Kira is a 14 year old senior dog who had been progressively losing the use of her rear legs over a 6-month period. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication had helped her with moving around on her own fairly well until suddenly one morning her spinal arthritis robbed her of function in her rear limbs completely and her quality of life was severely reduced. She was switched to prednisone by her veterinarian, and she did improve somewhat, but was still very weak and would try to stand up to walk but fall easily and she was “a danger to herself,” according to her mom. Swimming at the Rex Center swimming pool helped her to feel a bit better, however she still could not walk or stand up on her own without maximal assistance from her mom or dad.
However, upon seeing her for an Initial Physical Rehabilitation Consultation, I knew we could vastly improve Kira’s daily function and mobility, and I drew up a treatment plan to help get her walking again…starting with her toes! They had begun to curl under from disuse and tendon contracture so we started with range of motion for each toe and assisted standing exercises to encourage full weight bearing in all of her joints.
Additionally a big interest of mine is the use of veterinary prosthetics and orthotics to help my patients to strengthen and better use their limbs. In Kira’s case, she’d lost a great deal of her ‘conscious proprioception’ – the sensory input process from the toes to the brain – that tells a dog which way up her feet are. Kira was not able to sense how best to place her paws as she moved, so she was walking on the tops of her feet, causing painful sores and limiting her ability to get around. So I developed a set of custom ‘Toe-Ups’, a device that helped Kira tell which way her feet should be placed before she put weight on them. Very quickly, she gained in confidence and was able to start taking steps with her feet in the correct position on her own as well as going up and down the back porch steps using her rear legs with much less assistance!
Here’s Kira in her ‘toe-ups’:
And here’s a video showing her mastering walking up stairs:
I also added other arthritis pain medications – Tramadol, Gabapentin, as well as Adequan – and Standard Process Musculoskeletal Support supplements to help manage her worsening arthritis pain from a “multimodal” approach. Once we fitted her with her homemade ‘Toe-Ups’ and we eliminated the pain from her walks, she started fully bearing weight on both of her back legs again and was quickly ready to advance in exercises that focused on improving her overall coordination and balance. My treatment plan included targeted home exercises to help her relearn how to deliberately place her legs when moving in different directions and to help her keep her balance. The better her coordination, the less likely Kira would be to trip and fall during routine activities on her own. And as her coordination improved, Kira experienced a regaining of muscle mass and strength: now she is walking more normally, and no longer needs to be carried or pulled in a doggie wagon, her atrophied rear leg muscles are getting stronger and she often tries to run and trot to the park again! She is even trotting right back into the clinic for her physical rehabilitation sessions, which she loves! She hates to say good-bye when it’s time to go home!