Photo courtesy of Donna Lipscomb
by Donna Lipscomb
“Paraplegic animals don’t make good pets,” the vet told me when I couldn’t afford his suggested treatment for my dog. I felt utterly hopeless. I started crying right there in the office.
My family and I took in Fonzie, an 11-year-old Dachshund, nearly three years ago. We took him to see a vet when Fonzie couldn’t walk after he fell off the couch. Our veterinarian, Dr. Laazarcheff, used no sugarcoating when he stepped into the room telling my mother and me that Fonzie was seriously injured.
“This is not good. He is in extreme pain because he slipped a disc in his back,” he said. “He is paralyzed.”
Dr. Laazarcheff diagnosed Fonzie with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), which according to PetMD, is a condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst (herniate) into the spinal cord space, causing pain, nerve damage, and even paralysis.
The vet told us that Fonzi needed emergency surgery. He said it could range from $3,500 to $5,000.
There was no possibility of us being able to pay that kind of bill. We asked for another option. “We can try medical management, which is a plan over the next 2 months. He has a much better chance at a full recovery if he goes through with the surgery though,” he said.
The total cost of medical management was about $1,169. Unfortunately it was still way out of our reach. We asked for a third option. We wanted to know if Fonzie could regain movement if we cared for him at home.
The doctor said no. Fonzie would likely stay paraplegic.
“[Paraplegic animals] need constant care; they have no control over their bladder or bowels. You’d have to get him a wheelchair and they fall over all the time,” Dr. Laazarcheff said. “Putting him down would be more humane.”
I was a complete mess. I refused to let him die without giving my every effort to help him recover. We left the vet with no more than 2 weeks’ worth of steroids, muscle relaxers, and pain killers, but when we got home, I began extensive research on caring for dogs with IVDD.
I did everything I could to follow the directions for intensive home care. He had to be in a crate which limited his movements. I had to massage all along his spine and stretch out his hind legs to align his back. He had to be carried to and from the backyard in order to relieve himself. Fonzie couldn’t even reach the food bowl on his own; I had to feed him by hand until he gained more mobility.
I could hardly function because I was spending so much time caring for my dog. I was up all day and night making sure Fonzie got his medicine on time. I would just pet him for hours on end. I think I was doing it to comfort myself more than him.