Q: My 8-year-old Pomeranian Tinkerbell has had some serious problems lately. For a few weeks it sounded like she was dragging her nails on a back foot when she walked. More recently she has started holding her head down and to the right when she walks, stands or lies down. She is eating and doing all her normal potty things well but just acts like she is in pain. She also walks slower than normal. What can I do to make her more comfortable and do I need to see her veterinarian?
A: The short answers are “yes” and “yes.” At Tinkerbell’s age there are several possibilities for her symptoms, and they may be multiple. Dragging her leg very possibly is due to pressure on a nerve from a disc or from arthritic changes occurring in her vertebrae. Frequently bony changes in the vertebral areas can make a back uncomfortable with or without causing pressure on a nerve or nerves.
She may have pulled a muscle in her lower back, and or neck area that may account for her head tilt and carrying her head low. Of course, there also may be a pinched nerve in her neck.
She needs to be examined carefully by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Lab work and radiographs will be helpful in complementing the physical examination. A neurological exam will likely be the most informative during the exam.
Radiographs will tell where any narrowing might be occurring between vertebrae in her back to give a clue about a ruptured disc or pressure on nerves. Ultimately, likely a CT scan will be recommended so exact causes can be defined. Surgery may or may not be necessary to fix her problem(s).
There are several palliative things you can do to help with the immediate pain and if it is just a torn or strained back muscle, allow it to heal sooner.
Hot packs placed on her lower back and neck can certainly help relieve pain and help the healing process. Placing a wet, folded washcloth inside a plastic sandwich bag and warming it in the microwave makes a great wet-heat compress. Check it on your forearm first to be sure of the temperature.
Placing these warm compresses on the sore areas for about 15 minutes two to three times a day will offer a lot of relief.
Of great importance is to limit her activity over the next two to three months with no jumping up or down from things, no rough play or running, or standing up on her back legs if she tends to do this. Keeping her in a crate during the day should be done the first two to three weeks.
When you let her outside, take her out on leash so she does not go chasing off after anything.
Your veterinarian likely will offer pain medication, muscle relaxers and give you the best advice for long term. Cold laser therapy and acupuncture are two very helpful therapies for acute and chronic pain and soreness.
Should she suddenly become paralyzed you need to take her directly to the surgeons facility. If surgery is not performed to relieve the nerve compression causing the paralysis she likely will be paralyzed for life. She should at least be evaluated as soon as possible. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely for long-term care of Tinkerbell’s back.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to email@example.com.