Stairs and back problems–dog and human

My darling Skipper-Dee-Doo-Dah has a bulging vertebral disk, and our vet tells me that he’s got to be kept as still as possible for three weeks, and hopefully the complete rest will help the painkillers, muscle relaxants and steroids he’s taking to heal his back completely. Skip can’t run or even walk a lot, and stairs are certainly out of the question.

We have a bi-level house which has 15 steps in one straight run down to the backyard. When Skip’s gotta potty, he has to be carried down the steps and then carried back up. Shouldn’t be that difficult a situation, but the little bugger is now 28 pounds. Yes, 28 pounds. He’s a tad chunky. This has undoubtedly contributed to his back problems. Cocker spaniels are what’s called a chondrodystrophic breed, which means just that they’re longer than they are tall. They share this body type with beagles, basset hounds, corgis and dachshunds, and genetically all of these breeds are predisposed toward spinal and disk problems just because of their height-to-length ratio.

To lessen the strain on a spinal column that’s already at a disadvantage, it’s vital for these breeds of dogs to stay at a healthy weight, and avoid doing a lot of jumping up and down on furniture. And even though ALL dogs should be safely restrained while riding in the car, it’s even more important to put these chondrodystrophic breeds in a crate or in a doggie seat belt, because something as mundane as a sudden stop can cause your dog to lose its footing and fall to the floor, potentially injuring its back.

Skipper has been resting and taking all his meds, and I think he’s feeling MUCH perkier now. So I was carrying him down to the backyard Thursday, and he was feeling pretty eager to get down and play, and was very WIGGLY. He wiggled so much that I was worried more about keeping a good grip on his little round butt, than I was on maintaining my footing on the slippery steps. I ALMOST fell, but luckily for both of us, I caught myself. I think I may have pulled a muscle in my back as a result, though, because even after I was adjusted by my chiropractor I’m still having a LOT of pain in my mid-back region. Feels like a muscle cramp every time I take a deep breath (which I haven’t been doing a lot of, since SOMEBODY FUZZY HAS BEEN MAKING REALLY TERRIBLE WIND) and every time I try to carry something heavy–like Skip.

My Wonderful Pumpkin has been Skipper’s valet since I got home from the chiro yesterday afternoon, but he was called away to work today. I’m hoping that this whole back thing will heal quickly–or at least stop hurting. Sitting at my computer desk is uncomfortable, not to mention that it makes the whole dog-toting situation problematic.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues like this with injured dogs and this house. Earlier this year, we had an English springer spaniel foster boy named Chance. Chance was a darling senior citizen who was chock full of personality. Even though he had limited mobility of his hind legs due to a growth that had been neglected for too long, Chance was still pretty adept at running up & down the back stairs with the rest of the furkids–until he developed idiopathic vestibular disease. That causes extreme dizziness. Chance couldn’t even walk across the carpeted dining room floor without falling over, so of course he couldn’t do the deck stairs thus we were carrying him up and down–and at 55 pounds, he was considerably larger than Skipper.

At this same time, Skipper himself was recovering from heartworm treatment, which requires complete “bedrest” for lack of a better term. HE was not allowed to do anything that could raise his blood pressure, including running, jumping, and going up and down stairs. So he was being carried up and down to the yard, as well. At that point, KipKip was only 20 pounds, so he wasn’t really too burdensome.

Just to add to the fun, at about that same time, Belle developed back problems, too–it turned out that she had Lyme disease, but it took a while before our vet could make that diagnosis, so just to be safe, SHE was on complete bedrest for a while at that same time.

Here’s Kipper and Belle, commiserating about their enforced confinement June 2 of this year:

img_3318You can’t really tell from this photo, but Kipper and Belle are nose-to-nose through the crates. Kip’s nosey is between his front paws, right by Belle’s paws.

So of the four dogs we had at that point, THREE were being carried up & down the stairs. In order to lessen the odds of me falling and killing myself and whichever dog I was carrying at that time, I set up shop down in our basement recreation room. The rec room has a slider which opens directly to the back yard, at ground level. Rick and I would tote everyone down to the rec room in the morning, and I’d bring my computer down there, and we’d hang out in the basement. When the Pumpkin came home, he’d check his e-mail and then he’d join us down there for dinner and evening television viewing.

It wasn’t as grim as it might sound–the rec room is quite nice, with a big-screen TV and a fireplace (which we didn’t use too much during the summer) and there’s a half-bath right around the corner in the laundry room. I had set up a hot water kettle and a canister of tea bags down there, so as long as I brought a pitcher of water down first thing in the morning, I was all set. I just didn’t get a lot of housework or cooking done, because when I would try to go upstairs or into another room the dogs would get restless and try to challenge the baby gate to come and find me. Multiple floors. Dangit.

Ironically enough, when we were looking for houses around the Ann Arbor area in 2005, we passed up a bi-level that had a STUNNING yard and a dreamy location, because at that point, we had Kacey Marie with us. Kace was completely blind in both eyes, and I knew that if we brought her home and put her upstairs, and then decided to go down to hang out in the rec room for the evening, that she’d just stay where we left her. At that point, Kacey wasn’t interested in doing stairs at all, and I didn’t think it was fair to live in a house in which Kacey didn’t have free rein. That was the right decision for that time, and I’m glad that we bought the single-level ranch house we ended up with, for all our sakes.

Fast-forward to October 2007, and we’re looking for our new house. We see our current house, on a dead-end street in a quiet subdivision not too far away from everything but not too close, either, and it’s got a huge, beautiful, fenced yard. It’s a bi-level, but at that point, we were all able-bodied and we thought it might be nice to have a rec room suitable for entertaining friends. Didn’t think ahead to the possibility of dogs with mobility problems, or potential mobility problems of our own.

I guess the moral of this story is “don’t buy a bi-level house unless you have an elevator installed for when your knees go bad and your dogs have back problems.” As for us, this is one more lesson learned in home traits that we find desirable.

I gotta go ice my back now. I wonder if Skipper would mind sharing his muscle relaxants with his mummah…

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