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Hugo's Journey Through Health and Healing: Advocacy, Diagnosis, and Rehabilitation


Dear Bianca's Dog Training community,


For this month’s blog post I find myself compelled to share a narrative that not only highlights the resilience of our canine companions but also emphasizes the vital role of advocacy in navigating the complexities of their health. This story centers around Hugo, my beloved 4.5-year-old Boston Terrier, whose recent medical journey through Tethered Cord Syndrome (TCS) has been both a challenge and an enlightening experience.


Understanding Hugo’s Pre-existing Conditions

Before delving into the TCS diagnosis, it's crucial to acknowledge Hugo's existing medical conditions that complicated his health landscape. Hugo has been under the watchful eye of the neurology department at Canada West Veterinary Specialists for three years, where his hydrocephalus was first diagnosed. Hydrocephalus is a condition where cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain, potentially impacting neurological function and general health significantly. Fortunately, Hugo is currently not experiencing any major effects from this condition, and we remain hopeful that his condition will remain stable for many years to come. Additionally, Hugo has fused cervical vertebrae, which restrict movement and contribute to his discomfort.


Successful Management of Hugo’s Cervical Pain
Hugo, white and grey Boston Terrier is representing the St John's Ambulance Therapy Dog Program
Hugo's St. John Therapy Dog card

Despite these challenges, we found success in managing Hugo's pain and enhancing his quality of life through a combination of acupuncture, cold laser therapy, and the administration of an osteoarthritis drug called Librela. These treatments allowed Hugo to maintain an active lifestyle, including his invaluable work as a St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog. This phase of successful pain management underscores the effectiveness of a multidisciplinary approach to veterinary care.




The Road to a TCS Diagnosis

Hugo's journey towards diagnosing Tethered Cord Syndrome began in earnest following a consultation with his neurologist due to the worsening of his symptoms. Hugo's health odyssey began subtly, with initial signs of hind leg “muscle spasms” (the first couple of times I wondered if he might have stepped in a bee or cut his paw on something) and a noticeable change in his gait. These early symptoms, seemingly benign at first glance, progressively evolved, painting a concerning picture of discomfort and distress. Hugo's reluctance to engage in activities he previously enjoyed, such as sleeping on my lap all curled up, jumping onto logs or benches, coupled with increased house accidents and a visible change in his coat's texture and colour in the lumbar region (lower back), signaled that something was amiss.

Hugo, Boston Terrier, showing with a hunched back, piloerection on lower back, uneven gait, right hind leg is far out behind his body
Hugo before his neurosurgery




You can see in the pictures his hunched back, piloerection (hackles) visible on his lower back, his right hind leg is way out compared to the left hind leg being positioned under his body.





Hugo, Boston Terrier, showing with a hunched back, piloerection on lower back, uneven gait, right hind leg is far out behind his body
Hugo before his neurosurgery for Tethered Cord Syndrome


He had also developed food allergies over the same time period and would have bad skin inflammations on his legs. His coat in these spots, once they were healed, didn’t grow back as fast as it usually would, another sign of his body experiencing stress. These symptoms or as I called them “flare ups” weren’t consistent, they would occur every 2 to 3 weeks but increased in frequency.



The complexity of Hugo's condition necessitated a thorough investigation, leading us to book another consult with his neurologist.


An exhaustive series of diagnostics, including CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays, was undertaken. These advanced imaging techniques revealed the true extent of Hugo's condition: Tethered Cord Syndrome, a rare but significant ailment where the spinal cord is abnormally attached within the spinal canal, restricting its movement and leading to a range of neurological symptoms.


For those interested in deepening their understanding of Tethered Cord Syndrome and its impact on dogs, I recommend this insightful video by Anthony DeMarinis https://demarinisdogtraining.com/, a fellow dog behaviour consultant whose dog is also afflicted: Understanding Tethered Cord Syndrome.


The Path to Neurosurgery

Hugo, Boston Terrier, with large surgery incision on lower back
Hugo 28 hours after neurosurgery for Tethered Cord Syndrome

The diagnosis of TCS led to the decision that neurosurgery was necessary for Hugo.



This invasive procedure marked the beginning of a new chapter in Hugo's journey, one filled with hope for alleviation of his symptoms and an improvement in his quality of life.

 




Embarking on a Path to Recovery

Following the TCS diagnosis and neurosurgery, Hugo embarked on an intensive six-week recovery program, meticulously designed to support his healing process. This regimen encompasses:

Boston Terrier walking in water treadmill during hydrotherapy rehabilitation therapy
Hydrotherapy for dog recovering from surgery


  • Hydrotherapy Sessions:  Utilizing water's therapeutic benefits to strengthen Hugo's muscles and improve circulation.




