Not long ago I did an interview with veterinary neurologist Martin Young, DVM, DACVIM. I wanted readers to know what to expect when their pet was referred to a specialist. The interview turned out to be an eye-opening experience for me as Dr. Young explained how he makes a diagnosis. And since the interview, I haven’t stopped thinking about the hard to diagnose conditions that can paralyze your dog. The symptoms can be easily overlooked.
Dr. Young said the diseases are common, but they’re hard to identify because the symptoms are nearly identical. Sometimes the only deciding factor in getting the right diagnosis is to look at a dog’s age and breed.
This story covers 3 of the most common ailments. Knowing their symptoms could save your dog’s life.
Diskospondylitis, IMPA Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis and HOD Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy.
Dr. Martin said it’s the job of the neurologist to find out what’s really going on in a dog’s body. He explained it’s vitally important because even though the symptoms of diseases are similar, the treatments are very different.
This hard to diagnose condition that can paralyze your dog is caused by an infection in the spine or the surrounding soft tissue. Without treatment it can progress to meningitis and put enough pressure on your dog’s spinal cord to cause a fracture.
The infection can start in the bladder, prostate or a heart valve. It’s carried in the bloodstream to the spine.
- Hind end weakness or paralysis
- Poor coordination of the limbs
- Knuckling of the paws
- Loss of appetite
Diskospondylitis is hard to diagnose because it looks like two of the most common spinal conditions: Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). And in addition, it has the same symptoms as IMPA and HOD.
Dr. Young said in this case, he looks at the breed and age of the dog. If the dog is a Dachshund, there’s a 90 percent chance the problem is IVDD. And if it’s an older German shepherd, he would test for DM.
But if a young Labrador retriever comes to a veterinary hospital with these symptoms, there’s a 50 percent chance the cause is due to Diskospondylitis. This method of deduction made me truly appreciate the skills of a neurologist.
Treatment for Diskospondylitis
The infection is best diagnosed with an MRI. Then blood and urine tests are ordered to determine if the source of the infection is bacterial or fungal. On occasion, a sample of spinal cord fluid is also collected.
Once the cause is found, dogs are treated with an antibiotic or antifungal medication. This can last anywhere from 6 weeks to one year. Some dogs also need surgery to relieve pressure on their spine. But the majority have a good recovery.
IMPA Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis
IMPA is actually a group of diseases that affects the part of the immune system responsible for fighting infections. It’s an inflammatory condition that attacks multiple joints and organs. It’s similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis in humans.
The condition can flare up in your dog’s limbs or their organs. It’s commonly seen in the urinary tract. It can cause pneumonia, gum disease, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and more. Dogs with the condition often have stiffness when they walk and look as though they’re “walking on eggshells.”
The disorder can be triggered by vaccinations, a bacterial infection, cancer or for no specific reason.
- Pain – In the neck, back or spine
- Multiple joints involved (the elbows and the stifle joint which is responsible for the thigh, knee and rear limbs.)
- Difficulty standing / walking
- Loss of appetite
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Treatment for IMPA
Bloodwork and joint fluid samples are taken to see if there’s inflammation. X-rays are used to show damage to the joints. Sometimes additional tests like a chest x-ray, abdominal ultrasound and tests for urinary tract infections are done.
The outcome for IMPA is good, but dogs have the condition their entire life. They’re kept comfortable and symptom free with medication.
HOD Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy
This condition is caused by an inflammation of the bones. It attacks the front limbs in large-breed puppies. HOD causes swelling and widening at the growing end of the bone called the metaphysis.
It’s a painful ailment that can cause tiny fractures in the front legs. At times, bits of bone can break away from a fracture and make its way into the soft tissues of the leg and organs. That can lead to complications, including pneumonia.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes HOD, but they suspect it could be a hyper-reactive response to a vaccination. The assumption is it somehow interferes with the bone-producing centers.
- Weakness in the front limbs
- Puppies are hesitant to walk
- Warmth and swelling of the bones in the front limbs
- Loss of appetite
Treatment for HOD
HOD is diagnosed through blood tests, urinalysis and x-rays of front legs and chest. The chest is examined to rule out pneumonia.
Some puppies are hospitalized to make sure they stay hydrated. Feeding tubes are used if they’re unable to eat on their own. Puppies also receive medication to reduce inflammation. They’re confined to a crate rest while they recover so they don’t overexert themselves.
Most puppies diagnosed with HOD recover on their own. The condition can last from a few days to several weeks. Some victims develop bowed front legs as a result of the disease.
And puppies who suffer from HOD are restricted from being given Vitamin C for the rest of their life.
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Please feel free to print this article and keep it handy. It could be a useful tool for the future health of your dog.