A brachial plexus injury results from trauma to the dog, but it can cause emotional trauma in the owner. The brachial plexus consists of nerve tissues, specifically the first two thoracic nerves and the last three cervical nerves. These nerves control the front legs. If a dog experiences a brachial plexus injury, most commonly a brachial plexus avulsion, the nerves are stretched or torn and leg paralysis results. It’s always a veterinary emergency.
There is no cure for brachial plexus avulsion, but certain therapies can improve your dog’s condition and quality of life. Amputation is often performed to prevent the dog from constantly biting and mutilating the affected limb. On rare occasions, spontaneous recovery occurs. However, if the dog doesn’t improve within four weeks of the injury, there is no chance of such a recovery.
Brachial plexus injuries generally result from severe trauma, such as getting hit by a car, failure to negotiate a high jump or falling from a considerable height. It takes a great deal of force to tear or stretch the nerves in a dog’s leg. Your veterinarian will diagnose the extent of the injury via an MRI or CT scan.
When a dog suffers from a brachial plexus injury, it is obvious that something is very wrong. The animal drags the affected, paralyzed leg, but doesn’t appear in pain. That’s because the damaged nerves are not sending pain signals. While the shoulder and elbow are dropped, some dogs might retain the ability to flex the wrist.
More than half of all dogs diagnosed with brachial plexus injuries also suffer from Horner’s Syndrome, an eye condition occurring on the same side as the injured leg. The upper eyelid droops, the third eyelid appears and the pupil remains small. The nerves involved in a brachial plexus tear also affect the eye. Although the eye may look strange, the dog can still see.
Therapies for Brachial Plexus Conditions
Therapy as soon as the veterinarian allows it is crucial in your dog’s regaining any sort of movement or control of the leg. Such therapies usually begin within a week to ten days after the injury, by which time the swelling has lessened. These include:
- Physical therapy – Exercises to encourage leg stretching may result in some muscle movement.
- Laser therapy – Laser light helps repair damaged tissue, and may aid recently injured dogs.
- Hydrotherapy – Warm water helps dogs heal. Because the muscles in the affected leg quickly atrophy, regular water therapy sessions can prevent serious wasting. Hydrotherapy also aids the muscles on the opposite leg. These muscles often become contracted, since there’s no longer a leg on the other side forcing them to stretch out. The majority of dogs really enjoy hydrotherapy.
Veterinarians generally don’t amputate a leg immediately after the injury. The procedure usually takes place about six months after the trauma, when it is clear there is no chance of recovery. By that time, the owner knows whether the dog will incessantly chew or otherwise irritate the foot and leg. Because the dog can’t feel the limb, the owner must constantly monitor it for signs of infection. Removing the leg can prevent the dog from developing a systemic infection originating in the limb and not noticed until it is too late.
There’s no better therapy for tripod dogs than swimming. Regular hydrotherapy sessions allow three-legged dogs to exercise and stay in shape.
Many dogs get along just fine with three legs. Remember that your dog doesn’t consider himself odd-looking. He’ll require some extra care, but there’s no reason he can’t live a long, relatively normal life.