Neurologic conditions in animal companions strike fear into the heart of any caring guardian. These conditions are many and varied. Typically one thinks of disc disease in Dachshunds and Pekingese but fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE), a so-called spinal stroke – can strike any breed and leave the dogs paralysed in their hindquarters. There are general inflammatory conditions of the central nervous system, like granulomatous meningoencephalitis (GME) and Coon-Hound paralysis, which appear just as suddenly and are no less debilitating. Medical management of these conditions is vitally important, but so too is their rehabilitation back to health and movement.

The benefits of consulting a physical rehabilitation practitioner for a patient with a neurologic condition are many. Rehab practitioners allocate sufficient time to explain to clients the best way to manage a paralysed or compromised dog. Issues to consider include prevention of decubital ulcers and management of patients with compromised bladder and bowel function. Much time is spent questioning the client about lifestyle and environment and assisting them to find a solution to the intense care their companion will require, hopefully only for a limited period before they improve. Many people struggle to confine or restrict their beloved companions. Rehabilitation practitioners support the clients by teaching skills, giving behavioural advice and offering moral support. Some practices can assist with kennelling or day care options.

Lots of guardians are unaware of how to move a paralysed dog and are afraid to do so in the event that more damage may be caused. Rehab practitioners are well versed in this area, as well as being able to advise regarding full body harnesses, slings and possibly mobility carts. Soft or rigid supports may be needed for distal limbs and rehab professionals have been trained in casting and using thermomoulds to create a rigid support which is affordable in the short term when compared to custom-made braces. These, too, can be recommended.

The importance of requesting rehabilitation treatment early in the course of neurologic condition cannot be emphasised enough. IVDD and FCE dogs show the best recovery if introduced to neurologic rehabilitation early in the course of the disease. After spinal injury there is a 6 – 8 week window period to influence neural plasticity to the greatest extent possible. If patients begin with neurologic rehab after the 8 week period progress can be made but recovery often takes longer and is perhaps not as complete.

Should your dog be unfortunate enough to have been struck by a car and his front leg is paralysed due to avulsion of the brachial plexus or radial nerve paralysis then veterinary rehabilitation professionals are well equipped to assist with preventing abrasions to the lower leg, or to manage the wounds once they have occurred. Braces and casts can be made, and therapy sessions undertaken to re-establish use of the leg.

Should any of these unfortunate conditions present themselves in your dog, do not hesitate to ask you veterinarian to refer you to a well-established and trusted veterinary rehabilitation facility.

There is hope!