Captain was a Great Dane that we adopted from Waters Edge Great Dane Rescue in January of 2013 at the age of 3 years old. He was starved and severely neglected when WEGDR rescued him and to this date is still the worst neglect case the rescue has ever taken in (he had a body score of 1 out of 9). He became a registered therapy dog in February of 2016 after several months of training and passing the therapy dog test. He had 2 special needs Great Dane brothers, Roc (deaf) and Pawley (blind) who were also adopted from WEGDR.
On the evening of June 7, 2016 we noticed Captain was walking a bit differently. He had been playing in the water at Lake Murray with his brothers and we thought he had just played too hard. We put him to bed early to let him rest. In the morning he was much worse - disoriented and very wobbly. We called our vet and made an appointment for him to be seen as soon as possible. By the time we reached the vet, Captain was paralyzed from the neck down. Our regular vet checked him out quickly and instantly referred us to a canine neurologist.
Captain was checked thoroughly all over for ticks upon arrival at the neurologist. Given the time of year and his symptoms and how quickly they came on, tick paralysis was suspected at first. No ticks were found. Their next thought was Wobbler Syndrome but given his age it was just a guess (Wobblers usually presents in Great Danes around the age of 2). The only way to diagnose Wobbler Syndrome is with an MRI, which was scheduled for the next day. Captain was put on meds to make him comfortable and was admitted to the ER Vet, where he stayed for almost 3 weeks.
The MRI confirmed Wobbler Syndrome as well as a herniated disk in his spine (IVDD). Captain’s C6 and C7 vertebrae canals were very narrowed due to Wobblers and the disk he herniated was the one in between C6 and C7. When his disk ruptured it caused massive swelling and inflammation in the area and since his spinal cord canal was already very narrow, the swelling effectively pinched his spinal cord causing the sudden paralysis.
Over the next several days we discussed many options of what we could do for Captain. Our 3 best options were surgery, to medically manage with medications, or euthanization. Due to his age and severity of symptoms, his neurologist and I agreed surgery was not in his best interest. And once he was put on medications, he was eating and drinking normally and still had his sweet and loving personality so we chose to keep him on meds for up to 2 weeks to see if he would improve.
A few days on the meds and Captain's front legs were doing great. He could sit himself up sternly on his own. He began working with a physical therapist at VCA. They would lift him up in a harness and encourage him to walk with his front legs.
Slowly, his back legs began to show signs of improvement. Captain finally came home but needed around the clock care. We decided to put him into an intensive physical rehabilitation program at the Charleston Veterinary Referral Center. During his sessions he would work on the underwater treadmill, navigate an obstacle course, strength and balance exercises on special equipment, cold laser treatments, and massage therapy. In addition to rehab Captain also received acupuncture treatments with Chi on Wheels.
Over the course of 9 months Captain went from complete paralysis to being able to walk on the beach (his favorite place) with very little help and play a little with his brothers again. We were able to wean him off the prescription pain meds and NSAIDs completely for a period of time. He did well on only Chinese herbs and CBD oil. All of his doctors are amazed by how far he came.
Captain had always been a survivor. He was the heart of our family and we knew we had to do everything we could to help him stay with us. Wobblers is a day by day disease - some days are great, some are average, and some days he struggled a bit, but he was the happiest dog in the world. He needed more rehab and the addition of prescription meds over time.
Captain lived 2 ½ years after his initial diagnosis. Our telling of Captain’s story is not to say this is the one and only way to deal with Wobbler Syndrome. It’s an explanation of what worked for us through lots of trials and errors. Our hope is that some of this information may be helpful to you and save you time with your research, as well as provide you comfort knowing someone else went through what you are going through now. Wobbler Syndrome affects the entire family. It’s life changing and a big commitment. But it is not impossible to take on!