What is Unable to Walk?
An inability to walk refers to your dog’s lack of ability to stand and walk on his own. This is a distinct condition which differs from difficulty in walking, or lack of desire to walk. A dog who has engaged in strenuous physical exercise might be tired or sore, and may have even pulled a muscle, but that dog should still be able to walk if he wants to. A dog with the inability to walk cannot stand or move on his own. Considerations would include:
- Advanced arthritis
- Advanced Hip dysplasia
- Intervertebral disc disease
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy
- Trauma affecting the spinal cord and/or hind limbs
This is always a very serious condition, and requires immediate veterinary assessment and treatment. A dog who is not mobile cannot take care of his own bodily functions, and will require some kind of medical care if he is to survive.
Why Unable to Walk Occurs in Dogs
A dog’s inability to walk is typically due to either a problem with the dog’s joints or issues with his spinal cord.
Arthritis is probably the most common reason for a dog’s inability to walk. It often develops with age, but can even occur in very young dogs. Arthritis develops in 1 out of every 5 dogs from wear and tear on their joints. More specific causes can include cruciate ligament tear, poor nutrition, joint infection, extra stress from heavy exercise or injury, age, and obesity, among others. If your dog takes great care with his joint movements, such as moving more slowly, moving stiffly or having difficulty getting up after resting, licking his joints, or exhibiting reluctance to jump or move about, arthritis may be developing. These dogs get slowly and progressively worse over time.
In hip dysplasia, there is similar wear and tear, but only to the hip joints. It is a largely hereditary condition, and can present in your dog as early as 16 weeks old. Though stereotypically thought to affect only large breeds, such as German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, and Great Danes—breeds that carry a lot of weight, thus putting a lot of pressure on the hip joints—hip dysplasia can even affect any sized dog. Symptoms are similar to those of arthritis, but are localized in the hips, and include lower levels of activity, difficulty using the rear legs for anything, and evidence of pain in the hip joints.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
In intervertebral disc disease, the discs between the spinal vertebrae rupture, and no longer adequately cushion the discs, leaving them to rub on each other. This hurts, and the dog can lose feeling and function of his legs, possibly even becoming paralyzed. The discs can either gradually degenerate, or rupture suddenly, but in both cases, the rupture is the result of everyday wear and tear and disc deterioration. This condition is more likely to occur in dogs that have dwarfism in their genes, including the Dachshund, Pekingese, Beagle, and Lhasa Apso.
Degenerative myelopathy occurs when the spinal cord’s white matter degenerates over time; like intervertebral disc disease, degenerative myelopathy also develops as hind leg weakness that can lead to paralysis. This is a genetic condition. German Shepherds are more likely than other dogs to develop this condition. Its symptoms look like those of arthritis and hip dysplasia, but in this condition, the dog wobbles, stumbles, and falls. There is no associated pain.
Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy
Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy (FCE) is a stroke to the spinal cord, caused by fibrous cartilage entering, and then blocking, a blood vessel in a vertebrae, cutting off blood to the spinal cord. All dogs are equally susceptible. Symptoms appear suddenly, though the dog may have seemed to complain of pain several days earlier. One or more limbs totally lose their functioning, with one side of the body usually being more affected than the other.
What to do if your Dog is Unable to Walk
If your dog is truly unable to walk, you must take him in for a veterinary examination immediately. A dog’s inability to walk is indicative of a very serious underlying condition. Joint disorders are easier to treat than spinal cord issues, though all are challenging. Arthritis requires a lifestyle change, in which your dog’s diet and exercise routines will change, and he will be prescribed non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and pain relief. Various physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser treatment, massage therapy, and physiotherapy may be used as lower-impact options to give your dog better mobility and less pain. In addition to these options, surgery may be recommended for hip dysplasia.
For a dog with a mild case of intervertebral disc disease, supervised rest and pain medication may be prescribed. If the damage is moderate to severe, your dog may be prescribed NSAIDS or steroids and may require surgery.
While there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, as the degeneration will continue for the remainder of your dog’s life, his quality of life may be improved by physical therapy, dietary supplements, and environment management. He will no longer be able to go up and down steps or take long walks; consider replacing steps with a ramp.
There is no specific treatment for FCE. If your dog is lucky, he can spontaneously heal if the blood vessel blockage clears. Passive range of motion exercises can help to keep him limber, and, as with arthritis and hip dysplasia, acupuncture, laser treatment, and other physical therapies may be helpful. If your dog is entirely unable to walk, you will need to reposition him in his bed every 4 to 6 hours, help him urinate, and clean up after his bowel movements.
Prevention of Unable to Walk
Hip dysplasia and Degenerative Myelopathy can be prevented through breeding it out of the line, and making sure your dog has a healthy diet and exercise routine. Arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, and fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy can not be prevented, only managed. Regular wellness checks are advised for all dogs of all ages, allowing for the discovery and management of illnesses and diseases that otherwise may not be diagnosed until in the advanced stages.
Cost of Unable to Walk
The average cost to treat arthritis can run into the thousands if a dog is treated for several years, while the average cost of treating hip dysplasia is $2500. Degenerative myelopathy treatment costs an average of $1800; the average cost of treatment for fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy is $4000. Intervertebral disc disease is much more expensive to treat: it costs an average of $15,500 for basic treatment, plus monthly costs of about $300.
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