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Anthony and Journey in a waiting room

Tethered Cord Syndrome in Dogs

By Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, ADT, LFDM, FFCP, CBATI, VSA-DT

“Something is wrong with my dog.”
“He keeps kicking his legs out and seems to lose control of them.”
“It is like he has some weird sensation going through his body.”
“He keeps looking at, sniffing and nibbling on his back anywhere between the spine to his hips.”
“He runs away from himself as if he is afraid and something is bothering or pinching his back.”

These were some of my initial observations that I started to tell my friend and veterinarian, Dr. Waters shortly after bringing Journey home.

I picked Journey up when he was 14 weeks of age. He was initially spoken for, but before his owner could pick him up, she ended up backing out of the purchase last minute due to some financial issues. I had never met a Kelpie before. But after seeing photos and video of him and thinking on it for a couple days, I decided I would take him. Two weeks later, my father and I drove to Canada to pick up the little pest!

He was so freakin’ cute! And he has such big ears, it was hilarious. He was so kind, a really nice, kind hearted pup. But he was pushy, obnoxious and would get overstimulated so easily. A few of us joked around that he was my previous dog, reincarnated, only friendlier.

About three days after he arrived home I started to notice these weird little episodes. He would randomly start to lose control of his limbs. One of his limbs would just swing out or upward uncontrollably. I also started noticing when he would loose control of one his legs he would occasionally sniff or investigate his back between his hips and butt and then would scurry away as if he was afraid or in pain. His ears would be pinned back and tail tucked, while scurrying away. These are typically fear signals in canine body language. Generally the pattern was: he would lose control of one of his legs and then run away as if he was afraid or in pain. It was like he would run away from himself, scurrying away and sometimes looking over his shoulder. Something about it was so weird.

I also started noticing that when these weird little episodes would occur, Journey would shut down. What I mean is that he wouldn’t want to engage with me, he seemed nervous and uncomfortable and became almost lifeless in the moment. (You will see this in some of the video footage that I provided at the end of this blog.)  Interestingly, these episodes seemed to occur about fifty percent of the time during our little training sessions around the house. And of course this ended up causing Journey to not enjoy training. In fact, training became very aversive to him.

Since these episodes seemed to occur fifty percent of the time during training sessions, which involved food, he started becoming averse to food. It was interesting because the first couple of days living with me, he was a savage with food. He would throw himself against my kitchen cabinets when I would prep his food.

Within a few days he started acting weird about food, actually turning his head away. He started developing this weird food aversion. If I handed him a piece of food, he would turn his head away and cower at the same time. I attribute some of this to the training concept, It’s Yer Choice, which is a training exercise that is suppose to teach a dog to “leave it” and not dive in or steal something on his own. I’m sure that this concept was not clear to him at the time, so I am sure it played a role in some of this.

The other reason I noticed his food aversion was because he would have these weird leg kick/twitching episodes during training sessions. Some of these episodes occurred while teaching “It’s Yer Choice”. The order that this would occur was: The episode of loosing control of one of his legs would occur, then he would become nervous and would shut down. I feel that he started generalizing these scary episodes and physical discomfort or pain with the presentation of the food since these episodes initially occurred so frequently during training sessions. Essentially, training = something bad or scary.

Anthony with Journey

Photo of me picking Journey up from the breeder

A journey it will be!

I had no idea this puppy was going to take me on this “journey”. (He certainly is living up to his name!) These weird episodes Journey was having were to difficult to just explain. So, I started keeping my cell phone on me that way I could capture video footage of anything that seemed abnormal or just something that seemed suspicious. The more I starting observing, the more I started noticing.

