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The canine spine is similar to the human spine and it is designed to give support and strength as well as protect the spinal cord which is the bodies method of sending messages around the body. It runs from the base of the skull to the tip of the tail.
The spinal column on a dog is separated in to four sections. The cervical section in the neck has 7 vertebrae, the thoracic in the mid back has 13 vertebrae, the lower back or lumber area has 7 vertebrae and the sacral area around the pelvic region has 3 vertebrae. The dogs tail usually consists of between 6 and 23 vertebrae.
If you suspect your pet has suffered an injury to his spine, extreme care must be taken not to make the injury worse. When we talk about spinal injury, we are not just looking at a fracture to the bones but also to damage to the spinal cord or to the parts of the spine.
Spinal injury is a serious condition and may cause severe pain, immediate veterinary care must be sought. Check your pet’s vital signs, paying extra attention to their breathing rate and pattern.
Some spinal injuries can lead to an inability to breathe properly. Your pet may be unable to use their hind limbs or all four limbs. They may cry out in pain if they try to move her head or torso.
In human terms, we always treat a suspected spinal injury as a spinal injury and this is the same in pets. The key difference with humans is that we have the emergency medical services to help stabilise and move the patient, with pets, this is usually down to the owner.
You need to find a way of transporting the animal to the vets while minimising movement and immobilising them. Some type of board or sturdy, flat material should be obtained.
For cats and small dogs, a pet carrier or thick cardboard box may be sufficient. Several layers of large pieces of cardboard taped together may work for medium sized dogs, but something stronger will be needed for larger dogs. Car parcel shelfs or car mats will provide good support.
If nothing else is available, a large quilt can be used as a sling, but will not provide much support and the goal is to minimise movement of the spine.
Once the dog has been gently placed on the board, they should be secured in place with strips of tape over their shoulders and hips, attached to the board. They should be transported immediately to a veterinary facility.
Phone ahead if possible so the staff are there when you arrive to move the animal out of the car. They will have equipment available to safely transport your pet into the vets.