  • Acupuncture Treatments: 

Hugo, Boston Terrier, sleeping during an acupuncture treatment with several acupuncture needles in his body
acupuncture for post operative rehabilitation therapy for Boston Terrier Hugo

Enhancing Hugo's neurological function and alleviating discomfort through natural healing stimulation, with regular visits to our Veterinary acupuncturist Dr. Marketa Sattran at Sunnyside Veterinary Office having been a staple in our schedule for the last two years. We increased the frequency of our visits from monthly to weekly for the 6 week period.



Hugo, Boston Terrier, enjoying cold laser treatment
Cold Laser therapy as part of postoperative rehabilitation therapy for dog

  • Cold Laser Therapy: 


Promoting cell regeneration and reducing inflammation to hasten Hugo's surgical site healing.



  • Massage and Skin Rolling: 


Essential daily routines that relieve muscle tension, enhance flexibility, and provide relaxation, aiding Hugo's recovery.


Given Hugo's surgery's invasive nature, his post-operative care incorporates strict restrictions (no stairs or jumping on and off any furniture for 6 weeks, no play with Izzy), emphasizing the importance of a controlled environment for his recovery.


In-Depth Examination of Hugo's Rehabilitation Exercises

Hugo's post-diagnosis recovery journey involves a structured rehabilitation program aimed at enhancing his mobility, strength, and overall life quality.


Key exercises include:

  • Cavaletti Training: Enhances Hugo's coordination and muscle strength by navigating obstacles set to match the distance between his feet, ensuring precision in every step.


Boston Terrier doing Cavaletti Training: Enhances Hugo's coordination and muscle strength by navigating obstacles set to match the distance between his feet, ensuring precision in every step.Enhances Hugo's coordination and muscle strength by navigating obstacles set to match the distance between his feet, ensuring precision in every step.
Cavaletti Training

  • Figure 8s: Boosts agility and flexibility, promoting beneficial ranges of motion for his recovery.

Figure 8s: Boosts agility and flexibility, promoting beneficial ranges of motion for his recovery.
Figure 8s


  • Cookies Stretch – Nose to Toes: Encourages deep stretching, engaging muscles gently to aid overall mobility.

Cookies Stretch – Nose to Toes: Encourages deep stretching, engaging muscles gently to aid overall mobility.
Cookies Stretch – Nose to Toes


  • Passive Range of Motion Exercises and Sensory Stimulation: Maintain joint flexibility, prevent muscle atrophy, and support neural function, critical for Hugo's comprehensive rehabilitation.

Passive Range of Motion Exercises and Sensory Stimulation: Maintain joint flexibility, prevent muscle atrophy, and support neural function, critical for Hugo's comprehensive rehabilitation.
Passive Range of Motion Exercises


  • Daily Walks: Maintaining Routine and Stimulating Recovery: In addition to these targeted exercises, Hugo enjoys 3-4 daily walks, each lasting approximately 10 minutes. These walks are essential for maintaining his routine, providing gentle stimulation for his recovery, and ensuring he remains engaged with his environment.


If you want to learn more about these exercises please feel free to ask or check out Canada West Veterinary Specialists Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/@canadawestvets


The combination of these exercises, carefully selected by the Rehabilitation Therapy Team

at Canada West Veterinary Specialists and executed once a week at the hospital while I practice these exercises with him at home daily, forms the cornerstone of Hugo's rehabilitation. Each activity is tailored to meet his specific needs, ensuring a balanced approach to his recovery. This program not only aids in Hugo's physical rehabilitation but also fosters his mental well-being, ensuring he remains positive and motivated throughout this journey.


Thank you, Trupanion Pet Insurance

The comprehensive and specialized care that Hugo receives, from his diagnosis through to his ongoing rehabilitation and pain management, has been made feasible by a decision my husband and I made when Hugo was just a puppy – enrolling him in a pet insurance plan with Trupanion. Having pet insurance has been nothing short of a lifesaver, not only providing peace of mind but also making it possible to afford medical care of the highest standard for Hugo.


The financial aspect of managing a pet's health can be daunting, especially when faced with complex conditions requiring advanced diagnostics and continuous therapy. Hugo's journey, involving several CT scans, MRI's, X-rays, not to mention his ongoing need for medication and rehabilitation therapy, underscores how quickly medical bills can accumulate. Trupanion has been instrumental in covering 90 % of these costs, ensuring Hugo receives the best possible care without financial constraints.


