I will update this post as we continue Shea’s rehab.
In August, Shea suffered a spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the ribs down. At just 6 years old, we knew she had a lot of life in her and wanted a non-surgical strategy to help her live her best life moving forward.
A little history – my husband Dan adopted Shea when she was about 2 from a Philadelphia shelter where she was less than 48 hours away from being put to sleep since they were at capacity. I was in college and he had never owned a dog before, so I was texting him all the things he needed to pick up for her. She had obviously been abused before and was cautious around most men, anyone in a hat, and any large instruments like umbrellas and baseball bats. Thankfully, she immediately knew Dan was there to help her, and she and I connected immediately as well.
She’s always had high energy and has had many excitements in her life. Aside from her first few years and her stint at the shelter, she has jumped out of a moving car, drank too much ocean water, torn her ACL trying to jump over the fence in our backyard, and broken her leg by running into a moving car. Her vet has called her “headstrong” and that is the perfect way to describe her.
Days 1 & 2
On Monday, August 13, I came home from work and noticed she looked tired and uncomfortable. Dan had been home with her all day and said she was a bit sluggish and was slow when climbing up our basement steps that afternoon. Otherwise, she was moving alright.
Tuesday morning she was having a hard time moving, and by the middle of the day on Tuesday she couldn’t move her back legs at all and had become paralyzed from the ribs down. I met Dan at our standard vet, who looked at Shea for 4 minutes and said we needed to get an MRI right away (upwards of $3,000) to see if she needs surgery (at least $10,000). We got into the car to head to the emergency vet, and we just knew it wasn’t the right decision. The cost, the vet’s lack of attention to Shea’s specific situation, and our knowledge that Shea’s personality would not mix with an intensive surgery.
Dan had heard of PetPT from a coworker, and after a few calls explaining our situation, they were able to get us an appointment for the next evening. Our anxiety and sadness going into this appointment were extreme. We had no idea what to expect and were blown away. The vet, Dr. Howe-Smith, sat on the floor with Shea and examined her for over a half hour. He determined there were two possible situations, either she had a herniated disc or, more likely, a fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) and he had a non-invasive plan specific for Shea’s situation.
She was put on Gabapentin to relieve nerve pain, carprofen for general pain relief, and an antibiotic because she also had a UTI (poor girl).
Aside from rest and medication, we are to move her legs like walking to keep the joints loose and rub her legs to help with blood flow and to build the nerve feeling. He also recommended we purchase her a cart from WalkinWheels to help her have independence and laser therapy to alleviate pain and help stimulate the nerves.
The biggest hurdle of the first week was figuring out how to get her to go to the bathroom. She could not control anything below her ribs, so we figured out how to express her bladder by strategically pushing on it. We also invested in a ton of doggy-diapers for everything else. We strategically removed the hard plastic bottom from her crate and used it as a changing table both to help corral the mess and to teach her that it’s an appropriate place to “go.”
We would set up her dog bed topped with puppy pads and two towels, with an extra towel on the floor and a gate around her to prevent her trying to scoot around on the floor.
She had her first laser appointment and she loved it. We were shocked! We thought she would be scared of the machine and the wand touching her, but she laid on the floor and relaxed.
Her wheelchair also arrived and she immediately loved it. She had the independence to move around outside and explore the house. She was running around in the backyard in the first few days. There’s a learning curve for us to get her correctly in the cart, but she was patient and so happy to get to have some freedom.
She started biting her toenails, which was likely a sign of nerve reactions in her feet (good sign), but the vet knew that since she has no feeling in her feet she might continue to bite into her toes too. He put her on Amitriptyline for anxiety (which we need to pick up from RiteAid and sign as her parent or guardian) to help her relax and stop biting those nails.
In her cart, Shea sprinted into PetPT this week, excited to be back for more laser therapy! She happily rolled herself into the laser office and seemed so much more comfortable after the treatment.
By the end of the week, we started to see the slightest movements at the tip of her tail, which doesn’t sound like much but it was incredibly inspiring.
