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Ace’s diagnosis: A herniated disc

Ace apparently has a herniated disc – a condition his temporary veterinarian hopes will go away with several weeks of rest, a ban on strenuous physical activity, some anti-inflammatory drugs, and multiple daily doses of doggie Valium.

Seeking to solve the mystery of the periodic yelps he has been emitting the past few days, we paid a visit to Ard-Vista Animal Hospital in Winston-Salem, where Ace – after two days of being poked and prodded by me – was poked and prodded by someone who actually knew what he was doing.

It was the first time, other than our stop in Santa Fe to get updated on vaccinations, that Ace required medical attention during our travels – ten months during which he has probably jumped in and out of the back of my Jeep Liberty 3,000 or so times.

There’s no knowing what caused Ace’s disc to herniate, but I suspect that’s the culprit, which is easier to say than I suspect I’m the culprit – for I’m the one who dreamed up this trip, I’m the one who repeatedly says, “Getinthecar, getinthecar.”

Veterinarians – the one Ace visited included – make a point of telling owners of dogs so afflicted that it’s probably nothing they did, that it could be genetic. But guilt is like an old faucet – even when somebody tries to turn it all the way off it still drips.



I’d felt the guilt even before we got to the vet, back three days ago when Ace, who is six, first balked at jumping into the car. I ordered a ramp the next day, and it came today, about two hours after we got the diagnosis — and thankfully before I had to lift him into the car, in which case we’d probably be talking about two herniated discs right now.

We arrived at the vet early, after a morning in which Ace’s behavior turned even more bizarre. He followed me everywhere I went, toilet included, and sat at my feet, peering sadly into my eyes. I’m not one to put words into the mouths of dogs, but many of us dog people receive messages whether they’re being sent or not, and the one I was getting was, “This pain I’m experiencing – the one I refuse to let on where it is (because, after all, I’m a dog and can’t talk)? It’s getting worse.  Is there nothing you can do about it?”

Uncharacteristically, he didn’t jump up on the front counter at the vet’s office, another sign that something was wrong. I passed along his history, and they weighed him in – 127 pounds.

Dr. Raymond Morrison ran his hands along all of Ace, moving his legs, testing his joints, none of which produced a yelp – only a couple of mild growls. When he pushed down on Ace’s head though, Ace yelped, just as he had when I did the same thing the night before.

Dr. Morrison’s diagnosis:  A herniated disc, something that’s not uncommon in either little dogs, like dachshunds, or big ones, like Rottweiler’s. With Ace it appeared to be a disc located near the neck. The vet opted for conservative steps – a Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (or NSAID), administered once a day. Despite having heard of some pretty bad side effects from NSAIDs in dogs, I agreed.

The drugs and bed rest might possibly take care of the situation. If they don’t, and his pain continues, he’ll need to get x-ray, CT scan  or MRI and be evaluated by a neurologist. Surgery is a possibility.

A herniated disc is a tear that allows spongy material to escape from the disc and protrude into the spinal canal, like jelly oozing out of a jelly donut. By pushing on the spinal cord, it causes inflammation, resulting, in Ace’s case, neck pain. In more severe cases it can lead to weakness and a lack of coordination in the limbs, loss of bladder and bowel control, and paralysis.

Based on the diagnosis, there will have to be some lifestyle changes – some temporary, some permanent. No more jumping in and out the car. No more jumping in and out of my bed, at least not for several weeks. No more collar around his neck; instead we’ll use his harness. And for the next two weeks, no frolicking, no wrestling, no playing – except for perhaps a quiet board game.

Well be laying low in the basement, during which time I’ll likely continue to ponder that grey and squiggly line between pampering and over-protecting one’s canine and  letting a dog – ala “Merle’s Door” — be a dog.

Just now, eight hours after our vet visit, six hours after administering medication, we stepped outside. Ace, for the first time in several days, gave his body a full shake, and crouched into a play stance, full of life. All his guardedness about moving his head – at least for a moment – was gone. As Dr. Morrison said might happen, he was raring to go, wanting to play and seemingly feeling no pain.

“That’s just the Valium talking,“ I said. “No playing. Stop being joyful.” He obeyed, and started looking sad and droopy again.

With that I grabbed his harness (his collar being garbage now) and, like two stoop-shouldered old men, we walked slowly back to the house.

At least for the next few weeks, I plan to err on the side of being over-protective.


