My French Bulldog’s IVDD Journey
Our French Bulldog Jackson has not had it easy. The French Bulldog breed, in general, does not have it easy. But Jackson has GONE THROUGH IT. Back in 2018, Jackson contracted leptospirosis, even with being vaccinated for it. He was close to death, but was able to make a full recovery thanks to CSU Vet Hospital and their fantastic team. Then when early 2020 hit, before the real shit storm hit, Jackson began showing signs of extreme neck pain. Jackson went into emergency neck surgery through Rocky Mountain Neurology after finding a disc extrusion in his neck (the start of IVDD). Not only did they perform neck surgery, but they also performed soft palate surgery to ensure he would be able to breathe well when coming out of surgery. The two surgeries went great, but he had post-surgery complications that began to plague him while still at the vet. He had extreme edema, would not eat, and he had a seizure one day when I visited him. Me, knowing nothing about animal biology, asked the neurologist if this edema and other issues could have to do with his kidneys being attacked from his previous leptospirosis diagnosis, and I asked if it would be a good idea to transfer him to CSU Vet Hospital, where they have a bigger team to figure out what was going on. The neurologist told me that it had nothing to do with his kidneys, that the other vets wouldn’t know more than he would, and he was simply having an allergic reaction that would ease with time. By day 11, after he had a seizure in front of me, I said ‘FUCK YOU, GIVE ME MY DOG’ and rushed him up to CSU Vet Hospital (about an hour and 15 minutes away from us) where I found out that Jackson had such low potassium levels that his heart could stop at any point, he had protein losing nephropathy (hello kidney issues), pulmonary thromboembolism (blood clots in his lungs), and systemic hypertension (high blood pressure). Jackson’s body was shutting down. After 16 full days at the vet, 16 days of not eating, and 16 days of not knowing if he would make it…he did. And he made a full recovery, all thanks to the amazing team at CSU Vet Hospital who wouldn’t give up on him or simply believe it was an allergic reaction.
Breathe. That’s a lot to take in.
Fast forward to the day after Thanksgiving 2021, Jackson started showing signs of not being able to use his back legs. Instead of taking him to the closest ER vet (VRCC, which works directly with Rocky Mountain Neurology), we rushed him back up to Fort Collins to CSU Vet Hospital. Since he wasn’t showing full signs of motor loss yet, we were sent home with pain meds and instructions to crate rest him for 4-6 weeks. But by Sunday, Jackson had lost all motor function in his back legs so back up we went. The on-call neurologist was called in and he decided that it would be best to do a CT scan and most likely go in for emergency surgery. The surgery showed 2 herniated discs so they went into a 3 hours surgery at 7pm that night. The neurologist called to tell me that the surgery was a success and Jackson would have a 50-80% chance of walking again. After surgery, Jackson was at the vet for 4 more days, while the team made sure he did not experience any post-surgery complications like he had the time before, and he didn’t! He also began his physical therapy with their rehabilitation team while he was there.
Jackson has now been home for 5 full days and is currently on crate rest for the next 4-6 weeks to help his spine fully heal. He has no control over his bladder so we have to express it 4-5x/day, which has proved to be rather challenging. This means lots of pee pads, doggie diapers, and washing our hands at least 59x/day. We do daily rehab with him at home, which the CSU rehabilitation center shared with us. But I’m also now taking him to a veterinary hyperbaric chamber weekly, as well as a rehabilitation center here in Denver that does manual therapy, massage, laser therapy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, and more. He may walk again in months, in a year, or maybe never. We have no real clue at this point, but we are working every day towards that goal.
This experience has been really hard on all of us (especially since I’m currently 8 weeks pregnant, sick, and exhausted) and very time consuming. So I thought I would share our experience in case other dog owners go through IVDD and don’t know what to do or where to turn.
The Basics: Insurance
First I want to start with the basics – GET PET INSURANCE. And get it when they are a puppy because it will be much cheaper. We had pet insurance for Jackson’s leptospirosis issues, which cost over $8k after 5 days in the vet hospital. They told us all of it would be covered, but when we filed the claim, they said the max they would pay was $1500. Read the fine print. So we cancelled that policy and thought it was pointless to get a new policy with someone else. Well when Jackson went in for neck surgery and ended up at the vet 16 days (I’ll let you guess how insanely expensive that turned out to be), we were left having to figure that out all on our own. After that surgery, we found new pet insurance, which was much more expensive since we didn’t use them from the start, when Jackson was itty bitty. Not only will the right pet insurance help with hospital bills, but they will help with the rehabilitation afterwards. This is an absolute must with IVDD recovery. (UPDATE: Jackson’s surgery WAS NOT covered by insurance in the end because the only pre-existing condition they don’t cover is IVDD. Jackson’s first surgery was never called IVDD so we didn’t think it was considered that, but turns out we were wrong and the vet called it IVDD in his records months after he had surgery. Be sure to get insurance long before this happens to you!)
