Canine Rehabilitation Centers and Treatment Success
An Interview with Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia founder of Animal Rehabilitation Facility (located in Dexter, Michigan)
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
- More on keeping your dog mobile
- Canine Rehabilitation Institute
- University of Tennesse Canine Rehabilitation
Have you taken any of your pets through rehab? Tell me in the comments.
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