Dog Rehabilitation Exercises for Dog Neurological Conditions: Natural Treatments for Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM) 

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Raising Your Pets, Dogs and Cats Naturally

Canine Rehabilitation Centers and Treatment Success

An Interview with Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia founder of Animal Rehabilitation Facility (located in Dexter, Michigan)

Dog Rehabilitation Exercises for Dog Neurological Conditions: Natural Treatments for Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM). I reached out to one of Dexter's holistic veterinarians, Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia. Dr. Cardeccia focuses on animal rehabilitation and natural healing methods including acupuncture, food therapy, chiropractic, Reiki, and herbology. We both agreed that there were more natural rehabilitation exercises and work I could be doing with Dexter to improve his conscious proprioception and to hopefully help decrease his head bobbing and wobbles (back end weakness).
K9 Rehabilitation for Dogs

For my followers already familiar with my blog, you know that Dexter The Dog is battling some serious medical conditions. For my new fans, a little fill-in may be necessary. My seven-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dexter, was diagnosed with Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM) just before his third birthday. CM is basically when the skull is too small to hold the brain, causing pressure on the cerebellum and medulla, and obstructing normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. You can compare this to holding your finger over half of the opening of a hose; that pressure then causes fluid-filled cavities within the spinal cord, SM. This is a very painful, progressive and incurable disease in both dogs and humans.

I provide Dexter a variety of natural solutions including food therapy, herbs, supplements, monitoring his exercise, and unfortunately, some pharmaceuticals. This past year I’ve noticed Dexter “shuffling” his back feet instead of picking them up. Dexter is not picking his back feet up properly due to his lack of conscious proprioception. This is a lack of awareness he is getting from his back feet to his brain, likely due to his neurological condition. About five months back, Dexter started wearing Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips for Dogs to help (read how). He has had improvement and his toes are not nearly as worn as before the ToeGrips.

But now, he’s starting to do a little head bopping and wobbling. I felt it was time to look into what else I could do to help improve the quality of Dexter’s life. I reached out to one of Dexter’s holistic veterinarians, Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia. Dr. Cardeccia focuses on animal rehabilitation and natural healing methods including acupuncture, food therapy, chiropractic, Reiki, and herbology. We both agreed that there were more natural rehabilitation exercises and work I could be doing with Dexter to improve his conscious proprioception and to hopefully help decrease his head bobbing and wobbles (back end weakness).

I’ve been taking Dexter to Dr. Cardeccia weekly for the past 6 weeks and working daily at home with some of his canine rehabilitation exercises. I will go into more detail in future blogs, but today I wanted to do a little Q & A with Dr. Cardeccia on exactly what we are doing and why. Hopefully, this article will reach other pet parents who may find themselves in a similar situation and help them know that there is hope and that as pet parents we have a lot of natural options to help improve our pet’s lives. We must always be our pet’s advocate and keep looking and searching for solutions.

Interview with Dr. Cardeccia

I’m the kind of person who wants to know more than just what to do, I try to find out the why and how. I feel this allows me to get a better understanding of what is going on and to continue to make the best choices about Dexter’s care accordingly.

I asked Dr. Cardeccia how and why Dexter’s neurological condition makes him drag his back feet vs picking them up properly.

“Because with the SM there is pressure on his spinal cord (from the pockets cerebrospinal fluid that form within the spinal cord near the brain) it is interfering with the nerves of proprioception, which are on the outer portion of the spinal cord. Proprioception is the internal sense that tells you where your body parts are without your having to look at them, so he is not actually fully aware of where his feet are, and that is why he drags them.”

What is the purpose of doing his footwork? What is it doing?

“The footwork is to help retrain the nerves of proprioception so that he will be more aware of his feet. Some of it can also help to strengthen his core muscles, which will further improve his balance. This is why we want him to go slowly when he is doing these types of exercises. Even if the pressure on his spinal cord is now resolved, if it was there for long enough, the nerves will still be compromised and we need to remind them of what their job is.”

Do we have an end in sight for Dexter’s rehab exercises, or will we need to practice these exercises for life?

“I think a little bit of both. It is our hope that by doing the rehabilitation exercises with him, we will improve his current level of function and get him up to a new plateau; however, given that he has a chronic underlying condition, doing some of the proprioception and core strengthening exercises with him on an ongoing basis will likely help to maintain him at a higher level of function long term.”

