Ace’s diagnosis: A herniated disc

Ace apparently has a herniated disc – a condition his temporary veterinarian hopes will go away with several weeks of rest, a ban on strenuous physical activity, some anti-inflammatory drugs, and multiple daily doses of doggie Valium.

Seeking to solve the mystery of the periodic yelps he has been emitting the past few days, we paid a visit to Ard-Vista Animal Hospital in Winston-Salem, where Ace – after two days of being poked and prodded by me – was poked and prodded by someone who actually knew what he was doing.

It was the first time, other than our stop in Santa Fe to get updated on vaccinations, that Ace required medical attention during our travels – ten months during which he has probably jumped in and out of the back of my Jeep Liberty 3,000 or so times.

There’s no knowing what caused Ace’s disc to herniate, but I suspect that’s the culprit, which is easier to say than I suspect I’m the culprit – for I’m the one who dreamed up this trip, I’m the one who repeatedly says, “Getinthecar, getinthecar.”

Veterinarians – the one Ace visited included – make a point of telling owners of dogs so afflicted that it’s probably nothing they did, that it could be genetic. But guilt is like an old faucet – even when somebody tries to turn it all the way off it still drips.

Drips.

Drips.

I’d felt the guilt even before we got to the vet, back three days ago when Ace, who is six, first balked at jumping into the car. I ordered a ramp the next day, and it came today, about two hours after we got the diagnosis — and thankfully before I had to lift him into the car, in which case we’d probably be talking about two herniated discs right now.

We arrived at the vet early, after a morning in which Ace’s behavior turned even more bizarre. He followed me everywhere I went, toilet included, and sat at my feet, peering sadly into my eyes. I’m not one to put words into the mouths of dogs, but many of us dog people receive messages whether they’re being sent or not, and the one I was getting was, “This pain I’m experiencing – the one I refuse to let on where it is (because, after all, I’m a dog and can’t talk)? It’s getting worse.  Is there nothing you can do about it?”

Uncharacteristically, he didn’t jump up on the front counter at the vet’s office, another sign that something was wrong. I passed along his history, and they weighed him in – 127 pounds.

Dr. Raymond Morrison ran his hands along all of Ace, moving his legs, testing his joints, none of which produced a yelp – only a couple of mild growls. When he pushed down on Ace’s head though, Ace yelped, just as he had when I did the same thing the night before.

Dr. Morrison’s diagnosis:  A herniated disc, something that’s not uncommon in either little dogs, like dachshunds, or big ones, like Rottweiler’s. With Ace it appeared to be a disc located near the neck. The vet opted for conservative steps – a Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (or NSAID), administered once a day. Despite having heard of some pretty bad side effects from NSAIDs in dogs, I agreed.

The drugs and bed rest might possibly take care of the situation. If they don’t, and his pain continues, he’ll need to get x-ray, CT scan  or MRI and be evaluated by a neurologist. Surgery is a possibility.

A herniated disc is a tear that allows spongy material to escape from the disc and protrude into the spinal canal, like jelly oozing out of a jelly donut. By pushing on the spinal cord, it causes inflammation, resulting, in Ace’s case, neck pain. In more severe cases it can lead to weakness and a lack of coordination in the limbs, loss of bladder and bowel control, and paralysis.

Based on the diagnosis, there will have to be some lifestyle changes – some temporary, some permanent. No more jumping in and out the car. No more jumping in and out of my bed, at least not for several weeks. No more collar around his neck; instead we’ll use his harness. And for the next two weeks, no frolicking, no wrestling, no playing – except for perhaps a quiet board game.

Well be laying low in the basement, during which time I’ll likely continue to ponder that grey and squiggly line between pampering and over-protecting one’s canine and  letting a dog – ala “Merle’s Door” — be a dog.

Just now, eight hours after our vet visit, six hours after administering medication, we stepped outside. Ace, for the first time in several days, gave his body a full shake, and crouched into a play stance, full of life. All his guardedness about moving his head – at least for a moment – was gone. As Dr. Morrison said might happen, he was raring to go, wanting to play and seemingly feeling no pain.

“That’s just the Valium talking,“ I said. “No playing. Stop being joyful.” He obeyed, and started looking sad and droopy again.

With that I grabbed his harness (his collar being garbage now) and, like two stoop-shouldered old men, we walked slowly back to the house.

At least for the next few weeks, I plan to err on the side of being over-protective.

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