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Hind end paralysis.

Species: Dog
Breed: brittany/golden retr
Age: 8-11 years
I put my beautiful, loyal companion to sleep on Christmas day. The guilt is overwhelming. I feel as though I should have waited longer to see if he could have recovered. Here is the information we worked from:

Two days before Christmas he was sitting down in the yard instead of running with his brothers, a britt and a llewellin setter. He appeared to be walking normally and went upstairs to bed no problem that evening. Day before Christmas, he started dragging his right leg slightly, no pain. He even went for his normal walk that morning, happy and excited as usual. We walked for about 20 min. and then he started to really slowly down and drag his leg even more.

We took him that morning for x-rays and at the vet. He was very wobbly in both legs by then and we noticed his tail was down whereas it is usually always up. He was in good spirits, though, and had no pain during the exam. We were told it may be spondylosis as there appeared to be two discs mildly affected. He was prescribed steroid medication (Prednisone 5 mg - 3 tablets twice daily) and we were told to try to keep him quiet, not to let him climb stairs or snow banks etc.

By the end of the day a complete paralysis extended to his other leg and he could not move. At around 9 pm, he appeared to be in distress, so my husband and I carried him outside (he was 70 pounds) to see if he needed to pee, but he could do nothing (he hadn't peed since that morning). His hind legs hung limply and he didn't seem to know they were oriented the wrong way. We called the vet and he was dismayed that the paralysis had progressed. He said Benjamin's condition is 'distressing' and 'guarded' and suggested the nearest vet college for a CT scan as a last option. The college, however, is a 6 hour drive to PEI. He said he would call in the morning if we wanted to do that but in the meantime to and said to increase his prednisone to give him 2 codeine 15 mg tablets since he seemed - for the first time since this happened - to be in pain.

Benjamin barely slept that I night and I stayed up with him. He did not whine or bark as he usually does to indicate he had to pee and I noticed early that morning that he had peed his bed and was trying to clean it up. He was distressed by this and my heart ached for him.

By 9am Christmas day his hind quarters and tail were still entirely paralyzed and he started panting in distress. He did, though, eat his breakfast and his ears perked up when he heard the other two going outside - he struggled best he could to move but could not. A few times, I saw his back feet twitch and once it almost looked as though he stretched them, but I don't know to what extent that was voluntary because he could not move them at all when he wanted to move.

Later that morning we talked with the vet again and he was supportive and saddened. He couldn't tell us the likelihood that taking him on the long drive to the vet college would be successful. We decided not to do this as we adopted Benjamin as a rescued dog who had been abused and he had a lot of anxiety issues. We did not want to take the chance he spend his last days in fear in a strange place - with such an uncertain outcome. We also did not know how old he is, although our best guess is about 8 years old.

The vet told us we could likely keep him going another few days but that 'we wouldn't be doing him any favours'. So we made the decision to put him to sleep late that afternoon. For many hours previously, his muscles were twitching and he was shaking and panting in pain and/or fear (even though he had been given the codeine). He died at home in our arms on our bed as our vet selflessly made a house call on Xmas day.

In hindsight, it's possible that soft signs of a problem began about six months ago when he would stumble and slip and have difficulty sometimes getting into the backseat of the car. At that time we thought we were dealing with 'normal' issues affecting older dogs. He had no discernible pain, however, which I guess is a sign of something more insidious.

As I said, I am racked with guilt. Maybe we should have tried to keep him going another few days to see if he could have recovered? Maybe his hind legs twitching (and seemingly stretching) was a positive sign? I feel I have betrayed my best friend.

So I guess I'm wondering what you think was the possible cause of Benjamin's paralysis. I need to learn from this if I am to do better for my dogs in the future.

Thanks so much,


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I am so sorry to hear this sad story. Losing our pets is never easy, but the cases that go like this at Christmas time are so much sadder. :(

From what you have described it sounds like I would have given the same advice that your vet did.

There are not many things that can cause paralysis that progresses like Benjamin had. The most common would be some type of tumor that was pressing on the spinal cord. As the tumor grew it could affect more and more of the nerve function. If this was a tumor then in most cases there is not much that can be done. Sometimes surgery is an option but it is extremely expensive and not always successful.

A condition called degenerative myelopathy can cause worsening paralysis, but it wouldn't progress as quickly as Benjamin's did at the end.

There are a number of spinal conditions that can cause sudden paralysis but again, not worsening paralysis.

The twitching of his feet was probably not a voluntary movement and I don't think that that was a sign of recovery.

Although I can't give you an exact answer as to what happened, I think that the chances that this was something fixable are very small. It sounds like you made the kindest decision. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thanks Dr. Marie. Could it have been spondylosis and we unintentionally worsened it by carrying him? We did this a few times. After his x-rays at the vet, his legs gave out and we carried him to the car and into the house and then later that evening, out to pee and back in (but at that time, his legs were hanging limply). The vet thought, though, that if it was spondylosis, it should have responded to the prednisone (it was doubled to 6 pills after he was fully paralyzed in the hind legs), which it did not. Also, I assume that if it was a herniated disc, he woudn't have deteriorated more after the initial onset of symptoms, and he would have been in pain, no? He didn't seem to be in pain until full hind end paralysis set in about 24 hours after the initial symptoms. Thanks again - I very much appreciate your thoughts.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Spondylosis is possible, but if it was something that could be worsened by just carrying him, then it was something that was rapidly heading in that direction on it's own. Spondlyosis really should have seen some improvement with the prednisone dose that he was on. Similarly, if there was a disc herniation then this should have shown some improvement. Usually, a disc problem doesn't get worse and worse like this did. But, a disc problem is definitely a possibility. If this was the case, it's possible that surgery could have helped, but this surgery would have been very expensive with a very poor prognosis for recovery.

I still think you made the right decision.

Dr. Marie.

Customer reply:

Thank you Dr. Marie. Your thoughts and kind words are very much appreciated.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

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