In spring of 2023, our retired stud dog and progenitor of our kennel, Riggs, suffered from a suspected severe Fibrocartilagninous Embolism (FCE), which 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 and 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 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
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 sure 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.
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 prodded.
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 on his own, we though 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. Mental note if your furry friend is every totally down for a few days.
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. 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.
Wait, what? Even though he was super sick with an infection, they said it was best to put him down. And they recommended it 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 and good food. And gave him massage and movement therapy every day.
Red Hill Riggs