During Dexter’s first evaluation, Dr. Cardeccia found a pulled groin muscle. I asked her to explain a little about her thoughts on why he pulled his muscle.

“Dexter strained his iliopsoas muscle, which is made up of the psoas and iliacus muscles.   Between them, they run from the upper lumbar region (just behind his rib cage) along the underside of his vertebrae and pelvis, and attach at the top of his inner thigh. This is a major core muscle, flexing the hip and spine, and is easy to strain when you are having balance issues and having to accommodate for them. He also may have splayed out on the floor at some point if he slipped, which is a common way to ‘pull’ this muscle. In Dexter’s case, I think that he strained the iliopsoas (groin) muscle opposite his weaker leg since he was taking over more of the weight bearing and steering with his ‘good’ side.”

One of the main focuses with Dexter’s canine rehabilitation exercises is to build his core strength. Dr. Cardeccia explains why this is so important.

“Since Dexter is having some issues with balance and not being fully aware of where his hind feet are, including core strengthening in his program will help to improve his balance and ability to adapt, even if for some reason we were not able to get him to actually be any more aware of where his hind feet are.   This core strength will help him not to lose his balance as often, and allows him to accommodate for the occasional loss of balance more easily.”

Dexter has a variety of core strength exercises that he can do on a twice daily basis. I asked her if there is a difference between the exercises. For example, is the larger ball vs. smaller ball vs. working on an air mattresses.

“Some of the core exercises are focusing on different muscle groups, or using them in different ways. For example, standing on or walking across the air mattress focuses more on his abdominal and back muscles in general, while putting his front feet up on a balance ball focuses more on the muscles of his lower abdomen/back and hind legs.   Using a taller ball or less stable ball increases the difficulty of the exercise. By having him do a variety of different exercises we are hoping to maximize the effect of his program in improving his balance and mobility.”

Canine Rehab Video Clip

Dr. Cardeccia wanted to start Dexter on the canine water treadmill. Her animal rehabilitation facility also offers pool therapy, so I asked her why she chose the treadmill vs. the pool for Dexter.

“While hydrotherapy in either a pool or underwater treadmill can be of benefit in a strengthening program, with Dex I am focused on getting him more aware of where those hind feet are as well. Exaggerating his gait while walking through the water serves double duty; it strengthens his legs and core, as well as helping to improve his proprioception.   In addition, I chose the UWTM as our goal is to improve his daily function, and a swimming gait pattern is different that a walking gait pattern. Therefore, using the UWTM is more logical if we are retraining gait in a neurological patient.”

When Dexter feels good, he is a very playful and frisky dog. However, it was during his play that I would see more of his head bobs and hind end weakness. I thought it was imperative to ask Dr. Cardeccia what activities he should avoid and why.

“For now, we want to limit his activities if he is struggling with the coordination to successfully accomplish them. For example, if he is scrambling to find his footing when playing ball, he may injure himself as he rushes to get it if he loses control of his feet and splays out on the floor, or takes a tumble. It is not that he is necessarily going to make his SM symptoms worse, as much as that he is likely to injure something else because he is not in control of his body.”

I’m very lucky with Dexter and his confidence. He is always eager to try new things and tackles new things with gusto. As a dog trainer, I am continually working with puppies and working on confidence boosting games including walking on new textures, wobbly surfaces, and novel equipment.

I asked her if Dexter’s canine rehabilitation exercises would be suitable for puppies.

“In general, yes, using exercises to improve balance and proprioception can be very good for puppies, no matter what their future “job” will be. Helping puppies to be more body aware can prevent injuries in sporting of working dogs as adults, and the balance and proprioception exercises are low impact so could be safe for puppies who are still growing.   Of course, you would want to consult with your veterinarian before starting any rigorous exercise program for your dog.”

Over the last six weeks, I’ve seen a huge improvement in Dexter’s energy and spunk. This proves to me that these exercises and treatments are working. We also had proof in the pudding when Dr. Cardeccia measured his muscle mass. Previously, his one back thigh was smaller and weaker than the other. Now, at his follow-up, they both are larger, and more importantly, his weaker leg has caught up with the other! That is amazing news! I am just so tickled with Dexter’s improvement—this little boy means the world to me. I can’t thank Dr. Cardeccia and her team at Animal Rehabilitation Facility (located in Dexter, Michigan) enough for helping my little boy improve his quality of life. <3


Have you taken any of your pets through rehab? Tell me in the comments.

