Q My 7-year-old female Shih Tzu suddenly developed a sore neck. My local vet treated her for several days, then referred me to an orthopedic surgeon veterinarian. My little dog was very inactive, cried out when touched on top of her neck area and walked stiffly and only when urged. The orthopedic veterinarian X-rayed her and recommended removal of a portion of the vertebra, saying it was a pinched-nerve, slipped-disc situation. The charge for surgery would be about $1,000, which I could not do, so I have continued with medication prescribed by my local vet--prednisone, Robaxin and Valium. Now, one month after the onset, she seems OK. She runs, plays and acts quite normally.
I would like a second opinion, please. Would it be injurious to her to continue medication (side effects, etc.)? If the neck situation is eased, what are the chances of reoccurrence? Is surgery on a little dog's vertebra usually successful? She has had a lower back problem very similar to the problem with her neck but closer to her tail. Both times, a cortisone shot cleaned it up. The last time was nearly nine months ago. Should this be treated with surgery too? I would really appreciate your comments about my dog's problem.
A From your description of your dog's signs and the diagnosis of both your veterinarian and the referral surgeon, it is apparent that your dog has a disc problem of the cervical spine (neck), which is relatively common for her breed and age. Treatment depends on the severity of the signs and the potential damage done to the nerve roots or the spinal cord.
Many dogs respond well to long-term medication such as the prednisone and restriction of activity. The use of a harness instead of a collar is mandatory to prevent further injury to the neck. If the damage is more extensive, with the disc material putting pressure on the nervous tissue, and your dog becomes weak and suffers more pain, surgery may be your only alternative. Success with surgery is generally very good, depending again on the condition of the dog's neck and her neurological status. If her weakness and pain become severe, surgery may not be as successful.
Long-term medication is generally given on a reduced protocol in order to prevent any side effects and yet provide the relief necessary for your dog. You should follow your veterinarian's advice and have her checked frequently for any signs of a deteriorating condition. Reoccurrence is a definite possibility, and surgery may be her only alternative for a normal life, if she does get worse.
Q Where can I purchase a healthy cockatiel for Christmas? I have seen them for sale at swap meets and wonder if it is OK to buy them there.
A Any time you want to purchase a pet, it is best done through a reputable breeder or, for birds, a pet shop that specializes in birds and their accessories, such as food and cages. Be sure to ask about the pet's age, sex (if possible), special diets, exercise needs and any potential illness or problems. Avoid the quiet recluse or any bird that just doesn't seem right to you. Birds are very good at masking their illnesses, so you must be very observant. Hand-tamed birds are going to be more expensive than those that aren't tamed, so be sure to ask how the bird was raised and if it will need any special training. Avoid any smuggled birds, regardless of cost.
Q With the cold season starting, do I need to keep my dogs indoors, or is it OK to put them out at night? They are both shepherd mixes and have good coats and love to be outdoors. They are out at nights now.
A If your dogs enjoy the outdoors and are healthy, it would be OK as long as you do provide shelter from the rain and dampness. Most dogs like to come in at night, so if the house is off-limits, you might give them access to the garage. If the weather turns extremely cold, do keep them in.
Got a question about your pet? Write to: Dr. Glenn Ericson, Ask the Vet, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Ericson, a practicing Orange County veterinarian, is immediate past president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn.