Unless you’ve known me for a long time, you probably never met Moby. He was the dog by which all others are measured. He was a handsome, block headed yellow lab who was the coolest dog ever. He wore sunglasses and red flowing scarves as he flew around in my convertible. He rode jet skis. He was invited to parties when I wasn’t. He went on vacation with other people just cause they loved having him around. Basically, I was just lucky to share a house with him.
When Moby was about 9 years old, I started hearing his nails scrape on the pavement as we walked down the street. I noticed that he didn’t place his back feet quite as quickly as he placed his front. Occasionally he seemed stiff in his rear limbs.
We took Moby to see a neurologist who diagnosed intervertebral disc disease on the basis of a dye study of his spinal cord. He had slipped discs in the lower part of his back, which caused pain and dysfunction in his rear legs. He had surgery to remove the disc material that was impinging on the nerves of his spinal cord, and within weeks he was walking normally again.
We tend to think of intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) happening to small breed dogs like dachshunds, cockers and beagles. And although they do have a predilection for it, IVDD can be recognized in any size dog. The signs range from subtle like Moby’s nail scuffing to full blown as with a dachshund who is paralyzed in his rear legs. Some spinal cord compression can be managed medically with anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. But as material from the intervertebral disc pushes further into the cord, then the solution becomes surgical. The pressure on the cord must be relieved or the nerves there will be irreparably damaged.
How does a surgeon know where to cut? Though the dye technique that was used to locate Moby’s problem has gone out of fashion, we now use MRIs to find offending discs. There are approximately 32 bones of the vertebral column, each with its own shock-absorbing disc between them. And not just one, but several discs can be involved. Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses an extremely powerful magnet to align molecules within cells to create an image of tissue structures. It’s used in veterinary practice to diagnose not only neurologic problems of the brain and spinal cord, but also to reveal locations of abdominal tumors, find the cause of joint problems and abnormalities in soft tissues.
Our animals must be anesthetized to have MR scans. Depending on the part being scanned, the procedure takes about an hour. Of course, it’s totally non-invasive and the information gleaned is enormous. There are several veterinary MR units located in specialty practices close to the Eastern Shore and local vets can easily make a referral. It’s comforting to know that the accurate and reliable MRI tool is now in routine use for our pets.