A fibrocartilagenous embolism (FCE) is the equivalent of a stroke in the spine instead of in the brain. It is seen most commonly in dogs. It happens when a small fragment of the cartilaginous intervertebral disk breaks off and becomes lodged in one of the blood vessels in the spine, suddenly compromising blood supply to that section of the spinal cord. This causes a sudden onset weakness or paralysis to one limb, to both back legs or to all four legs, depending on which part of the spinal cord is affected.
An FCE in dogs may be painful in the moment it occurs, and the dog may yelp while exercising. After this, the pain usually subsides and a profound weakness or paralysis is seen. The vet will likely want to rule out other causes of paralysis in dogs, such as spinal compression and paralysis tick toxicity.
The prognosis depends on the extent of damage to the spinal cord after blood supply is compromised, as well as other factors such as the location of the FCE and the age and general condition of the patient. Some dogs will recover, albeit slowly over several months with nursing care and physiotherapy. Acupuncture may also help in some cases. If you see signs of paralysis in your pet, it is important to take him or her to the vet immediately as time could play a role in whether treatment is successful.
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