A Dog With Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Story Part 1

It started off as a normal winter afternoon. I had been home from work for a while. The weather was warm enough for the dogs to hang out in the yard. I sat wearing my warm coat and watching them from a chair in the sunshine.

Suddenly, a squirrel thumped down onto the fence and started running. I have a privacy fence all the way around the yard, and the squirrels run the length of two sides of it, using it as a highway from one tree to another. Clara enjoys running the fence after the squirrels, or even sometimes, by accident, ahead of them. This time Zani joined in. I watched because it is always entertaining. The dogs ran side by side.

Zani landed in the narrow space between that bush and the fence

Something happened so fast that even though I was watching, I didn’t exactly see it. But I heard a loud bump as a dog hit the fence, then I saw Zani lying very still on the ground on her side, right next to the fence. It had happened where there is a bush close to the fence, so my guess is that Clara ran Zani into the fence when the way got narrow. Zani landed facing the opposite direction she had been running, so she probably had two blows to her head and/or body: one when she hit the fence and another when she landed.

I don’t remember getting across the yard, but I got there fast. As I approached, Zani had a couple of spasms or seizures. Otherwise, she lay still on her side, too still, her eyes open.

I thought her neck was broken. Or her back. I thought she was going to die right there in my hands. But she didn’t. She kept breathing, her heart kept beating, and her eyes moved a little. But otherwise, she was completely still.

I texted my friend Ruth to come get us to take us to the vet and said I thought Zani’s neck was broken. I knelt there for a few minutes with my hands on her, murmuring to her. She was conscious but so still. Finally, I decided I should try to pick her up. I had to do something. I was still kneeling. I slid her away from between the fence and the bush and picked up her dead weight. I began to stand up, then I fell over backward. My yard is sloped. I managed to cushion her fall as I rolled onto my back.

I regrouped and strained to my feet. I carried her up the hill and up 12 steps into my house. The climb was exhausting. She is only 20 pounds, but she was a dead weight. I was trying to support her and not let her just hang there. I never knew how heavy 20 pounds of limp dog could be.

Ruth came and picked us up and drove to the vet, about 10 minutes away. I called them while we were en route.

When we got there, Ruth came around to the passenger’s side to take Zani from me because I had serious doubts about my ability to safely exit the car holding Zani’s dead weight.

Day 1: About three hours after the accident

At the Vet: Brain Concussion or Spinal Cord Injury?

The vet took the history quickly and examined Zani’s pupils for signs of a concussion. She dangled her above the floor and saw that she could not stand. Not even close. She rushed her for a steroid shot to limit swelling and took X-rays. At the time we didn’t know whether she had a concussion or a spinal injury or both. The X-rays looked good but could not show all the details we needed. It did look like nothing was fractured. The vet delineated the possibilities: all sorts of things that could be wrong with her head, spinal cord, or discs, including FCE, or fibrocartilaginous embolism. She recommended a CT scan to look for smaller fractures and damage to the spine. I agreed readily, even though it meant putting her under anesthesia. All this time Zani was dazed, but not completely out of it. She didn’t evidence any pain.

The CT results were very good. The vet said over and over how lucky we were. She and the internal medicine specialist at the clinic concurred that Zani probably had a spinal cord concussion. (If you do a web search on “spinal cord concussion,” most of your results will involve football players.) I asked what to expect, and she said she thought Zani could have a full recovery. Over time, she would regain the ability to walk. I should allow her to be ambulatory as she was able. If there were bruising of the spinal cord, then the prognosis was not quite as good.

I took my still-completely-limp dog home, wondering how hard it was going to be to take care of her.

Day 5: Hey! Steroids make me hungry!

More of the story to come. The injury happened on February 8th. So as not to leave you in suspense, Zani’s recovery is going very well. Her quadriplegia was transient. She has regained more leg function and balance every day.  Her appetite has been excellent throughout, her pain seems minimal, and she has been amazingly cooperative, especially considering the extent of her injury. (I think she could probably get an award as the only dog stricken with a spinal cord concussion and sudden quadriplegia who never eliminated in the house—even when I wanted her to.)