Comment from Foley Monster and Pocket
Time March 17, 2011 at 6:15 am

Certainly hoping Ace is feeling better soon

Comment from Sue
Time March 17, 2011 at 8:15 am

Not that it matters, I vote for pampering.

Comment from smoketoomuch
Time March 17, 2011 at 8:41 am

I had a herniated disc in my own neck once upon a time – not fun. Not fun at all. But you appear to be taking the proper precautions, and given enough time, Ace should rebound. The ramp should definitely help – good thinking there.

My Pom girl tried to jump into the back of my Durango one day – smacked her face on the rear bumper and bounced to the ground. I picked her up, told her “No!” and placed her gently in the back of the truck. When we arrived at out destination a few minutes later, I opened the lift gate and she lept to the ground, fell over and scraped her lower jaw on the blacktop. Again I picked her up, told her “No!”, and put her back in the truck to emphasize the point. I then lifted her to the ground. That was 3 years ago, and she hasn’t tried either maneuver since. They think they’re indestructible, but between herniated discs and luxating patellas, we know better. Sometimes I think it hurts us worse than it does them. Don’t beat yourself up John, as doggie daddies go, you’re one of the good guys.

Comment from Pat DeWald
Time March 17, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hope Ace is feeling better soon. You might also consider checking out an animal acupuncturist. It can be very beneficial for pain control and won’t interfere with the traditional meds.

Comment from JillyBean
Time March 17, 2011 at 8:56 am

Wishing Ace a speedy recovery!!

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time March 17, 2011 at 9:00 am

Awww, Ace! And John! You know we’re all out here feeling for you both! I wonder about the jumping in the car thing. I know it can be bad, but I have the idea that if that were it, it would be a disk further down in his back that was in trouble. Do you elevate his dog dishes? I’ve heard that can help for big dogs.

You can also get a ramp for your bed, and they’re not expensive. My other human and I replaced our bed when we moved, and we found while shopping that most modern beds are just very tall because mattresses are so thick. Even I have to climb up into it, and the Beagle has to take a running leap like an Olympic hurdler. Not good for a dog his age. He’s done fine so far, but we’re talking about the ramp.

I hope Ace continues to improve and that the rest is helpful. Lets hope you have lots of sunshine outside for him to lie around in.

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time March 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

Nothing worries or hurts us more than a sick dog! We will be following Ace’s healing and sending our love….and hoping that he milks you for even more pampering and TLC!

Comment from Lori
Time March 17, 2011 at 9:53 am

Oh no!!! I hope Ace is better soon. Give him a treat and a gentle hug from me!!

Comment from Lisa
Time March 17, 2011 at 10:22 am

=( Nooo! He seemed to fine just a few days ago. He’s too young to have old man troubles. Play him some blues, lick some vanilla ice cream together, indulge ine thigh & belly scratching. When that gets boring, ( I can’t se how>,<) watch the original Rocky together and recover bigger, better, stronger, faster! =D

Comment from dizzy
Time March 17, 2011 at 10:27 am

aw, poor dude.

Comment from baltimoregal
Time March 17, 2011 at 10:35 am

Glad to hear the big man will be OK.

Comment from HOB
Time March 17, 2011 at 10:37 am

Wishing Ace a sincere Get Well. I’ve been following your blog for quite awhile including travels with Ace. Ace is your special friend, but, he’s also our special friend. Get Well, Ace!

Comment from bmore pug mom
Time March 17, 2011 at 11:14 am

Mikey and I are wishing Ace a speedy recovery. His therapy dog services can be transported to NC if necessary. Take it easy on yourself John – your words are poignant and we all as dog lovers can relate.

Comment from smitty
Time March 17, 2011 at 11:40 am

Take care John & Ace

Praying for Ace’s speedy recovery

Comment from Kelly
Time March 17, 2011 at 11:58 am

I’ve gotta agree with Anne’n’Spencer’s elevated food & water bowls suggestion. I used to babysit a standard poodle that suffered the same disc pain in the neck deal & that did help. He was around Ace’s age, too, so it may not be from the car. Shit just happens, hon. Oh, and Henry (the poodle) was fully recovered in a couple months, with meds & pampering. Hang in there, dudes.

Comment from marilyn
Time March 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Wishing Ace a speedy recovery from Browser and Ivy (and Marilyn and Carl)

Comment from Cyndi
Time March 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

We’re wishing Ace a speedy recovery!

