2023 has been the worst year on record for us.
Earlier this spring, our retired stud dog and progenitor of our kennel, Riggs, suffered from a suspected severe Fibrocartilagninous Embolism (FCE).
This attack left both his back legs paralyzed.
No hereditary factors have been identified that predispose a dog to FCE.
We’d like to share our story.
What is FCE?
A fibrocartilagninous Embolism also known as a Spinal Stroke, is when a piece of the fibrocartilage (the dense connective tissue of the spinal vertebrae discs) breaks away, migrates into the bloodstream and lodges within a spinal artery. This prevents blood flow to a section of the spinal cord.
All breeds of dogs are at risk for FCE, but large- and giant-breed dogs seem more suceptible. Spinal strokes usually hit 3 to 6 years old and is more common in dogs that play high-intensity sports. Beyond this, they really don’t know much about FCE; why or how it exactly happens.
Our Old Man
Riggs’ stroke was super scary. He was out on a beautiful day, chasing a tennis ball. He didn’t jump, or do anything crazy as GSPs often do.
He just went down.
Collapsed on his rump howling in pain.
We thought he had caught his leg in a gopher hole and broke it, or got bit by a copperhead. But when he was unable to move either of his back legs we knew something more serious was going on. (Apparently, this scenario is a pretty typical way FCEs take place.)
An ER Diagnosis
Our ride to the ER trying to hold rigs down and keep him calm in the back of the car was one of the longest car rides of our lives.
The ER vet told us it was either a spinal stroke or a slipped disc, but since he didn’t present any pain in his examination, they were pretty confident it was a spinal stroke. Unfortunately, there’s no real treatment for a spinal stroke. For slipped discs, they can operate, but for strokes, you just have to fall back on physical therapy, rest, and prayer.
Head’s up: Through this experience, we found out most vets know very little about spinal strokes. Knowledge on these neurological attacks is apparently quite specialized. Many general care vets have only heard of it in passing during their schooling.
Dogs that suffer FCE have a 50-50 chance of showing improvement.
In the old man’s case, he had it bad as both his back legs had nearly full paralysis-the toes on one of his back feet still twitched when stimulated. He had no use of his tail, no feeling anywhere in the back legs. He was able to get poop out, but we were shown how to express his bladder manually.
Head’s up: We had to build a little area for Riggs’ recovery. Like a little puppy, there was a lot of pee and poop inside the house, lots of manual cleaning the area and Riggs himself. We bought a little carrier, like a vest with a handle to turn the dog into a piece of luggage basically. This allows you to carry him outside to use the bathroom (and perhaps sneak him into a movie theater). Anyway, it didn’t work too great. Using a towel was faster and just as good.
The Worst Advice from a Vet
The ER vet told us to be sure to flip Riggs over from one side to the other, to avoid bed sores. As it turned out, Riggs was really restless after his accident and constantly moved himself over with only the use of his front legs.
Flash forward about a week later and Riggs became horribly sick, he had a large swelling around his butt (we thought, maybe an impacted anal gland). When we saw a 107 degree temperature, we rushed him back to the ER.
Apparently, the old man had knocked his bony but against the wall or piece of furniture and developed a bruise that got infected. The vet never warned us to look out for this. Since he had been moving regularly on his own, we thought we were in the clear from any kind of bed sores, but apparently a bruise infection from a blow, is another kind of thing they can get.
Head’s up: If your furry friend is ever totally down for a few days, watch out for this. Especially with GSPs they tend to have so little body fat, this is a real concern and just a little attention on your part can avoid a serious infection!
The worst advice came next.
Riggs had been showing very small progress over the 7 days he was home. But he was so sick when he went in with his fever, the vet suggested that we put Riggs down.
The vet pointed out that he was not showing any improvement since the initial visit and at that point was unlikely to recover any significant movement to regain any quality of life.
Even though he was super sick with an infection, they said it was best to put him down. And they recommended this course of action multiple times even though we tried to explain that he had made improvements they weren’t seeing.
We took the old man home. We loaded him up with herbs, good food, love, and gave him massage and movement therapy every day.
Red Hill Riggs
Promoting Health and Recovery
We relied heavily on Golden Milk during Riggs’ recovery. We’re big fans of this stuff. Golden Milk is basically Turmeric, with a host of other support herbs. The formulas differ a bit, we like this brand, it’s got Cinnamon, Ginger, Ashwagandha, Cardamom, and Black Pepper.
We also used this Ligaplex 1 which we had from a previous injury. It’s a ligament and muscle support mix… basically, it’s like a multi-vitamin utilizing a bunch of core bovine ingredients, like bovine bone, kidney, and liver.
Lastly, we utilized organic Lion’s Mane mushroom powder. There is evidence Lion’s Mane actually regenerates nerves!
Quality of Life
Obviously, Riggs suffered a major health incident and will never be 100%.
But at near 60 years old, who is 100%?
Head’s up: The hardest thing about a sick or injured GSP is KEEPING THEM CALM during their recovery. Right now we call Riggs the tractor trailer on ice. He thinks he’s 100%. He gets going and his back side doesn’t have the response he thinks it has. The other day he hopped up onto the couch to say hello, then without warning, instantly turned, jumped onto the couch arm and LAUNCHED himself off in a full on leap. We almost died. We tried to grab him but it happened too fast. He was fine.
In the end it’s about quality of life.
He’s happy and enjoying life.
And we’ve already got 3 more months than the vets wanted us to have.
2023 Please be Nice!
This year has emotionally and physically drained us like no other.
Financially, the vet bills have just crushed us. Every year there are vet bills, but 2023 has been a storm of storms.
If anyone reading this page appreciates what we share on this website and wants to support our rainy-year-never-have-money-for-coffee-again fund, my personal pay pal email address is:
We know how much folks love the dogs we place in their homes, but any donations are a little reminder that we should keep sharing and are so very appreciated.