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Ask a Vet: How can I help my dog recover the strength in its rear legs?

March 16, 2010 |  4:23 pm

Have a non-emergency question about your pet's health? Dr. Heather Oxford of L.A. veterinary hospital California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE) is here to help! In this installment of Ask a Vet, Dr. Oxford offers some tips to reader Janet Ishikawa about dealing with her dog's apparent numbness:

Pug Janet's question: My male pug's hind legs seem like they are numb; he has a hard time climbing steps and maneuvering his back legs and can't seem to control his bowels. His back legs seem almost paralyzed.

Heather Oxford, DVM: It sounds like the problems in the back legs and loss of control of his bowels may be caused by a neurological problem. As dogs age, their intervertebral discs can degenerate and become unable to absorb the compressive pressure between the vertebrae in the back. Usually, the pet jumps down off of furniture or plays too roughly, and all of a sudden one or more of these discs can herniate and put pressure on the spinal cord.

This is when you start noticing outward signs, such as difficulty moving the legs in a coordinated fashion, lack of feeling and, sometimes, urinary and fecal incontinence.

Pugs do develop other diseases in their spinal cords besides disc herniations that can cause similar symptoms, and sometimes medications can help. Your veterinarian can help determine what is causing these problems with a neurological examination and X-rays of the neck and back. He or she may even need to refer you to see a veterinary neurologist.

At California Animal Rehabilitation, we see several pets each day with all of the symptoms that your pug is exhibiting. We instruct their owners how to do daily exercises that will rehabilitate the nervous system to improve their pet's coordination and function. One such exercise is as easy as pinching your pet's toes to stimulate a response to pull the leg back. Also, encouraging walking on grass, gravel, or another less stable surface than sidewalks, is helpful in reestablishing the neuromuscular coordination necessary for recovery. Repeatedly working with your pet multiple times throughout the day is key in rebuilding control of the back legs. Acupuncture can help stimulate nerve endings in the back legs to help regain sensation, and can help with the incontinence too.

To submit your question for Dr. Oxford, just leave a comment on this post or send us a tweet @LATunleashed and look for her answer in an upcoming installment of Ask a Vet!

About our vet: Dr. Oxford received her bachelor of science degree at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.  She also received a master's of public health degree in epidemiology from Emory University and went on to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She then went to the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine, where she received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree.  She practices at California Animal Rehabilitation and is also certified in veterinary rehabilitation and acupuncture. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Wade, and German shepherd, Tess.

Photo: A pug (not Janet's). Credit: Shannon Sano / Shannon Sano Photography

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