Sometimes fibrocartilage from an intervertebral disc can “embolize” or dislodge into the blood supply of the spinal cord. This can result in loss of blood supply to the spinal cord, similar to a stroke lesion.
Common Clinical Signs of FCE
FCE is common in middle-aged large and giant dogs and is typically associated with exercising or traumatic incident. However, FCE can occur in dogs of any size. Breeds reported to be more commonly affected include German shepherds, Irish wolfhounds and miniature schnauzers. Rarely, FCE can occur in cats.
The spinal cord injury caused by FCE can result in an asymmetric acute disuse of one or multiple limbs, more commonly affecting the hind limbs. The severity can range from asymmetric weakness to paralysis with loss of pain sensation to the affected limb(s). The site affected depends on where the clot disrupted the flow of blood to the spinal cord.
FCE may cause the animal pain within the first few hours, but this will usually subside within the first 24 hours.
Progression of FCE
The clinical signs associated with FCE develop over minutes to hours, and typically stabilize (don’t get worse) within the first 24 hours. Often a key clinical feature is improvement of neurologic signs within a few days.
Diagnosis of FCE
A presumed diagnosis of FCE can be made based on clinical signs. Because an intervertebral disc herniation can mirror the clinical signs of FCE, often imaging is needed to confirm the diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spinal cord can confirm the area undergoing its loss of blood supply.
Treatment for dogs with FCE includes supportive care and physical rehabilitation. Prognosis for improvement of neurologic deficits is good. Pets that show improvement in their clinical signs within two weeks often have a better prognosis for functional recovery. It is important to know that the recovery process can take weeks to months. Unfortunately, if your pet has complete loss of pain sensation in the affected limb(s), the prognosis for regaining function of the limb is considered poor.