Some of my initial observations within approximately the first two months I had Journey in my life were:

  • Loosing control of his back legs. Generally kicking out like a horse or upward towards the ceiling. Loosing control of his back legs was the first thing I noticed. It would only occur in one leg during an episode. (Typically a back leg.) There was no pattern of it being the same leg each time.
  • When the episodes involved one of his back legs, I started noticing that he would run away, as if he was afraid or in pain. His leg would kick out, he would turn and investigate it or check out his back area (anywhere between his spine, hip or even the leg itself). He would generally look afraid, which was most notable when he would run away. It seemed to generally result in him finding a dog bed to lay down in.
  • Occasionally, I started observing he would lose control or swing out his front legs, whereas it initially had only seemed to be his back legs. It would only occur in one leg during an episode. There was no pattern of it being the same leg.
  • I started observing AFTER an episode he would sometimes sniff, explore and/or chew on the area or limb that was affected.
  • As I started continuing to pay attention, I started observing that he would sniff, explore and/or chew the affected area BEFORE an episode would occur. The pattern I noticed with this was that he generally started sniffing, exploring and/or chewing the limb at the top and would usually work his way down the limb towards his toes. (I have been told this is a observation that typically occurs with neurological issues where the dog will start chewing or licking the top of the limb and work their way down to the bottom of the limb and toes.)
  • Another observation I started to make was that he would turn his head all the way around exploring or sniffing anywhere between his spine and hips very intensely, as if there was a bug on his back.
  • He seemed a little bit clumsy and weak in his back legs. This was most noticeable if he tried climbing up on a person to lay in their lap or to get up on the couch. It was interesting because observing other puppies over the years jump into peoples laps or climb onto the couch; it was as if other puppies had springs in their back legs compared to Journey.
  • Disinterest in taking treats and eating meals. He could go one to two days without eating, no matter what I tried. Kibble, home-cooked, raw diet, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t touch any of it.

These episodes would occur multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day. They would last anywhere between five seconds and a few minutes in duration. (DON’T WORRY, I have a video presentation at the bottom of this blog for you to review so that you can see what all these observations actually look like!)

After about a month of owning Journey, I started taking him to a vet to receive cold laser therapy and chiropractic adjustments. It seemed to help him as the issues seemed to reduce. I started noticing the episodes less, maybe once every 3-5 days, which was a huge improvement because these episodes were happening almost everyday. I brought him for cold laser therapy and chiropractic adjustments every week, then every few weeks as it seemed to be helping him. But then as time went on the episodes still occurred. I decided it was time to take him to see a neurologist.

Journey as a puppy, laying in the grass

One doctor, two doctor, three!

In September of 2019, about two months after bringing Journey home, (he would have been about five months old) I took him to the first neurologist. The neurologist seemed to have little interest in observing the few videos I had compiled. I actually had to tell her, “I would like you to watch the rest of this video, and I have another one for you to watch as well.” I literally held the phone in front of her face.

She told me she had seen this before, and that she didn’t know what it was, but that an anti-depressant would help address this issue because some anti-depressants have properties in them that can help address neurological and nerve related issues. I was upset about this appointment as I chose this neurologist because she had been published in vet textbooks for a very long time. I figured if she couldn’t figure it out, who would? I opted not to give him medication because I honestly didn’t feel that I trusted the neurologists opinion as she seemed very disinterested in the videos and hearing my concerns and observations.

For the next year I continued exploring, observing and videoing the episodes. About three months after his first neurologist appointment, I took Journey on a two hour drive to my friend, Dr. Debbie Torraca, who is a animal physical therapist. She performed a gait analysis and a thermal images to see if she noticed anything unusual. Everything for the most part seems fine. She manipulated his limbs and body to see if he was stiff or in any pain. She said he seemed a little stiff in the lumbar area but otherwise seemed to check out just fine.

Journey’s Thermal Images

Thermal image of Journey
Thermal image of Journey
Thermal image of Journey

My veterinarian and friend, Dr. Waters started asking for video footage of Journey’s episodes so that she could upload them to show colleagues of hers across the country to see if we could get any answers. Whenever she would post the videos in veterinarian groups, no one knew what it was. The majority of vets suggested that it could be some type of seizure activity.

