Pain and Paralysis: Cauda Equina Syndrome in Older Dogs

Especially owners of dogs that weigh more than 20 kilograms should know about cauda equina syndrome. Because with these four-legged friends, the painful disease, which is based on age-related changes in the spine, occurs frequently.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

“Cauda equina” is a term used by medical professionals to describe a strand of nerve roots that are located within the spinal canal in a sac made of spinal cord skin. At the end of the spinal cord, the nerves emerge laterally from the spine and go to the muscles of the hind legs and tail. The nerve roots are visually reminiscent of a ponytail, which translates as “cauda equina” from Latin.

To put it simply, the cauda equina syndrome is a misalignment between the lumbar spine and sacrum.

If signs of wear and tear occur in this area, this can lead to the nerves of the cauda equina being crushed. Because the symptoms emanate from the nerves, it is a neurological disease. The cauda equina syndrome is also known as “degenerative lumbosacral stenosis” (DLSS) and “cauda equina compression symptom”. People can also suffer from cauda equina syndrome. They are often caused by a herniated disc.

Symptoms: How to Recognize Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Unfortunately, many dog owners only recognize the problem after many weeks or even months. Because the symptoms come insidiously and many dog lovers classify them as “normal signs of age”. Early symptoms include:

The dog…

… moves less.
… avoids stairs and jumps.
… has visibly pain, which gets worse with stress

As the disease progresses, the following symptoms appear:

  • Paralysis that leads to a dragging gait;
  • Claws no longer wear out evenly;
  • Paralysis of the tail;
  • Muscle weakness of the hind legs;
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence.

Tip: Present your four-legged friend to the vet at the first signs of pain!

Which Dogs are Often Affected?

Dogs heavier than 20 kilograms, in particular, suffer from cauda equina syndrome from an average age of six years. Breeds that are often affected include the German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Rottweiler, Boxer, Doberman, and Giant Schnauzer. Poodles of all sizes can be affected. Older animals, in particular, whose skeletons and joints are exposed to high stresses – for example from being overweight or improperly stressed – get sick. Exceptions can also occur – a dog that is sick at the age of one year. In dwarf breeds, the cauda equina can also be deformed and crushed in individual cases.

What Causes Lumbar Sacral Stenosis In Dogs?

The cauda equina syndrome usually arises from wear and tear in combination with a genetic tendency. Above all, being overweight and having the wrong load (excessive jumping and climbing stairs) can promote the syndrome. In rare cases, tumors or fractures cause the symptoms.

Therapy of Cauda Equina Syndrome in Dogs

The therapy depends on the stage of the disease and the constitution of the dog. In any case, it is important to slowly lose excess weight. This reduces the pressure on the cauda equina.

Conservative Therapy: Wait and Relieve

If the disease is not very advanced, less exercise can help. The dogs should avoid excessive exertion and lie down as much as possible. In this way, the animals relieve the affected area, which in the best case can heal. It goes without saying that this is not feasible for every four-legged friend. This therapy is easiest for couch potatoes.

However, with some dogs, the urge to move is too great to be able to withstand a “quiet box”. Feasible compromises must be sought here. For example, by skipping stairs and choosing short laps without any requirements. If conservative therapy is considered, the veterinarian can prescribe supportive anti-inflammatory pain medication.

Operation of the cauda equina in the dog

In severe cases, the dog and owner cannot avoid an operation. The goal of the operation is to take the pressure off the cauda equina. This is done using different methods. The doctor can remove a vertebral arch or operate on parts of the intervertebral disc or the articular processes that have changed due to illness. It is also possible to stabilize the cross-lumbar transition by connecting two parts of the vertebrae.

Gold acupuncture for cauda equina syndrome

Gold acupuncture, or gold implantation, is a pain management approach that helps many dogs with orthopedic problems get on their feet. The procedure is performed under sedation; general anesthesia is usually not necessary.

The vet then places millimeter-sized gold particles at certain points. The owners then describe a clear improvement in around 80 percent of the dogs. The success is independent of whether the vet follows the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or places the capsules next to the joints during the implantation. Neural therapy can be another alternative to reducing pain. Only a few veterinarians offer this.

Physiotherapy can be helpful after the respective therapy.

Here the four-legged friend builds up the weakened muscles under professional supervision. The physiotherapist is also the right contact for pain patients. Massage and exercise can help improve the quality of life for chronically ill dogs.

What is the Cost of Treating Cauda Equina Syndrome in Dogs?

A detailed diagnosis including imaging procedures costs from $150 and up. If the disease is in the early stages, conservative therapy is cheap: rest is free, the medication can be had for a few euros.

If the disease is more advanced, it becomes significantly more expensive: an operation or gold implantation costs from $350 and up. Even with physiotherapy afterward, several hundred euros can quickly come together over the course of a week. Vet prices can vary depending on the region, effort, and constitution of the dog.

What is the Prognosis?

The cauda equina regenerates well. If no paralysis has occurred, the syndrome is associated with a very good prognosis. In this case, the success of the therapy depends largely on keeping the dog quiet for a few weeks. This is a difficult challenge for many keepers.

If paralysis has already occurred, the prognosis is less favorable. Depending on the overall constitution of the four-legged friend, the vet can estimate how high the chances of recovery are. Many dogs can significantly improve their quality of life with pain therapy. If the dogs can no longer move and if an operation is not promising, euthanasia is sometimes the last option.

The earlier the cauda equina syndrome is recognized, the better the chances of a cure.

Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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