Brownie’s Bark Alert! On Spinal Walking
Brownie’s Bark Alert!
Today’s Topic: Spinal Walking
Brownie: You may have read the story of my spinal surgery. It’s been about six months since my surgery and I never recovered deep pain sensation in my hind legs, tail or back end of my body. That means my brain is not able to send signals down my spinal column to the back half of my body. You’d think that since my brain can’t talk to my back legs I wouldn’t be able to walk but actually, I am able to walk. I do something called “spinal walking” and it’s not the most graceful walking in the world but I am able to get from one place to another on my own. So when I want to follow my nose to that interesting scent, I’m mostly able to do it on my own!
You can check out a video of me walking.
For more on spinal walking, I’ll turn it over to my parents.
Beth and Dave: No one is entirely sure what causes spinal walking to occur. It’s not walking in the sense that the brain is telling the back legs to move and the muscles are responding. Rather, it is an involuntary motor function caused by a spinal cord reflex. Specialized structures in the spinal cord generate patterns and replicate a functional gait. It is sometimes referred to as a “drunken” gait as it is jerky and can be uncoordinated but it does allow for the dog to get around independently. Because it is a reflex, the muscles only work for walking in a straight line since the brain can’t tell the legs to change direction. But as you can see from the video above, when Brownie gets going he can walk pretty well.
A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showed that dogs given an intensive course of physical rehabilitation can gain the ability to spinal walk. For Brownie, that entailed 10 weeks of twice weekly visits to rehab where he did all kinds of exercises to strengthen his hinds legs, including walking on an underwater treadmill. Extensive stretching was also a part of his rehab since his muscles atrophied from lack of use following his surgery. The 2017 study also said that younger dogs carrying less weight had a better chance to begin spinal walking. Following his surgery, and over the course of his rehabilitation, we were able to get Brownie’s weight reduced from around 19 pounds to around 14 pounds, which is a more appropriate weight for a dog his size.
Beth, Dave and Brownie: We all enjoy getting out for walks together again. We’ve had to make some changes in our routine to accommodate the spinal walking but the exercise is good for all of us!