When Journey was a little over a year old I decided to do full body radiographs. Of course, nothing showed up. By this point my vet and I had also started working with a very well known Board Certified Vet Behaviorist to see if she could help us. We started Journey on an appetite stimulant and Gabapentin, which is used for pain and neurological related issues. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to help. He was then switched to Phenobarbital, which is a medication used to help seizure related issues. I felt as though the episodes were reducing, where I only started seeing the episodes occur once a week to once every two weeks. ( I do not know if because he was still young and his body was still developing, whether or not the episodes were also decreasing or changing in its presentation at this time due to his age and stage in his life. So I am not sure whether the medication was helping as much as I originally thought).

Journey was about a year and a half old. By this point a few of the current doctors I was working with had reached out to their neurologist colleagues and sent them videos of Journey. Some felt maybe it was a seizure and some were not sure. In February of 2020, I decided to take Journey to a second neurologist. This neurologist said that she was not sure what this could be. “It could be seizure related, or it might not. At the end of the day, you will probably not cure this, but if medication is helping fifty percent, then that is progress and it might be the best it can be.” she told me.

Things started getting worse

When Journey was about a year old, he had started becoming more anxious in general. He would be uncomfortable with me and my presents at times, especially inside our home. He also became more sensitive towards sounds. But, what became most concerning was that he started having episodes where he would become so fearful that he would tremble. One of the other interesting observations was that these episodes that caused him to lose control of legs started happening less, BUT when they did occur they seemed to be more serious. So much so, that he wasn’t himself for a couple of day!  He even had a few episodes where he seemed to be disoriented.

The newer observations I started making as Journey was a year old (and currently still today) was:

  • All of the observations and issues that occurred as a puppy still were occurring by this point, and still occur today.
  • When practicing agility and off leash hiking, he seemed like he wouldn’t always have a full stride. His back legs also seemed to kick out a little when running. He looked like he was holding himself back at times. It is also important to note that just like my observations when he was a puppy, he still seems to be weaker in his back legs, particularly if he is trying to climb up onto something or someone.
  • He became more hand shy at random times. He would actually brace himself and squint his eyes when myself or others went to touch him or hand him something such as food. This even would occasionally occur when putting on his harness. I always attributed his hand shyness to him feeling more sensitive because an episode may have recently occurred or that he associated these situations with the discomfort of the episodes.
  • Increased generalized anxiety. As a puppy Journey was always a little sensitive, but nothing out of the ordinary. As a pup he didn’t care about sounds, fireworks, thunder, a closet door opening and closing etc. However, as he got to be about a year and a half to two years old he started to become very anxious of all of these things. Random sounds within the house would cause him to start trembling, opening or closing a closet door would cause him to start trembling and fireworks would cause him to tremble.
  • One of the biggest changes, and most challenging for me to deal with was how fearful and anxious Journey became of me, especially when inside our home. Outside the house he generally was fine and would look for me, but inside the house he was very avoidant. If I entered a room that he was in, he would get up and look the other way, other times he would get up and leave and sometimes he would tremble. It was horrible for both of us. (The one good thing to the lock down during Covid was that it helped a lot with improving our relationship since we were around each other so much.)
  • Fear to the point where he would start to drool. This was very rare, but had happened a handful of times. (I am not sure if this was a response to something that made him fearful or if this was a response out of pain/discomfort from his episodes/condition which caused him to become more anxious at that moment. I just feel it is worth pointing this out.)
  • Excessive licking of his body, especially of areas that seemed more prone to being affected by these episodes.
  • Occasionally will standing very still, no body movement. Every time I notice this it is almost like he is in some kind of discomfort and becomes to nervous to move.
  • Would occasionally walk around as if he was tip toeing or walking on pins and needles. I noticed at times he would walk this way when fearful or anxious, but it could have been possible he was also in pain which caused him to walk this way.  What was also noticeable was that he would have slower and gentler body movements, such as gently lying down as if he was in discomfort.
  • Started displaying more seizure type episodes where he would look disoriented, physically uncomfortable, excessively pant and would tremble. Another notable observation was that when these more severe looking episodes started to occur, it was like the wiring in his brain changed. He was not himself for two to four days after the episode. He would generally act more fearful and anxious, wouldn’t show as much interest to play or do things he enjoyed and overall he seemed mentally and physically tired.
  • Continued lack of appetite. Would eat every two to three days.
  • Occasionally when he would jump off the couch and my bed I would find a random drop or two of urine on the floor. (I will admit, I never thought anything of this because it was not very common).
  • My parents observed on three separate occasions at their house, Journey would look up at the lights on the wall and stare at them like he was staring into space.
  • Occasionally at agility he would lay down during training. I started noticing it seemed as if he didn’t have the endurance that he previously had. This started to become more noticeable to me around two years of age.
  • He started having weird sensations in his tail. Journey started looking at and nibbling his tail like he would his legs when an episode was about to occur. Usually he would start at the base or middle of the tail and work his way down to the end.

