DELLA TAUGHT TO WALK AGAIN; Vets work their magic on paralysed cocker spaniel.
STAFF at a Cardiff veterinary clinic have worked their muscle-mending magic once again, by helping a paralysed dog relearn how to walk.
Eight-year-old Della had been like any other normal dog, enjoying an active lifestyle with her owners for a number of years.
But on April 6 the cocker spaniel became paralysed in all four of her legs.
Her owners from Pembrokeshire took the black, white and grey dog to a specialist in Bath who was able to confirm Della was suffering from Polyradiculoneuritis only through a process of elimination.
From there, Della was directed to the Cardiff-based SMART Clinic, which specialises in animal sports medicine and rehabilitation therapy.
SMART vet Tamsin O'Brien, who took charge of Della's treatment, said: "They were very upset in the beginning and obviously apprehensive.
"It had been a massive shock to them to have a healthy dog that had gone from walking to paralysed in a matter of days."
An extremely rare condition, Miss O'Brien said she had only seen a handful of cases during her time working with animals, but in the last two years she has seen three different dogs with the condition.
The vet said: "I don't know why it is that we're seeing such cases. It's not been such a widespread thing in the past so I'm not sure if it's something to do with the environment or maybe we're just getting better at picking these cases up."
The condition causes motor neuron paralysis, leaving the animal unable to stand on all fours and often only capable of moving by crawling on its belly. The first signs are weakened back legs, but in a matter of days, the animal becomes paralysed in all four limbs. "She was completely paralysed and was just sitting on her chest with no movement. It's very difficult to diagnose," said Miss O'Brien.
"It's not fully understood because it's such a rare condition. It's also hard to know what triggers it. Hers is like an idiopathic one. It's not understood what causes it."
After coming into the Cardiff clinic on April 15, the vets noted that the condition was "the doggy equivalent" of a human ailment called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
"In humans, it's associated with bacterial infection. With her, she basically felt a bit wobbly on her back legs to begin with but then after a couple of days, was completely paralysed," said Miss O'Brien.
"She's now getting herself up, running around and enjoying life. She was like a seal before."
The condition often sees the animals recover by themselves but many dogs in the past have lost the muscle memory to help them with simple things like walking and running.
"There's no real medication that can do anything so it's more about supportive care. Sometimes with this, leg function can be affected."
Della has now spent six weeks at the clinic with treatments that include underwater treadmill training, acupuncture and deep massages that stimulate the muscles and tendons - travelling from Pembrokeshire and staying for five days at a time.
The SMART clinic has had previous success with Cardiff-based American Bulldog Ronnie, who was put through a similar regime that would make pampered celebrities jealous.
Ronnie had been brought in as a four-month-old puppy barely able to walk due to a rare condition called carpal flexural limb deformity.
But after weeks on the specialised SMART clinic programme, he was up wandering around on his own again. And Miss O'Brien is pleased that a similar treatment has given Della a new lease of life.
"She's more or less back to normal now. The only thing she hasn't got now is stamina. She's running around the place and is cheerful," added Miss O'Brien.
| Della, the eight-year-old cocker spaniel, had a rare condition which meant she could not walk but is now on the mend at the SMART Clinic in Cardiff and, inset, vet Tamsin O'Brien with another patient PICTURES: Andrew James (c)