Dog Rehabilitation Exercises for Dog Neurological Conditions: Natural Treatments for Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM). I reached out to one of Dexter's holistic veterinarians, Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia. Dr. Cardeccia focuses on animal rehabilitation and natural healing methods including acupuncture, food therapy, chiropractic, Reiki, and herbology. We both agreed that there were more natural rehabilitation exercises and work I could be doing with Dexter to improve his conscious proprioception and to hopefully help decrease his head bobbing and wobbles (back end weakness).
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116 thoughts on “Dog Rehabilitation Exercises for Dog Neurological Conditions: Natural Treatments for Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM) 

  1. A very interesting read! Sorry to hear that Dexter is having some troubles. It sounds like you’ve got a great doctor though! How awesome that you have seen improvement since he’s been doing the recommended exercises and treatments! Sending purrs and prayers that he continues to improve!

  2. I’m so sorry that you and Dexter are dealing with this terrible disease. He’s really lucky to have you advocating for him and making sure he gets the best treatment and therapy possible. I loved the exercise videos as well. I’ve been doing rehab exercises with my dog Roxie, who had leg surgery 8 weeks ago. I may have to add some of these to her rehab routine as well. One question.. what size exercise ball are you using? I’ve been wanting to get one, but I only seem to find the really large ones. Thanks and keep up the great work you two!

  3. I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with this and hope Dexter’s spunk and energy continues to come back. Great questions though and such an interesting read. I think knowing the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ can give us a lot of piece of mind when dealing with complex health issues.

    1. Actually, they are trying to figure that out. It’s sooo far down their genes, it’s been difficult. A handful of breeders are now doing MRIs to the breeding dogs. Dexter actually came from an exceptional breeder, but genetics just are what they are.

  4. Wonderful article! I was surprised to see the yoga ball being used for dog rehab. We use these as chairs in my office! Good to know they’re not just good for humans.

  5. We are so sorry you are dealing with all this but are blessed to have found such an amazing vet, we have been following you on this journey and amazed at how his spunk has come back.

    1. <3 Thank you. Me too. When I think back to when he was diagnosed I thought it was the end. Then, with the help of Dr. Mary and Dr. Judy, Dexter is back. He loves life and wants to keep active. He has a very active soul.

  6. Sorry to hear about what’s been going on with Dexter, but I can’t imagine him being in any more capable hands. The commitment you show and the care you give him is incredible, if only more people showed that same level of love and compassion to their own animals.

  7. Awee was that actually Dexter making those whiny sounds in the interview video? LOL Too cute. What a wonderful doctor you have for Dexter! I also love the obstacle course you sat up for him (second video) I am going to do that for our Lyla!
    Dexter is such a beautiful pup and you are a wonderful doggie mama!

  8. Well, mom thought she was going through a lot with Taffy but after reading this she knows that there are others that have a lot more to deal with like Dexter. It sounds like he has a long and challenging road ahead but he is getting the best care available. Love Dolly

  9. I’ve been keeping tabs on developments with Dexter, and I’m so glad that you’ve gotten some comprehensive answers from your knowledgeable veterinarian. What an amazing resource! I’m so glad she was willing to share the how and why to many of your questions.

    Please keep up posted on how Dexter is doing. In the meantime, please know we’re thinking of you.

  10. Thank you for sharing Dexter’s journey. I’m so sorry you both have to experience this… I am glad to hear that you are seeing improvement. I found the interview very interesting and it’s so good to have a great vet. My Gibson had epilepsy, and I, too, was fortunate to have an amazing vet team. Gib also did rehab, actually was in a constant state of rehab for the last several years. Thank you again for sharing his journey and bringing awareness to this condition. Stay strong, Dexter!

  11. This is so amazing to me. I’ve never had to do rehab with any of my pets so this is all new to me. Dexter has been through so much, I’m glad to see he has shown so much improvement and appears to have a great doctor – not to mention a wonderfully tenacious Mom, willing to move heaven & earth for him!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  12. This is so great to hear. I had no idea there was rehab for dogs, but if we ever get another one and he needs it, it’s good to know it’s an option.

  13. I have never heard of a place like this! My dog is much older now (18 year old labrador) so she isn’t getting around as much. Wonder if she would be able to do some of those exercises?

  14. A very interesting read! . I loved the exercise videos as well. I’ve been doing rehab exercises with my dog oreo. Thank you for sharing your journey with him too.