Prevention of IVDD
Next up, prevention. For prevention of IVDD (which is sometime inevitable no matter what you try), keeping your dog as healthy as possible is a must. Keeping them at a healthy weight will help put less stress on their spine. But for even more prevention, I highly recommend teaching them how to use ramps from an early age. We didn’t get Jackson to use a ramp until after his neck surgery and it definitely took some time. And in our old house, we used to let him run down the stairs, where he would jump pretty hard onto the carpet. All of this can lead to discs pressing together more and more, and in turn could cause a herniation. And one last thing that is HUGE and I wish a vet would have had told me this from the start – use a harness on your dog, not a collar around their neck for walks, no matter their size. Think about someone pulling on your neck day after day…that would fucking suck. A harness will keep the pressure off their necks and hopefully keep them from suffering from a spinal incident.
What To Expect After IVDD Surgery: Rehabilitation
But if your dog does have to go through surgery for IVDD (some dogs can heal from IVDD by simple crate rest and medication), let’s talk about what it will looks like following surgery and in-hospital care. If you have a good vet and rehab team, they should send you home with at-home rehab to do daily. Do it daily. It’s all about trying to wake up those nerves and get feedback to the limbs. I was also lucky enough to talk to some great people online who have had their own IVDD experiences and one of the more affordable recommendations was the Assisi Loop which creates an electromagnetic field that is supposed to help with swelling, pain, incision healing, and breaks down anything that could be around the nerves of the spinal cord causing more issues. It only costs $300, which is obviously a good amount still, but cheaper in comparison with most other at-home tools on the market. I’ve also been sent different laser and light tools, but haven’t looked into those much yet since Jackson will be going to rehabilitation 2x/week.
As for outside rehabilitation, we found a place down in Denver to take Jackson to on a weekly basis. Like I mentioned before, they will be performing manual therapy, massage, laser therapy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, and more. We also plan to take him to a hyperbaric chamber once a week up in Fort Collins. Paired with rehab and chamber, we will continue to do his at-home rehab and he will be moving around a bit in his new wheelchair that we ordered for him through our vet. The more rehab you can get in by professionals, the better. I’ve found the at-home rehab hard at times and I think that’s saying something because both Brian and I work from home and have flexible schedules. But fitting his medication in 5x/day and doing his rehab 3x/day, all while constantly cleaning him up from urine, becomes pretty time consuming. The more help you can get from outside party, the better.
What To Expect After IVDD Surgery: Keeping Your Dog Comfortable At Home
And since your dog will be on crate rest for 4-6 weeks, if not longer, you’ll want to be fully stocked at home with all the necessities. We have been going through pee pads like crazy, doggie diapers so their tail can stick out one side (we used regular human diapers for a while and it gave Jackson a rash and scab on his little nub tail), plenty of towels for daily baths because he normally gets some sort of pee or poop on him at some point throughout the day, poo and body wipes for quick clean up, plenty of blankets since those will go through the wash regularly, dog bed, and crate or playpen. We found Jackson had much more anxiety when in a crate so we bought a playpen and he finds that much more comfortable and appealing when we are not home. We also bought him wheels because he was using them at the vet and getting around quite well, so he uses those a couple times per day, when he’s eating. He will be able to use those even more after his crate rest ends.
What To Expect After IVDD Surgery: Emotionally and Time Wise
The hardest part, for me, has been the emotional rollercoaster of IVDD. Not only did we not know if he would make it out of surgery, but now we don’t know if he will walk again. The unknown is scary and the day-to-day is hard. We spend most days covered in urine, doing laundry, cleaning him up, trying to express his bladder, and figuring out our new normal. The beginning of this new journey is challenging, I’m not going to lie. But each day gets better as Jackson heals, gets more energy, and figures out his new body and life. If your dog has IVDD, just know that they will need more help than a normal dog would and their recovery will be quite time consuming, not only with their at-home rehab, but vet appointments, as well. IVDD is not only hard on your dog, but it will be hard on you. But it WILL get better.
I wanted to share all these rough facts in hopes of educating people who are looking into certain types of dogs or already have that type of dog. IVDD most often effects low rider dogs such as French bulldogs, dachshunds, corgis, and basset hounds, but it can truly happen to any dog. This is why prevention and pet insurance is so incredibly important. You think something like this would never happen to you…then you’re spending thousands upon thousands to save your dog. Get on top of pet insurance, educate yourself on what could happen (especially if you have a certain type of breed), and get yourself prepared if you do go through this. This post is obviously not as fun and lighthearted as most of my posts, but I wanted to share the facts of what we have experienced and I hope this helps someone in their own journey. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below!
Oh, Hi! I’m Juli.
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