Boston Terrier curled up under a blanket having a nap
Hugo waking up from "post exercises" nap


However, it's crucial to approach pet insurance with diligence. Reading and understanding the policy details thoroughly cannot be overstated. It's essential to weigh what is most important for you and your pet, comparing quotes and considering what each plan covers. I am confident that your veterinarian can offer invaluable guidance in making this significant decision. Investing in pet insurance is not just about mitigating financial risks; it's about ensuring your beloved pet has access to the care they deserve, when they need it the most. Hugo's story exemplifies the profound difference that such a decision can make in a pet's life.


As we reach the midpoint of Hugo's six-week recovery journey on March 1st, I find myself reflecting on the progress we've made and the invaluable lessons learned along the way. Hugo's battle with Tethered Cord Syndrome has not only showcased his remarkable resilience but also highlighted the critical importance of our role as vigilant advocates for our pets' health.


This experience has reinforced the necessity of closely monitoring our dogs, recognizing signs of discomfort early on, and understanding their normal behaviours to provide the best possible support through their healing process.


Our journey through Hugo's recovery has deepened my commitment to his well-being, a commitment that has been supported and enriched by the encouragement and shared experiences of our community. Your unwavering support has been a beacon of strength for both Hugo and I, underscoring the power of collective perseverance in the face of adversity.

At this significant juncture, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the exceptional team at Canada West Veterinary Specialists, particularly the Neurology Department and Rehabilitation Therapy Team whose expertise and compassionate care have been instrumental in Hugo's recovery. A heartfelt thank you as well as to Dr. Marketa Sattran, who has been part our Hugo’s care team for a couple of years and has made the world of a difference for us. The support from Trupanion Pet Insurance has also been crucial, ensuring that Hugo receives the highest standard of care without the burden of financial stress. Their dedication to providing this service has made a tangible difference in our journey, allowing us to focus solely on Hugo's recovery.


Izzy, Hugo's Border Collie sister, waiting for him to be done rehabilitation therapy
Izzy, Hugo's Border Collie sister, waiting for him to be done rehabilitation therapy

As we continue with the second half of Hugo's recovery, I warmly invite you to remain part of this supportive journey. Your stories of resilience, words of encouragement, and active engagement not only lift Hugo's spirits but also reinforce our collective commitment to the well-being of our beloved pets. I am excited to share ongoing updates on Hugo's progress on my Facebook page @BiancasDogTraining, where your insights and experiences offer hope and inspiration to others facing similar challenges.





Hugo's journey serves as a powerful reminder of the profound bonds we share with our pets and the significant impact our advocacy has on their lives. Together, let's continue to support, learn from, and inspire each other in our shared dedication to the health and happiness of our furry family members.

Here's to the continued recovery and resilience of Hugo, and to a future where every pet receives the care and support they truly deserve.


For the dedicated pawrents interested in delving deeper into the therapies and exercises discussed in my blog post, I've compiled a comprehensive list of references. These articles and studies provide valuable insights and further information on the benefits and applications of these treatments for your furry friends:


  1. Fatjó, J., & Bowen, J. (2020). Making the Case for Multi-Axis Assessment of Behavioural Problems. Animals, 10(3), 383. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10030383. PMCID: PMC7143497, PMID: 32120944.

  2. Amadei, E., Cantile, C., Gazzano, A., Pierantoni, L., & Mariti, C. (2021). The link between neurology and behavior in veterinary medicine: A review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 46, 40-53.

  3. De Decker, S., Watts, V., & Neilson, D. M. (Year). Dynamic Lumbosacral Magnetic Resonance Imaging in a Dog with Tethered Cord Syndrome with a Tight Filum Terminale. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. [Publication details needed, as they were not provided].

  4. DVM360. (n.d.). Acupuncture therapy in pets. Retrieved from https://www.dvm360.com/view/acupuncture-therapy-in-pets

  5. DVM360. (n.d.). Benefits of veterinary cold laser therapy. Retrieved from https://www.dvm360.com/view/benefits-of-veterinary-cold-laser-therapy

  6. VCA Canada. (n.d.). Therapeutic laser. Retrieved from https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/therapeutic-laser

  7. Online Pet Health. (n.d.). The latest in canine hydrotherapy research. Retrieved from https://onlinepethealth.com/the-latest-in-canine-hydrotherapy-research/

  8. Looney, A. L., Bohart, G. V., & Kass, P. H. (2022). The impact of hydrotherapy on postoperative recovery of dogs with stifle joint instability. PLOS ONE, 17(8), e0255871. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9414583/

  9. Smith, G. (2020). Use of cold laser therapy in the treatment of minor injuries in sports dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 257(4), 345-349. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7401533/


Please note that for sources from websites like DVM360, VCA Canada, and Online Pet Health, where specific author names and publication dates are not provided, the citation format is adapted to include the website name and the phrase "n.d." (no date) to indicate that the publication date is not specified.


Advocacy, Diagnosis, and Rehabilitation

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