Mar 12 2012

Dealing with a Dog’s Herniated Disc

When I was 16, I had a German Shepard named Neskya. She was an incredible dog! She went everywhere with me in my Mustang Convertible.

She twice saved my life- once from four rowdy young adults on the isolated beach off Santa Cruz and another in a car accident. She would follow me to Physics class and sit down at the entrance and still be waiting for me three hours later when I emerged. She was a devoted, loyal companion and the center of my life.

Then one day she woke up and couldn’t use her back legs very well. She could stand but she swayed and dragged her toes. Her eyes looked up at me in confusion and I could tell she was in pain.

By this time I was 19 and a full time college student in San Francisco living on Ramen Noodles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mac ‘n’ cheese. My total net worth was about $150 including my clothes, dishes, and single mattress. I couldn’t imagine life without Neskya but I was in no position to pay for veterinary care.

I waited 24 hours, by which time she deteriorated. She couldn’t walk and her face was tightened with agony. I couldn’t delay any longer. Gathering Neskya in my arms and slinging my pocketbook over my shoulder, I brought her to a vet and prayed.

Neska was diagnosed with a herniated interveterbral disc. The veterinarian told me that is was very probable that she would become completely paralyzed. He said that there were medications that might help, and some people even went to a chiropractor, but if I really loved her, I would rush her to surgery. Desperate to save her, I felt trapped and without any choices.

The surgery would cost $2500, which could have been $2.5 million for all I could afford. The veterinarian also told me that I did not have time to wait. If I did not get her to surgery soon, it might be too late and the damage would be irreversible. My other option was to put her down.

I actually don’t know how I got the money. Maybe I borrowed it from friends or family. All I remember during that time was my extreme anxiety over Neskya. She went under anesthesia and had a myelogram which confirmed that she had a compressed spinal cord from a herniated disc. I had the unique privilege of watching her surgery and saw the veterinary surgeon perform a hemi-laminectomy.

It was bizarre. Expecting elegance and finesse like in the movies, I was surprised at how archaic it seemed. He used saws and drills and great big pliers to cut and remove part of the vertebra so the spinal cord could flow freely over the herniated disc.

To my immense relief, the surgery was a success. Neskya recovered wonderfully, got full use of her legs and remained my close companion for many more years.

Perhaps that experience is why I became a veterinarian and why I love surgery. I don’t remember that veterinarian’s name, but he saved my dog and I will always be grateful to him.

Yet as I progress in my field, I wonder if maybe I did have more choices than I was given. Why didn’t we try medications first?

I know now that we do not perform surgery without a medical trial first unless the pet has no deep pain at all and is completely paralysed. I also know now that chiropractic care may indeed have saved her back and it would certainly have helped her recovery immensely.

No one explained to me that other vertebra might be affected and that chiropractic diagnosis and treatment would help her health, immunity and entire spine. In fact, it is possible that someone trained in animal adjusting could have fixed her spine without surgery.

If I had been more informed about my choices, I might have made other decisions.

I have a new German Shepard now and her name is Athena. One of my clients gave her to me because he knew I had a special void in my heart. It’s often that way with certain breeds.

Whether it is a Pug, a Boxer or a German Shepard, once they lodge into your soul they are there forever. Athena is five years old and has pannus, a congenital disease of the eye. I give her medications every day and she is another devoted companion. I hope she never gets a herniated disc, but if she does, I will do a few things differently this time.

How odd that now that I can afford the surgery, I am not sure I would want it. I would definable utilize medications first and I absolutely would do animal chiropractic adjustments on her prior to surgery.

I would employ herbs for mending, laser therapy for healing and evaluate what nutraceuticals would help her overall. If surgery was the ultimate solution, I would not stop there. I would still use all the holistic methods available to help her after surgery, knowing that healing only occurs when the entire body is mobilized to release the innate knowledge within it that guides a body toward health.

Times change and we all grow in knowledge in understanding. My personal experience with Neskya and her herniated disc give me an understanding of what my clients experience when faced with a similar diagnosis. I hope I, too, am remembered years later as the vet that saved someone’s dog. Perhaps I will even be the catalyst then sends another youngster into veterinary healing!

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