When Dr. Karen Kline, medical director and staff neurologist at VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, Oregon, first saw a boxer named Hot Rod, he could barely use the lower portion of his body. He relied on a wheelchair to get around and needed a catheter to urinate.
"I think he was extremely uncomfortable and it was painful," Dr. Kline said. "He was very quiet, but loving and wonderful. He didn't try to bite or anything like that."
Sweetness and Spunk Land Hot Rod a Second Chance
Hot Rod's story begins about 1,900 miles south in Presidio, a border town in Texas. He started experiencing intermittent paralysis in his back legs about two years ago. When his owner could no longer take care of him, Hot Rod was surrendered to an animal shelter. But instead of being euthanized, Hot Rod's life was spared by an animal control officer who was impressed by the boxer's sweetness and spunk.
The officer reached out to a small local rescue, The Underground Dog. Its founder, Heather H. Hall, agreed to take in Hot Rod. Then, as Hall had done before, she contacted One Tail at a Time PDX (OTAT), her rescue partner based in Portland, Oregon – a city with high pet adoption rates. To help give pets a much better chance at finding forever homes, OTAT takes in dogs from Texas and other states with overflowing animal shelters.
Hot Rod was transported from Presidio to Portland and fostered by Maya Brown, the medical coordinator for OTAT.
"He's stoic when you first meet him, but he has the biggest heart," Brown said. "I can see why the animal control officer in Texas wanted to take a chance on him. He really is a joyful dog and just full of love."
Diagnosing the Cause of Hot Rod's Paralysis
Over the next couple of weeks, Brown noticed some minor improvement in Hot Rod. "Even when he was in his wheelchair, you could see his back legs start to move, and he would start to walk on his knees a little bit and scoot around," she said. "You could tell he was getting so close to walking, but his back leg muscles were very wasted, so it just took a little time."
When a veterinarian recommended a neurology consultation, Dr. Kline agreed to see Hot Rod the very next day. "It was lucky timing and Dr. Kline being flexible and like, 'Yes, I will do this for them,'" Brown said. "I'm very grateful for Dr. Kline being able to see him so quickly and being willing to work with a rescue."
In addition to OTAT, the VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists team has treated pets from the local chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind, as well as several rescue organizations, including Pacific Pug Rescue, Golden Bond Rescue and Underdogs Rock! Rescue.
An MRI revealed an abnormal bone in the middle of Hot Rod's spinal column. Fortunately, the abnormality wasn't a tumor, "which was great news," Dr. Kline said. Instead, a fine-needle aspiration found that Hot Rod had a treatable fungal infection, known as discospondylitis, that affects the disks and bones in the spine.
Dogs can become infected either by inhaling or ingesting the fungus. Cats are rarely infected. Dr. Kline has treated other dogs with discospondylitis, which she said is more common in German shepherds.
“He's got a fighting spirit, so I knew he was going to do everything possible in his power to turn things around.”
Unfortunately, unlike giving your dog a preventative for heartworm or other infections, there isn't much pet owners can do to prevent their dogs from discospondylitis. "A lot of times the organisms live in the soil, and you can't necessarily treat the soil because a lot of these fungal infections are opportunists," Dr. Kline explained. "If the pet is already a little immunocompromised, that's when things can kind of go awry."
Hot Rod's 'Pretty Amazing' Recovery – From Wagging to Walking
Hot Rod was treated with antifungal medication and a low dose of prednisone to relieve the inflammation and discomfort.
Just six weeks later, Hot Rod was able to walk again, although he was a little wobbly.
Dr. Kline said she had initially been "cautiously optimistic" regarding Hot Rod’s recovery. "He's got a fighting spirit, so I knew he was going to do everything possible in his power to turn things around," she said. Her intuition was correct: She recently saw Hot Rod and said "it's pretty amazing" that he's back up and about.
When Dr. Kline first treated Hot Rod, the boxer's tail was another sign of a potential success story. "When we see pets start to wag their tails, there's a good chance they're going to walk again," she explained. "I always tell people that wagging is walking. So never give up and always be optimistic about outcomes."
Hot Rod has found a forever home with Erin Hill and her husband, who met him at an OTAT adoption event. "He's got great energy, but he's also very sweet, especially as he's regained some of his mobility," Hill said. "He's really come into his own in terms of energy and playfulness. He doesn't really know his size, so that can be fun."
If your pet has mobility issues, Dr. Kline said it's important to get a diagnosis. "Thankfully in the veterinary field we have all the bells and whistles, like MRI and CT scans," she said. "MRI is probably the best diagnostic tool we have, just as it is for people."
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