  15. I don’t own a pet, but I do work at a vet school and this is something I watch our veterinarians and professors do often with our dogs. It’s so lovely to see them getting the support they need.

  16. It’s so sad to hear about what’s been going on with Dexter, but I’m sure he’ll get better soon. The love & commitment you show is incredible.

  17. It is a big burden for you to take care of the poor dexter. What a blessing for him to have you. I also have four cats and a dog. For us, our animals are also our children. Great blog. And all the best for you and Dexter.

  18. I am so sorry, to hear that dexter is poorly. I am also so grateful that he is getting the medical attention and care needed to help him have a better life.

  19. I’m glad you were able to get some answers to your questions about Dexter’s condition! It’s good to hear that rehabilitation has been such a help!

  20. Dexter is such a cutie, sorry you are going through this. We have a wiener dog and we thought we were going to have to go to rehab because he injured his back but it was just bruised.

  21. Very interesting read. Great to see a pet owner having such commitment to their pet and doing awesome rehab at home. I am sure it takes a lot of time but dogs are part of the family. Dexter is lucky to have an owner like you!

  22. We haven’t but a friend was just telling me about everything involved with her dog’s surgery. She’s had to adjust a lot of things at home to help him out.

  23. Oh my .. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize your family was living with this. It’s not the same .. but when our first pug was 8 or 9 years old .. one morning he woke up paralyzed from the neck down. We rushed him to the vet ER and the surgeon was able to repair the disk that was pushing on his spinal column. I swear afterward he was like a little kid (dog) again. Fortunately we didn’t have to do any rehab. Reading your post .. it’s so amazing how much of a difference a few simple exercises can make!

  24. Awe poor Dexter. I have never heard of this condition in a dig before. He is so adorable. He is so lucky to have a a great owner like you.

  25. My dog Riley has been in therapy for some time now. We just finished his last session. I think it’s great that these doctors do what they can to help our fur babies get back in shape.

  26. This is amazing! It’s awesome to see how much progress your dog is making. I wish both of you well and admire you for your strength and dedication.

  27. Dexter is so adorable. And you make him to be a part of the family with all that you are doing for him. I am sure he appreciates it and loves all of you so much. I know when my dog was getting along in years she had similar problems. I will have to remember this for the future.

  28. I am so sorry Dexter is having so much trouble! Hopefully the rehabilitation will really help him. Our 4 legged family members are just as important as our 2 legged family members and it is so nice that you are helping him to improve his quality of life.

  29. Sorry for Dexter! I don’t have any pet myself but lots of people around me do have, mainly little dogs. It’s so important to take care of their health, both physical nad mental as well. I have noticed that it’s a huge job just like rising a child.

  30. I’m glad that Dexter is doing well now and the rehabilitation is a great help. It’s good to know that there’s still hope for the furbabies with this condition. And this post is a great help for those people with the same problem. Thank you for not giving up! I have high respect to humans who always do their best for their furbabie!

  31. Poor Dexter sorry to hear that he was diagnosed with a cranial defect and it affects his walking. However the canine rehab therapy sounds great and it is good that you are raising awareness of the exercises you can do to help your doggy x

  32. I’m one of those people who has a weak spot for animals!!! I almost like animals more than people. Glad to see places like this exist!

  33. A lot medical terms, but you defined them pretty well. I admired what you do to improve Dexter’s life quality. Even though his medical condition is incurable, you went out of your way to care for him. He is lucky to have a owner like you.

  34. Have not had to deal with rehab with my dog. He does have a medical issue which means 12 pills a day and he cannot go natural remedies since I am afraid he would not survive if I got him off them. He has congestive heart failure. I want him around and do not want to risk anything with him. Hope he lives a long time.

  35. I’m sorry to hear about Dexter,I have a cat of my own, and I could not imagine how hard it will be if she was sick. Wish all the luck in the world.

  36. I’m so sorry to hear about Dexter. I hope he continues to improve. I think it is great there are things you can do to help him, just like with people. Pets really are apart of the family so when they get sick, it is important to give them the same care you would a family member. You are an awesome mom to Dexter! Rooting for him all the way from Kentucky! Go Dexter!

  37. Oh no, I am so sorry to hear your dog Dexter has such an awful disease 🙁 I had a dog and I understand what you feel, glad to hear that rehabilitation helps him! Wish you all the luck in the world!

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