Weeks 3 and 4
We left for our trip to France, leaving Shea with Dan’s incredible parents who were willing to take care of her while we were away. It was no cake walk, and part of Shea’s most challenging time. We’ll always be grateful for this time away when we were able to relax from the stress from the last few weeks and reconnect.
While we were away, Shea became even more fixated on her back toenails and bit them all off. She was put on trazadone, a sedative, which was a game changer. She now sleeps throughout the day most days, as long as her environment is calm, and is more likely to sleep through the night.
Coming back home was an adjustment, we missed her so much, but figuring out the routine was tough. Dan went back to work after being off for the summer and the start of the school year means lots of additional evening responsibilities, too. When I went back to work, I filled my executive director in on the situation and she immediately offered for me to start working from home. Within 3 days I had a full office set up in our living room, and I’m able to give her the constant monitoring she needs. I now go into the office once per week, when we’re able to get dog care from family. If I wasn’t able to make the change to working from home, I truly don’t know how we’d be able to do this with me commuting over an hour to work each day.
We committed to teaching her that the tray from her crate is like a litterbox, and she’s gotten more control of her bathroom needs. She scoots herself onto the tray when she needs to go #2 and holds her pee (usually) until Dan picks her up and carries her outside. No more diapers and only a few accidents in the house!
We got her a new, orthopedic bed since she’s spending 90% of her time in it as well as a raised stand for her food and water, so it’s the perfect height for her to roll up to in her wheelchair. She loves to be in her wheelchair, where she can roam around the house and sniff all the things that have moved since she last explored. She runs around outside and plays with sticks and balls, and we can take her on walks. She gets tired after being in the cart for more than a half hour, but it’s so important she’s able to move around and feel like a dog a few times a day.
In the early evening and first thing in the morning, she gets rammy for a few hours. We figured out that she needs some “quiet time” while the sedatives get to work. We make sure that we can be still and quiet in the living room with her, with the lights low, calm music on, and sometimes even a lavender candle to seal the deal.
Most importantly, this week we started seeing lots of twitches and a little bit of movement in her toes and legs!
We focused this week on getting our routine down. A typical weekday morning looks like this:
5 am: Wake up, Dan showers and gets ready for work and I watch Shea as she begins to wake up.
6 am: I get dressed and we get Shea onto her tray for any bathroom needs and ready to go outside. Dan picks her up to get her into the cart, then she rolls herself outside. Dan picks her up to get her to pee and we get her back into the cart.
6:15 am: Shea rolls back inside and eats breakfast while Dan finishes getting ready. I make her bed behind my desk and prep anything I need to before Dan leaves.
6:30 am: We get Shea into her bed and Dan leaves for work. I lay on the floor with Shea until she gets sleepy and calm.
7 am: Give her her medicines. The sedatives take about an hour to kick in, so I keep her calm and relaxed until she falls asleep, around 8 am when I’m logging on to my work computer.
She picks her head up a few times a day, and I listen to make sure she doesn’t start licking her toes, but typically she sleeps throughout my workday (except for lunch when she smells my food).
Her laser therapy this week also included a re-evaluation by Dr. Howe-Smith, who was impressed with the movement in her hips and the healing in her toes. It’s time for her to start water therapy! We made our first appointment for just two days later and it was crazy. We knew Shea loved the water but this took it to a whole new level. She continuously splashed and played instead of walking on the treadmill. She splashed water all over the floor, the ceiling, and us.
We also bought her little booties that protect her toes for when she’s dragging herself around the house and keep them from falling out of the stirrups when she’s in her cart. Now she’s sprinting around without worrying about her toes.
This week is all about keeping things going. More water therapy. More time outside. More settling into our new routine.
Oh, and lots more splashing.
We are seeing lots more movement in her tail, legs, and toes. A full swinging tail is common when she’s in her wheelchair, and ler legs twitch when we touch her feet or brush her back.
We had a followup appointment with Dr. Howe-Smith who is happy with her progress. She has a much stronger reaction than the last time he saw her, and her hind legs have grown 4cm of muscle mass in 3 weeks from her treadmill therapy.
Next, we continue on the underwater treadmill and give acupuncture a try!