Wheels can be the first step to rehab

Duchess, a dachsie with IVDD

Duchess shows potential to become a spinal walker if we can re-pattern her spastic reflexes.

When Eddie and I started Eddie’s Wheels, we thought all the dogs we’d build carts for would eventually rehabilitate out of their wheels.  That’s because  our first dog, Buddha, used her wheels for less than 6 months before she started being able to walk again without a cart.   Sure, it was “spinal walking” – a phrase that indicates that an animal with no deep pain sensation is walking by using its intact reflexes – but Buddha made no such distinctions.  She was up on her own two feet and walking without that darn cart getting stuck  in the woods by our house.

Twenty four years have passed since Buddha got her wheels.  We’ve cared for a succession of dogs with spinal cord disabilities since then – but it’s Daisy, our disabled dachsund, whose progression from total paralysis to spinal walking that I am thinking about now.  Daisy had 4 herniated discs and did not have the benefit of surgery.  She had severely spastic reflexes when you tickled her toes.  In the cart, she either dragged her feet or moved them restlessly against the rolling stirrups.  However, after a short time, she began to take her feet off the stirrups and there was nothing I could do to keep her toes elevated.  Then I noticed that when she was walking up the steep incline to our house, she slowed down enough to use her rear legs to help her climb up the hill.

This past weekend we had the opportunity to work with Duchess, a similarly disabled dachshund who has spastic reflexes but has not progressed to spinal walking in her wheelchair.  Our resident rehab person, Erika McElwey, (www.changeyourrange.com) worked with Duchess on the DogTread and noted that as she fatigued, her spasticity calmed down and she was able to re-pattern her gait.  Here are two videos showing her progress in only one session.



A recent study of humans with spinal cord injuries bears out this thesis: that calming spasticity can help improve function and gait.  Visit this link to learn more: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/feb2013/ninds-05.htm   Good news for humans and dogs!

UPDATE: One week later and one rehab session, see how well Duchess is gaiting on the treadmill with just a little assistance from Erika!

2 Responses to Wheels can be the first step to rehab

  1. Erika November 25, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    Leslie, I am so glad you found this study – recently posted earlier this year yet it explains all the anecdotal evidence that I have with my rehab patients. When asking veterinarians across the country over the last 14 years…What is happening? the answer always, “It’s only spinal walking”…, As apposed to “real walking?”, I would say. How come?, Why?, the answers varied from, “Not quite sure” to “It’s all a mystery”…I even had a veterinary neurologist tell me that I could do all my “phoo-phoo magic” I wanted, because it wouldn’t hurt. He stated directly to me, that the dog (whom I was caring for and rehabilitating at the time) would never walk again. He said that he knew what it looked like inside (as he did the surgery) and there was no chance he ever would. Caine, the 170lb Brazillian Mastiff did walk again, short distances, after therapy program and enjoyed his life!
    After reading this study http://www.nih.gov/news/health/feb2013/ninds-05.htm…gives answers to these questions proving that what I have been doing is really truly therapeutic, not “magic”. Since the beginning of my career, I know what I feel and it’s always made sense to me: 1)Assist Movement; 2.) Obtain a Rhythm; 3.) Find the Balance; 4.) Repeat until it happens without my assistance!
    Since I have found out that the walking we do every day, is that of “Spinal Walking”, as once it’s in our brains memory we do the motion without having to think out the step-by-step process. This became even more understood when working with my daughter, diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 1 years old…Walking was a distance from us with her level of weakness, yet “Spinal Walking” became our goal! I can remember asking myself, “If she were a puppy what would I do?” – The answer, Gait Assistance Therapy – My daughter learned how to walk on a Treadmill, where consistency could be maximized, before she was able to walk on her own let alone run down a small decline with inconsistent footing. At age 2 1/2, my daughter was walking on her own and now at age 4, we are still strengthening her “Spinal Walking”, however she can walk and run with independence. A goal that when we are neurologically normal, can be easily taken for granted. When my nephew was in a tragic car accident, we felt blessed he was still with us. After making it through numerous reconstructive surgeries, rehabilitation was his only hope to lead a healthy life. He had a large amount of brain trauma…portions of his brain had to be removed. The brain, the center that controls our body’s daily functions and movements is no longer whole let alone repairable… It’s been 3 years since his accident and although he has daily challenges his level of “Spinal Walking” is present as well as “Spinal Movements and thoughts” that allow him to work everyday and live a happy & healthy lifestyle.
    These two personal references in my life have allowed me the greater understanding of what’s possible when a disabled canine presents before me. Neurological disability, be it from birth Cerebral Hypoplasia like videos of canine Jake or an aged Spinal Injury, IVDD cases and videos of Albert the French Bulldog; Lucy the Beagle mix; and Dutchess the Dachshund. These are all prime examples of the Canine Comparison that this study (although done on humans) explains. The differences and the possibilities that exist when the cycle of “Spinal Walking”, a learned neurological process achieved as we reach age into our strength-to-growth milestones, becomes interrupted; there is an ability to reeducate the brain and re-pattern to obtain a new cycle of “Spinal Walking”! ~ Change your Range Make~Every~Step~Count!

  2. john diaz January 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    So beautiful Bless your soul

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