Chapter 24 – Back Problems 1 and 2


Dachshunds are the poster children for back problems, and I think a pretty high percentage of them have an incident or two in their life.  Gabby was no exception, and she had two episodes. She was 7 the first time.

It started when I threw a toy up the short flight of stairs from the living room to my home office.  She flew up the stairs, but when she got to the top, she started limping.

I followed after her.  She came to me, rolled on her back like she wanted a belly rub, then lost her urine.  She looked at me with a funny expression.  I thought she was just upset at herself for leaking.
She did not want to walk and I thought she may have had something in a paw.  I checked and she did not.

She wasn’t herself that night, and in the morning I took her to Dr. Ruffing’s place.  He wasn’t there, but the other vets stepped in.  They checked her out and did x-rays, then came to give me the bad news: slipped disc.

The vet showed me how when you put the top of her rear foot on the table, she did not flip it back.  Then she showed me the slipped disc on the x-ray, explaining it was blocking the signals from getting from the foot to the brain.

They would try IV steroids for a night and see if she responded.  If she didn’t, we were looking at surgery, and if that did not work, she would need a cart.

We started the steroids right away and I left the hospital, heartbroken.  She was so exuberant, the thought of her not being able to run and play as before was devastating.  I’d love her the same and take care of her no matter what, but I hated to think of what it would mean to her.

I spent a lot of time that afternoon talking to friends and family, who were very supportive.  That night I stopped by to visit her and brought one of my T-shirts for her kennel there, so she would have my familiar scent with her. They put me in a room and shortly thereafter a vet tech came in, holding Gabby.

“Boy, she perked up there!” the vet tech said.

We sat down for a while.  Gabby was excited to see me, but she was anxious. She calmed down a bit as I held her.

“Do you want to take her outside to go potty?” the vet tech asked.  I agreed, saying it might be good for her to have a change of scenery.

I took her into the well-lit, fenced area behind the hospital. I put her down, stood back from her a few feet and got down to her level, and called her.

She leaned forward and her body shook, but she could not move at all.  You could tell she was trying, but was struggling and didn’t know why things weren’t working as they should. It was so sad.

I couldn’t stand the thought of her crippled.  It’s sad for any dog, and especially sad for your own dog. But when you have a dog like Gabby who thrived on action and activity, it was unimaginable.

I read her nametag as she struggled… “Gabby.” 

My Gabby.

She was 7 now, and I expected her to live to be 14, based on my family’s experience with dachshunds.  I had to find a way to get those legs working again, and keep them working for another 7 years.

I took her back inside.  I put my jacket down on my lap, put her on it and held her and petted her.  Finally, the vet tech came in to put her in her kennel for the night.

Gabby saw the vet tech and knew she would be leaving with her.  She looked up at me.  Her eyes said it all.

“I’m scared. Help me.”

It was a very long, sleepless night.

The following morning

The next day Dr. Ruffing was back and took over her care.  They called and told me she responded to the steroids and I could come and pick her up. He brought her in, put her on the floor and she made her way over to me.  It wasn’t pretty. She was definitely struggling, but she could move now.  That was much, much better than the night before.

Dr. Ruffing told me he thought she would recover. But, I would have to follow his instructions and stick to them… no ifs, ands, or buts. No exceptions.

“She has to stay in her crate, or you have to hold her,” he said.  “You can only put her down or let her walk to go to the bathroom, until I evaluate her and say otherwise.”
I could handle this.  I was fully self-employed as a writer by this point, and was home a lot anyway.  I could make my schedule so I could spend time with her and hold her at the best times for her schedule, and leave the house and crate her all the rest of the time.  
“The prednisone needs to be administered exactly on schedule. And she has to sleep in her crate.”
Sleep in her crate?  And not next to me?  Little Miss Separation Anxiety was not going to like that. I needed to figure something out.
First night home
It was evening, and Dr. Ruffing said she had to sleep in her crate, no getting around it. I knew that was not going to go over well.  She needed to be close to me or she would be upset, and if she was upset she would act out.  If she did that, she might make it worse or end up permanently paralyzed in her hindquarters. I tried to think of a solution.
I started by pushing her crate next to the sofa, where I would sleep as she recuperated.  I put it up near where my head would be and set up a pillow and blanket for myself.  Then I put her in the crate, turned out the light and laid down.


Gabby disapproves

Within seconds, it came, just as I expected.  It was so endearing, yet sad.
Tap, tap, tap.  The sound was so soft in the quiet room.
Three times with the paw. She was gently tapping the crate up near where I was.
It came again.
Tap, tap, tap.
I got up, turned on the light and got down next to her.  She looked hopeful and anxious, and her eyes were pleading for me. She wanted to be close to me, especially now, and didn’t know why she was in her crate instead of with me. 
She had been through a lot, her back was certainly still sore and even though she was home now, she still had to be scared.  She was an extremely exuberant little dog, and her body wasn’t working the way it was supposed to.
There had to be a way.

Gabby approves

I put my big soft comforter down in the middle of the living room, and put the crate next to it.  I turned out the light and got down next to her.  She looked through the bars at me. She looked relieved I was close.  I saw the love in those eyes, too, even more than I usually did.  I was even more resolved that we would beat this, she would be 100% mobile again, and she would have that mobility the rest of her life.
“We are going to beat this, little girl,” I told her. “We are going to beat this.”
She seemed relieved I was next to her and curled up with her body against the bars of the crate.  I put myself next to her, and she fell asleep peacefully. 

Recovery strategy

Fortunately I was 100% self-employed as a writer by this point, so I could focus myself on getting her back to where she was and keep an eye on her all the time. I carried her everywhere and only put her down to go to the bathroom, just as Dr. Ruffing said.

To make it easier for her to eliminate, I switched her to a diet made only of soft, canned food. I browned chicken and shredded it, and mixed it with the canned dog food.  I also used the shredded chicken to give her the prednisone pills.  I fed her by hand while I held her, so we kept pressure off her back and legs even when she ate.

A week later I also figured out a way to use a leash anchored near the bed in conjunction with my dresser, which was pushed up against it.  She could lie on the bed, but was restricted to an area the size of her crate and couldn’t get to the edge, fall off and hang herself by her collar. I explained the arrangement to Dr. Ruffing, and he approved.  So, we were back to our normal sleeping routine.

Watching her struggle was very hard.  The improvement was slow, but steady. The important thing is she was always making progress. It took about six months, but she made it back to where she was before she hurt herself and there was absolutely no trace of a limp or weakness. She had made a 100% full recovery.

Seeing her prance and run around the backyard with gusto again was one of the most rewarding things I ever experienced in my life.

Problem #2
She had another episode when she was 10.  It was late at night and a sudden sound startled her and she jumped, and that is all that it took to mess up her back. She must have twisted it funny.  She was wobbly over her hind legs, just as before. I knew what to do this time.

I took her to the CSVCA ER immediately and for the first time since it was open, they had lost power because a car hit the pole in front of the building!  What timing!

I took her to the ER across town, she got the treatment she needed and spent the night.  Within three months, she was back where she was before.

If you have a dachshund and think it has hurt its back, don’t delay… get them help right away.  It could mean the difference between a short and long recovery, or no recovery at all.