Comment from Starla
Time March 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Awwww…Poor Ace! Wishing him a speedy recovery!

Comment from debbie
Time March 18, 2011 at 12:13 am

John, I am very sadden , hearing of Ace’s discomfort. I feel like you guys are old friends. Reading about your adventures together has been truly enjoyable for me and I’ve looked forward to it as a part of my daily routine.
You mentioned that you feel somewhat guilty, but I don’t believe you should feel guilty John. I’m sure if Ace could speak he would tell you that he wouldn’t have changed a thing. I’m sure you agree that love and bonds are strong.—-May your journey continue together a little further down the road.. I look forward to reading all about it…

Comment from Miranda
Time March 18, 2011 at 6:58 am

I’ll be thinking of Ace (and you) and hoping that all turns out well! I check you blog twice daily and feel like I’ve known Ace forever…so please send him some kisses from our family!

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time March 18, 2011 at 8:07 am

Thanks, Miranda

Comment from susan
Time March 19, 2011 at 11:13 am

You do know you could lose the bed frame, put the mattress/box spring on the floor and he wouldn’t have to jump into it, right? (drip) – I have a friend who’s about to lose her sixteen year old, cancer-surviving dog. She and her husband moved their bed downstairs into the dining room so the old girl wouldn’t have to climb the stairs.. love to you and Ace, from Nashville.

Comment from matt carbajal
Time December 20, 2011 at 9:22 pm

My Pit Bull went in 48 hours ago and is undergoing a ct scan. its been hours and i havent heard anything back. its hard to wait. His is severe enough that he has lost mobility and is paralyed. i just took out a loan i cant afford in case he needs surgery. sucks that anyone has to choose between money or life. but, id rather be homeless with my dog- he saved my life ill save his

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time December 21, 2011 at 7:16 am

Best of luck, Matt

Comment from amber
Time November 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm

would love to know how Ace recovered. I now have a herniated disc in my neck and so far it’s been two weeks of rest and I feel good, but Dads won’t walk me for more than a few minutes. did ACe fully recover or do you still limit his movements. BTW, I’m a 13 year old boston terrier

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time November 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Amber, Ace recovered quickly and fully. Hope you do, too.
john / ohmidog!

Comment from Erica
Time December 21, 2014 at 1:32 am

Amber, how is your Boston doing? My 12 year old Boston is exhibiting signs of a slip disc. On day 3 of prednisone and pain medication

Comment from Eva
Time April 14, 2015 at 1:13 am

Hi John!
I’m so glad you wrote about this in your blog, and happy to hear Ace has recovered! I am hoping you wouldn’t mind sharing some more details of Ace’s recovery. My sister an I have an almost 7 year old Amstaff named Piston. Although we have not had an MRI, the emergency Vet suspects the same. The vet gave him a muscle relaxer and two pain medications and ordered lots of rest. She opted not to prescribe steroids due to Piston’s history. Last year Piston had a reaction to one of his immunizations which caused autoimmunity. His treatment consisted of a pretty strong steroid treatment starting with high doses and lowering over a period of several months. Prior to being sick he was a 90-95 lb athletic dog. We watched him deterioriate from treatment quickly. He lost all his muscle mass to the point where he couldn’t even hold his pee for weeks. There was an awful week where he couldn’t walk at all, but we had no choice. We saw the bruises, and understood he would die from internal bleeding if it was not treated. It was heart breaking to watch, but Piston overcame. Although he never returned to his former glory, he was on his way. Like Ace, Piston is a social dog. He loves walks, car rides. Going to his friends houses to play, visits to his store, and cuddling with his humans. His determination to do his favorite things is probably what got him through his illness. So here we are. The brutal winter is finally gone, and this dog is ready to go on his walks and get back in shape. He’s been playing with his friends after a long time of not being allowed to see them… And he’s put back on doggie bedrest. Now after a few days, he’s feeling better…and of course pushing it. We know it’s necessary to yell at him to lay down and get rest to get better. It just seems so cruel to have to keep putting the poor guy back on the floor, when just a few months ago he worked so hard to pick himself up. I feel that more details of Ace’s recovery could help us. I understand I can’t expect the same exact results, but it sounds as if they both had a similar level of injury and both are large dogs. How long exactly was his recovery? What kind of levels of activity did you allow at the various stages of recovery? At any point after starting treatment did Ace let out any more yelps? And any other information you might find relevant. I hope to hear from you!