Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Misdiagnosis: Spinal Cord Injury

by Dee Bogetti

Cody was 11 months old. A yellow Lab in training to be my wilderness search and rescue dog, she had all the right stuff for the job: high drive, intelligence, tenacity, and an amazing nose.

Cody’s energy level required daily play sessions – most often involving a tennis ball or Frisbee. On a day I will never forget, it was my bad throw that sent her running full tilt toward the shed.

She slammed into it (depth perception came later in her life), coming up with the tennis ball in her mouth and … a limp. 

I went to her and realized there was a hole right where she had hit the building, so not only did she slam into an immovable object, her right front leg jammed into that hole with her full weight behind it.

I loaded her into the car and took her to the vet’s office for a physical examination, x-rays and a diagnosis.

Ninety minutes later I drove home with Cody–stunned and in tears. 

My amazing dog, my beautiful girl, my athlete, would never be a SAR dog.

Diagnosis: The vet said that Cody had injured her cervical (neck) spine. 

And if she re-injured it she could well become paralyzed. No more training. No more strenuous workouts. Nothing. I was devastated.

A day passed. What to do? A second opinion was all I could think of, so I called ahead to a local vet clinic known for its specialists. Cody and I headed out that afternoon for an appointment with a veterinary orthopedist.

This vet looked at the existing x-rays, took Cody for a walk to observe her gait, and gave her a thorough hands-on physical examination. Sixty minutes after we arrived, we drove away with a very different opinion from that of “my” vet.

Cody’s Diagnosis: Tendinitis in her right shoulder.

Wow. This time I was speechless.

Instructions from the vet: Keep my young Lab quiet (seriously?) for a month to let her shoulder heal and she should be fine. He said that although chronic in nature, the tendinitis should not cause her any significant problems in the foreseeable future. He did warn that symptoms might return in Cody’s older years.

Outcome: Cody was as quiet as Cody could be for that month, at the end of which her symptoms were gone. 

We proceeded with her SAR training and never looked back. She has remained fit and trim over the years – her weight never varying more than two pounds from her young adult weight of 72 pounds, something I believe is a contributing factor to her continued good health.

At the age of nine, in the middle of a cold winter, I saw that limp return. 

My current vet suggested a supplement (one that she gives her own senior Labs) specifically targeted to older dogs. I started her on S3 Soft Chews for Dogs the next day. Two years later, at the age of 11, Cody is happy, healthy, limp-free, and can still outrun the four other Labs in the house. Especially when there is a squirrel alert in the backyard.

Here’s a short video from a couple of years ago with me working Murphy while Cody demos the best “focus” ever.

Lesson: Always, if there is ANY question in your mind about a diagnosis, seek a second opinion and even a third.


Dee Bogettiis a service dog trainer/consultant. she works with a limited number of individuals and families who are willing and able to train their own service dog ... with her help.

Dee is the author of
Puppies chew shoes, don't they?

You can also check out her blogs Diabetic alert dogs and Brown Dog Tales or connect with her on Twitter.

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