Journey on a walking path at a beach

Your dog has epilepsy!

As things continued to progress, the second neurologist told us Journey’s case was out of her wheelhouse and that we needed to take a trip into New York City to the Animal Medical Center (AMC). So that was what I did. After chatting with the doctor and reviewing my videos, they took Journey in the back so that their team could examine him. About 10 minutes later the vet came out and asked if she could take my phone in the back to observe all the video footage with her team. After a half hour of observing the videos in close detail, they felt Journey had some form of epilepsy.

The AMC suggested that in addition to the phenobarbital, which he had been on for over a year at this point; to start giving him a medication called Keppra. They wanted to see if Keppra would help reduce more of his episodes before stopping the phenobarbital. Unfortunately, Journey was not a fan of more medication. As I mentioned earlier, Journey doesn’t have much of an appetite. He would constantly avoid taking medication or learn to eat around anything that medication was stuffed in. So an additional pill, especially an additional large pill was a big problem for him.

Against the wishes of the neurologist, I decided to get the Keppra compounded in a flavored dog treat. The neurologist didn’t like this idea because she felt that compounding is not as accurate and precise as actual pills. Journey had no interest in the compounded dog treat medication. In fact, I ended up having to still stuff this medication in food like meatballs, chicken nuggets etc. After taking the medication pretty constantly for two months and not seeing any results I decided it was not worth the daily battle to continue giving him the Keppra, so we stopped.

I had reached out to the neurologist at the AMC about this issue a few times, including some of his escalation in his fear responses, as his fears seemed more concerning. I kept explaining to the doctor that his fear responses seemed to be a secondary issue due to his “epilepsy” or whatever was going on that was causing him to have these weird episodes. The only recommendation she continued to give me was to try using a medication called Trazodone to help his anxiety…needless to say I decided to move on.

“You should contact Dr. Kathy Murphy of Barking Brains…”

My friend and mentor, Viviane Arzoumanian and I were chatting about Journey and my frustrations about feeling “stuck” and not having a clear plan to help Journey after all my efforts. As we were chatting, she suggested I reach out to Dr. Kathy Murphy of Barking Brains, a very well respected veterinary surgeon and neuroscientist based in the UK. So that is exactly what I did!

Dr. Murphy and I consulted on a zoom call for two hours. She reviewed his videos, my time line of observations and provided me with information about the canine brain and so much more. The amount of information I received from our consult was honestly, more than I had gained from consulting with three neurologists put together. I was blown away by how much I learned from her consult.

“Get a brain scan using a 3T MRI”

One of Dr. Murphy’s suggestions was to get an MRI of Journey’s brain as well as a spinal tap. She suggested now that Journey was two and a half years old, his brain was fully developed and that if he had epilepsy or some other neurological type issue, an MRI MIGHT help identify something abnormal, though, not guaranteed. She specifically suggested getting 3 Tesla (3T) MRI. Prior to this information, I had no idea there were different types of MRI’s!

A 3 Tesla (3T) MRI is essentially a much higher resolution image. Most hospitals, including many big name Vet Schools only have a 1.5 Tesla (1.5T) MRI. As I learned, in some cases, a 1.5T MRI might not clearly capture or identify certain things compared to a higher resolution, 3T MRI.

