Danielle and her boyfriend, Brian, had just come back from work and at 6pm, Brian opened the back door to let Angel back into the house after going out to the garden. As Angel came through the door, he went to shut it, and the wind caught it so that it slammed. Angel was in the way. Her little body was crushed by the full force of the door against the door frame. She screamed, and collapsed on the ground, yelping loudly.
She was rushed down to the vet at once. It was not good news: she could not move her back legs at all, and her front legs had developed a sign known as “extensor rigidity”. They were stiffly extended straight in front of her, and Angel was straining her neck forwards and upwards. This is a sign of a severe spinal injury, and it means that the prognosis for a recovery is very slim. Angel was given emergency treatment with pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication.
By the following morning, she was no better at all. We took a series of x-rays of her spine, and there was at least some small bit of good news: she had not actually broken or dislocated her back. She had a crush and twist injury, and her spinal cord had been badly damaged, but it had not been severed. This meant that in theory, there was a possibility that she might make some sort of recovery without major surgery. In practice, however, this was extremely unlikely. Critically, when I squeezed her toes, she showed no sign that she could feel it. Even if I pinched her toes tightly with small pliers, she didn’t notice. This sign is known as “loss of deep pain”, and it’s bad news, nearly always linked to long term permanent paralysis.
I talked to Danielle about the possibility that Angel might have to spend her life in a wheelchair, wearing doggy nappies. She realised the challenge that this would involve, and she began to feel that euthanasia might be the kindest option. She took Angel home for the weekend, clinging on to the faint hope that she might somehow start to improve.
I spoke to Danielle on the phone on Monday morning: there had been no improvement. Angel was still completely paralysed in both back legs, and she was incontinent, leaking urine everywhere. Danielle had made the difficult decision to let Angel go. She made an appointment for Brian to bring her in for euthanasia.
I had loaded the syringe of lethal injection when he arrived. As a final double-check that this was the right decision, I squeezed Angel’s toes tightly again to see if she could feel anything. To my surprise, she tilted her head slightly as I did this. I reached for the pliers, and pinched again. This time, she definitely looked back at me as I squeezed. Some sensation had returned. This meant that there was now some small hope that she might recover. Brian telephoned Danielle to let her know, and I put the syringe away. There was still a risk that Angel might not recover, but the fact that she had improved at least offered some hope.
For the next two weeks, Danielle had to nurse Angel, physically squeezing her abdomen to empty her bladder. Angel made steady progress, and at her latest visit, to our delight, she actually stood up on her back legs and passed urine by herself. She may be left with some long term weakness of her back legs, but she won’t need a wheelchair, and she won’t be incontinent. She’s a fortunate dog and Danielle is a very happy owner.
- Serious spinal injuries can happen easily especially in small dogs
- Urgent treatment by a vet is critically important
- Recovery can take many weeks