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UC Davis Neurologists Help Dog Regain Mobility

May 2, 2016

UC Davis neurologists helped Leah regain mobility after being paralyzed for three weeks following a suspected deer kick to her head.

UC Davis neurologists helped Leah regain mobility after being paralyzed for three weeks following a suspected deer kick to her head.

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“Case of the Month” – May 2016

Leah, a 4-year-old female border collie, got loose from her owner and went missing for the night. When a local veterinary facility found her the next day, they immediately called her owner and informed her of Leah’s injury – a facial laceration that they suspected was the result of a deer kick. Otherwise, she was alert, ambulatory and normal. Her wound was repaired, and Leah was on her way home. Two days later, however, Leah became acutely non-ambulatory. She had minimal motor function in all four limbs, and was unable to sit up on her own.

Leah was then hospitalized with a suspected case of tetanus, a bacterial disease that can severely affect the nervous system. She was treated with an anti-toxin and other supportive care and monitored. Her severe tetraparesis (weakness in all four extremities) did not improve for three weeks. Leah’s veterinarians no longer suspected tetanus and were much more concerned for a spinal cord injury, so they referred her to the UC Davis veterinary hospital.

Once at UC Davis, specialists in the Neurology/Neurosurgery Service performed a CT scan and an MRI to determine the cause of Leah’s condition. She was diagnosed with an atlanto-occipital luxation (dislocation of the skull from the spine) and fractures of the first vertebra and the back of the skull. These injuries were compromising her spine, causing temporary paralysis.

Faculty neurologists Drs. Pete Dickinson and Karen Vernau, along with neurology resident Dr. Devin Ancona, attempted to reduce the luxation via both closed (non-surgical) and open (surgical) approaches. Both attempts were unsuccessful, however, due the amount of fibrous tissue that had built up in the three weeks of healing since the initial injury. Therefore, surgery to decompress Leah’s spinal cord was necessary.

An incision was made behind Leah’s skull to allow the neurosurgeons access to her skull and vertebrae. They drilled away the top of Leah’s first vertebra and a small area of the back of her skull, necessary to open that area and decompress the spinal cord. Following the successful surgery, Leah recovered for the night in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where she received individual monitoring from specially-trained technicians. It was important Leah remain on strict rest without turning or twisting her head overnight. She was moved to the Intermediate Care Ward (ICW) after an uneventful night of rest and recovery.

After two days of recovery in the ICW, where she showed voluntary motor function in her limbs, Leah was transferred to the neurology ward where she continued to improve. By the time Leah was discharged the following day, she was able to support herself lying sternally. Leah’s owner took her home with instructions of strict cage rest and a physical rehabilitation plan with the Integrative Medicine Service once Leah was neurologically stable.

At Leah’s one-month recheck appointment, she had improved significantly and was able to stand without support and take a few steps. She was still considered non-ambulatory given her inability to remain standing and walk without falling, but her improvement over the previous four weeks was suggestive of a positive prognosis for return to ambulation. She was “green lighted” to begin physical rehabilitation with the Integrative Medicine Service.

Following two weeks of physical rehabilitation, Leah was walking on her own. She gradually improved with continued rehabilitation over the next month, and is now rehabbing at a facility closer to home.

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The William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis—a unit of the #1 world ranked School of Veterinary Medicine—provides state-of-the-art clinical care while serving as the primary clinical teaching experience for DVM students and post graduate veterinarian residents. The VMTH treats more than 51,000 animals a year, ranging from cats and dogs to horses, cows and exotic species. To learn more about the VMTH, please go to Timely news updates can be received on its Facebook ( and Twitter ( pages.

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