As I started talking about the informative consultation I had with Dr. Murphy to my a dog trainer friend, Michele McLeod, she had said to me that I should reach out to Tufts University in Massachusetts to see about a 3T MRI at their vet school. I had told her that all their information online stated that they only had a 1.5T MRI. Michele took it upon herself to call Tufts Veterinary School and was able to speak with a technician who said that they in fact had a 3T MRI. Both myself and Dr. Waters called to confirm and sure enough they had it!

Sign for School of Veterinary Medicine
Exterior of the School of Veterinary Medicine

Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

On 2/15/22 at 9:30am, we had our Neurology Consultation at Tufts Veterinary School. We were greeted by a Veterinary student who had additional questions about Journey’s episodes prior to the appointment. Once she provided the veterinarian with the additional information we were escorted to the exam room.

We met with the doctor who went through some additional questions to learn more about Journey’s case. Interestingly, she didn’t seem very interested in my videos. I had about twenty of them, but we only reviewed about three. In a way, I felt as though she dismissed some of my concerns.

After chatting, she said to me that she felt Journey’s concerns seemed to her as either some type of intestinal issue/stomach type issue, a dermatologic issue or a movement disorder of some kind. She felt that this was not epilepsy or a seizure because Journey’s episodes present in a number of different ways, where as seizure type activity generally presents itself the same way and can get worse overtime. The doctor suggested that if Journey were her dog, she would do a food trial of a single protein diet or a hydrolyzed protein diet as sometimes intestinal issues can cause weird behaviors and pain to occur. And seeing that Journey has always found food a little aversive and doesn’t have much of an appetite, she wondered if this could be the cause. She also felt since he seemed to be chewing on himself and licking himself more as he got older, that this could even be some kind of dermatologic issue and that a food trial might address this as well.

The doctors second option was performing an electro-diagnostic test, which would test the movement of his limbs to see if they would notice any abnormal movements to determine if he in fact had a movement disorder of some kind. The third option was moving forward with an MRI of the brain and a spinal tap. Though, she felt “70% sure that nothing will show up on the MRI”.

I left the appointment feeling unsure and discouraged and in some ways angry. I immediately called Dr. Waters, who also seemed surprised. I asked her what she would do if this was her dog. Her response was “You made it this far and with all we have done, and knowing how picky he is with food, we are going to need a few months to really be able to determine if in fact it is a intestinal or dermatological issue. And I think we are going to end up back at the same place and you will still need an MRI.”

I then called Viviane and chatted with her. I started messaging Dr. Kathy Murphy and finally, called my parents. I was so stressed out that I needed to speak to everyone to get their opinions on what I should do. Every single person responded immediately that day. In the end, after taking two hours to process what the vet at Tufts said and what everyone else had to say, with the help of these friends and my gut, I decided the MRI and spinal tap was necessary. Two days later I took Journey in for his MRI.

Anthony and Journey in a waiting room

The morning of the MRI in the waiting room

The MRI

The morning after Journey’s initial Neurology Consultation at Tufts, I received the consultation report by email. As I started looking it over, I noticed that the vet I saw at Tufts was actually a Neurology Resident, not a board certified neurologist. I have nothing against residents. I can actually make the same comparison to dog trainers and behavior consultants within my own field. BUT I drove four hours for this appointment and when I called to book this appointment I let the hospital know this was not an ordinary case and that I wanted an appointment with a Board Certified Neurologist.

After realizing I did not meet with a board certified neurologist, I was relieved that I decided to move forward with the MRI because I felt she may have missed something in her observations.

