up on my side, and reassure me that the track didn't turn and continue on my side of the ravine. He came back up on my side and indicated no track. The second time he dropped into the ravine bottom, I followed him and he found the final glove a short distance past the ravine. By the next day, he was in a lot of pain from having re-injured the neck disk. Once again, he healed with rest. Any move that puts a lot of impact on the front legs, and that can be transmitted up the front legs to the spine, can produce disk problems..

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