Paralyzed dogs are getting a lot of attention thanks to two research studies at leading universities. The preliminary results are offering new and important information to get paraplegic dogs walking again.
Dogs can become paralyzed when the spinal cord is injured due to trauma or disease. Common causes include intervertebral disc disease, herniated discs, falls, trauma resulting from getting hit by a car, stenosis, strokes, degenerative myelopathy, and more. The spinal cord is responsible for sending messages to the brain to produce movement. When there is an acute injury, that information system is forever interrupted because spinal tissue does not regenerate.
Some exciting research studies being conducted at North Carolina State University and Iowa State University, however, are showing promise for paralyzed dogs, and potentially for people as well. The studies are exploring alternative ways for the brain and spine to communicate, even when the spine has been severely damaged.
North Carolina State University
The Canine Spinal Cord Injury Program, headed by Natasha Olby, PhD, DACVIM and Ji-Hey Lim, DVM, PhD used two forms of a drug called 4-Aminopyridine (4-AP) in an attempt to restore damaged nerve signals to the brain. 4-AP has been used to repair the conduction of energy in other parts of the body, but had not been tested in the spine prior to this research.
Olby recruited 19 dogs for the trial. Each had a similar spinal injury and no hope of a natural spontaneous recovery.
During the study, all of the dogs received both forms of 4-AP. The initial results left researchers feeling hopeful because all 19 dogs showed improvement and were able to walk a few steps on their own. Then, surprisingly, a small number of the dogs continued to improve and were able to walk on a treadmill while the rest of the dogs stayed at the initial improvement level of just a few steps.
Olby was puzzled by the results, but ultimately concluded that 4-AP was only part of the recovery process for paralyzed dogs. She is currently looking at factors, such as the genetic makeup of the dogs that improved more substantially and how to customize treatments to optimize the outcome for future patients.
Iowa State University
The Clinical Trial on Paralysis in Dogs is led by Nicholas Jeffery, BVSc, PhD and Hilary Hu, DVM. This promising 3-year study is currently testing whether the drug chondroitinase has a synergistic effect in paralyzed dogs when it is combined with intensive physical therapy.
The study has tested 60 dogs with hind-end paralysis and aims to enroll more. All of the dogs have to be healthy enough for anesthesia, physical therapy, and travel to Iowa State University three times over a 6-month period. Owners drop off their dogs for a week at a time.
Half the dogs enrolled will receive an injection of chondroitinase into their spine while under anesthesia, which will be followed by rigorous physical therapy sessions during their weeklong stay at the university. The other participants will receive the same physical therapy treatments, but not the injection of the trial drug.
The goal is to determine if chondroitinase can successfully dissolve scar tissue that forms in the spinal tissue after an injury and aid in the regrowth of nerve fibers to reconnect communication with the brain. Interested in learning more or enrolling your dog in the study? Contact Iowa State University.
Studies like these make veterinary professionals and pet owners hopeful that one day soon paralysis won’t be a life sentence for dogs and people.
Photo copyright American Animal Hospital Association
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