On 2/17/22 at 7:30am I dropped Journey off for his MRI. I was a nervous wreck. At 9:00am a vet technician emailed me asking for the video footage I had of Journey’s episodes so that the board certified neurologist could take a look at them. At 3:30pm, the neuro resident called to update me. She said that the neurologist performing the MRI reviewed the videos as well as his brain scan. The brain scan was clear! Nothing abnormal showed up. BUT, the neurologist noticed after observing the videos that Journey seemed to display more of his episodes towards his lumbar/rear area, so the neurologist decided she wanted to do a lumbosacral MRI (an MRI of his lumbar/rear area). They identified that it was very possible he has a rare condition called Tethered Cord Syndrome. They couldn’t rule out whether he also had Epilepsy, but based on the findings of the MRI, it seemed that the episodes Journey was having was related to Tethered Cord Syndrome.

Tethered Cord Syndrome in Dogs

According to the Neuro report from Tufts, they describe Tether Cord Syndrome as:

“A rare condition. Tether Cord Syndrome occurs when there is abnormal tension on the spinal cord due to a problem with the filum terminale. Normally, the end of the spinal cord is attached to a piece of fibrous tissue (the filum terminale) which attaches to the sacrum tailbone. The normal attachment and position of the filum terminale allows the end of the spinal cord to move without tension as the dog moves. In dogs with Tethered Cord Syndrome, the filum terminale can either be pulled up in an abnormal position causing more tension on the spinal cord or can be inelastic which prohibits movement of the spinal cord when the dog moves. (This means that when Journey’s body is in extension, his spinal cord isn’t moving/extending. Whereas in a normal dog, when their body is moving or in extension, the spinal cord moves and extends.) This abnormal tension can lead to pain in the hindlimbs, hind end weakness, urinary or fecal incontinence or pain when defecating. Typically Tether Cord Syndrome is a congenital problem meaning the patient was born with this condition and most dogs begin having symptoms early on in their life.”

The report went on to say:

“It is very possible that this syndrome could explain Journey’s episodes. Additionally, the rest of his spinal cord and his brain appeared unremarkable on the MRI. The analysis of his cerebrospinal fluid was unremarkable as well. As discussed, some dogs with Tethered Cord Syndrome can be managed medically. Medical management is aimed at reducing discomfort, but does not prevent the disease progression. We have prescribed a neuropathic pain medication with behavior modification properties called amitriptyline. We do not suspect that this medication will resolve Journey’s clinical signs, but we do suspect that if Journey does have Tethered Cord Syndrome it should at least reduce the frequency and/or severity of his episodes. If Journey does not significantly improve with medical management, surgery can also be considered. This surgery involves cutting out a piece of the filum terminale to release tension on the spinal cord. Risks of surgery include intra-operative pain, transient neurologic worsening, and less commonly permanent neurologic worsening, urinary incontience, or infection.”

A Recent Discovery in Dogs

Tethered Cord Syndrome has only recently been discovered in dogs within the past few years. One of the ways Tethered Cord Syndrome is being looked at is through the comparison and information and research provided in humans who suffer from this rare condition. The neurologist at Tufts University collaborates on rare conditions like this with human neurologists who have knowledge about Tethered Cord Syndrome in humans. It is very interesting because in our discussion about Journey, the neurologist explained that many of my descriptions of Journey’s issues had a lot of similarities to what people with Tethered Cord report.

The most common secondary side effects reported by people with Tethered Cord Syndrome are:

  • Urinary incontinence with intermittent leaking
  • Lower leg weakness
  • Muscle cramping
  • Back pain
  • Abnormal tingling sensations running through the body, especially in the limbs or a sharp shooting pain in the limbs
  • Orthopedic abnormalities issues such as abnormal rotation in the limbs
  • Pain and or weakness in the arms

Treating Tethered Cord

Currently, treatment is either the use of medication or surgery. Medication will not cure this condition or decrease its progression. It does however reduce the frequency and/or severity of the episodes themselves. If medication doesn’t work, surgery would be the only other treatment at this time from what it seems like. Surgery would involve cutting a piece of the filum terminale. To my understanding, the filum terminale is a band of tissue which helps stabilize the spinal cord. Cutting a piece of the flium terminale would release the tension on the spinal cord.