Here is a video of how limp she was for the first 24 hours or so.

I debated whether to post about this since it’s ongoing and personal, but finally decided to. I request that people don’t make medical or supplement recommendations. I have an excellent vet team, including access to a rehab specialist.

Thanks for caring about my little dog.

Day 8: Catching some rays

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

Related Post

Part 2: Dog with Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Recovery on Video


28 thoughts on “A Dog With Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Story Part 1

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m so glad she is doing better. Zani’s experience will help us all. It just shows that you never know what can happen and we need to hug our dogs often.

  2. Oh, Eileen – I can’t even imagine what that first hour felt like. So glad you have a great medical team to work with. Zani is a real trouper; glad to hear that she’s gradually making progress.

    We have had two near-disastrous collisions in our back yard too (two different dogs, two different injuries, several years apart); one can’t prevent every accident and still allow dogs to have a life worth living. Though right now it may seem like covering the world in bubble wrap would be nice…

    Sending healing thoughts to all of you, Clara included!

    Chris from Boise

    PS Friends like Ruth are worth their weight in gold. As are rehab specialists.

  3. Dear Eileen (and Zani and Clara),
    We, my husband (and Chiwee, Maggie and Billy) and I (Jo-Anne) are so sorry to hear about this and are so glad that Zani is doing so well!
    How terrified you must have been! Your wonderful blog has influenced John, our resident passionate amateur dog trainer, so much and is always such an inspiring and fascinating read.
    All our best healing vibes to dear sweet Zani. Hoping she makes a quick, and full recovery.
    The Goyder pack, in Ontario, Canada.

  4. Glad she’s doing better, & that you have such a good team to work with.
    And for the rest of us, a heads-up to think about what we might use as an emergency stretcher in such an situation; a piece of plywood with leashes tied around for handles, a plastic sled, a table leaf, even a tray if the dog is small enough.
    I know from personal experience that an emergency plan will pop back into my head if I need it, even if I have literally not thought of it in 10 years.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. Your readers have come to know and love your dogs through the words and videos you share so generously. Sending best wishes for Zany’s swift recovery.

  6. So glad that Zani is improving. Thank you for sharing your story. We can all understand the terror and panic when something like this happens. I have learned so much by following your Blog.

    Thanks too to nina’smum. I have a 70 pound Ridgeback mix. My husband and I will be figuring out what we have to use as an emergency stretcher. We may need to create one from plywood.

    Keep healing, precious Zani.

  7. Oh my goodness, how traumatic … for Zani and in a different way, for you, Eileen. I’m glad to hear she’s gaining strength and hope her recovery continues.

  8. I did once have a beloved dog break her neck and die in my arms; it took a long time to recover from the shock of how everything can change in an instant from happy to tragedy. I am so glad to know Zani is improving steadily, and I hope it means she is well on the way to a full recovery.

    Another thanks to nina’s mum – I think I shall find a board or piece of stiff plastic to fit the base of the car crate, so as to always know where to find it in an emergency.

  9. What a frightening story! I’m so pleased that Zani is recovering. Her tolerance of her condition must have been helped by her 100% trust in you. Best wishes for a complete recovery.

  10. I am so glad that the recovery is going well. I have learned so much from your common sense approach to dogs that I have been able to apply to my senior dog.

  11. Many thanks for sharing. We all learn from your experience, especially when it is personal.

  12. Oh My! How incredibly scary! thank you for taking the time to share this very personal story – I learn so much from your posts. So glad that Zani is on the mend!

  13. So sorry for Zani, and for you, Eileen. I cannot imagine how frightening it had to be for you to see her go from racing the wind to limp and paralyzed. So happy that she is recovering so well, and I hope that she makes a full recovery quickly.

  14. Sending lots of “power of the paw” for Zani’s recovery. We had a dog who had something similar happen about 25 years ago. He completely recovered. He was treated very similarly although we didn’t have CT available to us so we were less certain of what injury we were dealing with. He ended up living to the grand old age of 16 years (ancient for a Lab) and, after his recovery, showed no signs that he’d ever had such a bad thing happen.

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