Pet dogs are frequently affected by spinal cord injury, representing up to 40% of the neurological cases seen in veterinary hospitals, and is the most common spinal cord disease in dogs (1). Several cause lead to spinal cord injury, such as trauma to the spine or disc herniation that can occur in several ways (2, 3, 4). Spinal cord injury leads to permanent disabilities (paralysis and incontinence). If recovery occurs, it takes months and often remains incomplete. Around 150 new dogs with spinal cord injury are treated in our hospital each year.
So far, the standard of care for dogs with spinal cord injury consists of surgery to decompress the spinal cord and rehabilitation, depending on the type of injury, which typically takes weeks to months. Nevertheless, around 50% of the most severely affected animals do not recover with current therapies.
We are lacking objective measures in dogs to detect signal of improvement and we rely on the clinician’s observations, which is imperfect, to assess return of movements controlled by the animal. However, objective measures can be obtained non-invasively (5, 6, 7, 8) by filming affected dog while walking on a treadmill to assess their locomotion (a process called ‘kinematic’) but this has not been tried during the recovery phase of dogs with various types of spinal cord injury. Knowing how the walking pattern of affected dogs change over time would be extremely valuable because it would allow us to establish baseline data and then assess with the effect of interventions on objective recovery parameters. In the first part of the proposed work, we will assess the locomotor recovery of dogs with spinal cord injury using treadmill walking and kinematic. Having gained this knowledge, we will use it in a second phase to test the efficacy of a non-invasive treatment consisting in intense rehabilitation.
Little emphasis has been put on the importance of rehabilitation following spinal cord injury in dogs, which nevertheless may greatly enhance recovery. For example, in dogs with early degeneration of the spinal cord – another category of spinal cord disease - it was suggested that hydrotherapy significantly prolong dog’s life expectancy. Rehabilitation is the cornerstone of recovery in humans. Dog owners are increasingly seeking complementary non-invasive therapies to improve their pet’s recovery and quality of life, partly because the cost of a protracted and lengthy recovery can be high, both in terms of financial and social consequences. Therefore, we propose to assess the value of adding treadmill and balance training to current standard of care of dogs with spinal cord injury.
Objectives of the project
Objective 1: to compare onset of recovery of coordination between dogs with acute compressive spinal cord injury and dogs with traumatic intra-medullary spinal cord injury.
Objective 2: to determine whether intense rehabilitation improves recovery of coordination in dogs with traumatic intra-medullary spinal cord injury.
When applying please select ’Veterinary Sciences PhD’ within the Faculty of Health Sciences.
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