The Stars Aligned

It was as if the stars aligned this day. The board certified neurologist happens to be one of the ONLY neurologists in the country who knew what Tethered Cord Syndrome is! What was even more fascinating was that the vet technician who was assisting in Journey’s MRI owns a dog with the same condition! Her dog happened to be the first one the doctor performed the surgery on. When she saw the videos of Journey she said that her dog had presented very similar/identical episodes prior to her dog having surgery. I couldn’t believe how crazy this was! She even showed me video footage of her dog and the dogs responses were identical to Journey!

(As a side note, it is important to mention that when observing Journey’s episodes many might feel as though he has epilepsy or focal seizures as they look very similar. Others may also feel his episodes look like Ataxia, which is a common issue found in the Australian Kelpie. At this time Tufts has not ruled out seizure or epileptic activity, which was previously diagnosed by the AMC.)

Interesting articles on Tethered Cord Syndrome in dogs:

Frontiers in Veterinary Science Journal-Tethered Cord Syndrome

Science Direct- Tethered Cord in Canines 

Merck Manual of Veterinary Medicine- Spinal Cord Disorders in Animals

I decided to look into some of the symptoms occurring in humans just to see what I might find. After reading a couple of articles and studies on this condition in humans, it was so interesting because much of what I read was similar and/or identical to Journey’s episodes. Again, the reality is that Tethered Cord Syndrome is only recently discovered in dogs, which means that we don’t even know all the signs and symptoms.

According to Seattle Children’s, a hospital, research center and foundation, they describe that symptoms found in children with Tethered Cord Syndrome are:

“Children may have several symptoms of tethered spinal cord, including:

  • Back pain or shooting pain in the legs
  • Weakness, numbness or problems with muscle function in the legs
  • Tremors or spasms in the leg muscles
  • Changes in the way the feet look, like higher arches or curled toes
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control that gets worse
  • Scoliosis or abnormal curve of the spine that changes or gets worse
  • Repeated bladder infections
  • In a child with an unknown tethered cord, signs on the back such as a fatty mass, dimple, birthmark, tuft of hair or anorectal malformations

“Furthermore, children may also have myelomeningocele symptoms or lipomyelomeningocele symptoms if they have one of these birth defects. If a tethered spinal cord is not repaired, it can cause lasting nerve damage and loss of function over time.” (Source: Seattle Children’s)

It is interesting to see how these symptoms can also lead to other issues in children, including additional health related issues, neurological issues and physical and mental development, including learning delays. It makes me wonder how else this condition could have possibly affected Journey as a puppy and now as an adult. If children and adults can have other related physical and mental health issues and issues learning and processing what they learn, I wonder if and how this might also occur with dogs who suffer from this condition. Especially since I mentioned one of the issues I had with Journey was his aversion to food, increased anxieties and fear. I cannot help but wonder how else this condition might have impacted him during his development as a puppy and adolescent.

Some of Journey’s MRI Images of Tethered Cord

Screenshot of Journey's MRI Imagery

Screenshot of Journey's MRI Imagery

Screenshot of Journey's MRI Imagery

Screenshot of Journey's MRI Imagery

Screenshot of Journey's MRI Imagery

Video Footage of Tethered Cord Syndrome

What I have learned

Where do I even begin? All I can say is that we are our dogs advocates, we’re their voice. We know our dogs best, most of the time. This has been quite a journey, one that isn’t over yet. Looking back on the past three years, what I have learned most is that if you feel something is wrong, speak up. And if you feel you are not getting the answers to your questions, keep searching and exploring. My curiosity, persistency and perseverance have been key to this continued journey with my dog. I hope this helps educate and inspire others to continue learning, stay curious and speak up when you feel something isn’t right. We are our dog’s voice!

A Special Thanks!

A special thanks to all those mentioned in this blog and those who were not mentioned in this blog (you all know who you are). Your invaluable information, time, and curiosity helped me get to this current point in helping Journey. Thank you!

Anthony

Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with severe behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home and virtual behavior consultations, as well as dog training services across Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony has seven professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP), Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, and The Third Way Certified Trainer. Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest, both of which are training in agility and sheep herding.

May 18, 2022