CASSIE, A NEW MUM WITH A FRACTURED SPINE

Cassie was only eighteen months old when she first came to see the VSA team in Christchurch. She had recently given birth to her first litter of puppies and was a proud new mum of nine little huskies. Three weeks after their birth, she was having a bit of a break and was playing outside when she was hit and rolled by a quad bike. She managed to walk back to her owners before collapsing and was then rushed to the after-hours vet clinic.

When she arrived, Cassie was in pain and unable to use her back legs, although she could still wag her tail at people!

She was started on intravenous fluids and strong pain relief. Radiographs (X-rays) of her spine were taken which showed a compression fracture of the 5th vertebra in her lumbar spine (l5).

Cassie was well looked after by the after hours team overnight and was transferred to VSA the next day for further evaluation and treatment.

 

x-ray showing cassie's compression fracture

Initial radiography/x-ray showing a compression fracture of Cassie’s L5 vertebra

When Cassie arrived at VSA she was still laterally incumbent and couldn’t walk. She had reduced reflexes in her left hindlimb which indicated some dysfunction to the nerves traveling to her left leg but luckily, she was still able to feel and move both back legs by herself. Dr Alastair Coomer recommended a CT scan of her spine as soon as possible to further evaluate the degree of trauma and make a plan on how to fix her spine. Meanwhile, Cassie’s nine puppies had to stay at home with their human family so that she could rest and recover quietly in hospital.

A CT scan was performed the next day which confirmed that Cassie had multiple fractures through the pedicle, the lamina the articular facet and the body of her 5th lumbar vertebra. Being a more sensitive imaging modality, the CT also showed that the disc space between the 5th and 6th lumbar vertebrae was misaligned and there had been both ventral (downwards) and lateral (sideways, away from the midline) displacement of the caudal (back) part of Cassie’s vertebral column.

CT Scan showing cassie's compression fracture

CT Images of a normal L5 vertebra (left) and Cassie’s L5 vertebra (right) with multiple fractures

Dr Coomer reviewed the CT images and the next day Cassie was taken to surgery to stabilise her spine. The fractured vertebra was identified and the spinal column was realigned back into its normal position. The spine was then stabilised using two metal ‘string of pearl’ (SOP) plates. These plates spanned three of her vertebrae which provided stability to her spine and were held securely in place by a total of 10 screws.

The surgery was a success and Cassie spent the night in hospital recovering from her big procedure.

x-ray showing cassie's compression fracture

post-operative radiographs showing Cassie’s fracture stabilisation with SOP plates and screws.

With her new bionic back, Cassie was up and walking the very next day, with only a little support from a sling. She was able to go home and see all her puppies again, although she would need to be confined to a crate for the next 6 weeks to help with healing. Cassie became a regular at the veterinary physio, stretching and strengthening her muscles to help her back to tip-top shape. 

Two and a half weeks after surgery, Cassie was doing incredibly well. She was able to stand by herself and walk for short periods before getting tired. She was building up the muscles in her legs and although she still had some reduced reflexes in her left hind left this was expected to continue improving with time.

Unfortunately, Cassie re-presented to the after-hours clinic two days later as she had become suddenly painful and was not herself. She was diagnosed with Pyometra, a severe infection of her uterus, and underwent another surgery to perform an ovariohysterectomy (spey). Once again, she recovered well from the procedure and was discharged the next day. She was welcomed home by her babies and whilst Cassie won’t be having any more puppies in the future, these nine have kept her busy enough!

Since her surgeries, Cassie has continued to make excellent progress. Recovering from spinal surgery for a dog is no mean feat. It takes a lot of work, a deteremined dog and very committed human parents. Cassie is one lucky lady to have all three and she is well on the way to a full recovery.

She’s getting regular physio and hydrotherapy, has started going to longer walks and will be back to running around and being a typical husky in no time at all!

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