New Hope for Paraplegic Dogs

Photo courtesy

There are many causes of paraplegia or hind end paralysis in dogs. Far and away, the most common cause is intervertebral disc disease (aka, slipped disc or herniated disc). Dachshunds are the “poster dogs” for this disease. Surgery to remove the disc material compressing the spinal cord can prevent paralysis in many cases. For some dogs, surgery is ineffective. Additionally, many people simply cannot afford this expensive treatment option.

A study on paralyzed dogs

A recent study performed at North Carolina State University offers some new hope for dogs with paraplegia. The researchers studied 19 dogs all of whom had paraplegia caused either by disc disease or trauma. All of the dogs had been chronically affected and were only chosen for the study if it was believed that they had maxed out on their neurological improvement.

Study design

All of the dogs in the study were treated over time with three different things:

  1. 4-Aminopyridine (4-AP): This drug affects the flow of potassium into nerve cells called axons. In some cases, this restores nerve conduction within damaged axons. This drug is currently used as a treatment for people with multiple sclerosis. Higher dosages of 4-AP have been associated with adverse side effects in dogs including elevated temperature, anxiety, and seizures.
  2. T-butyl carbamate (t-butyl): This is a derivative of 4-AP, and was developed with hopes of improved effectiveness and reduced toxicity.
  3. Placebo: This was used for purposes of creating a controlled study in which results can be objectively compared.

Throughout the testing period, those observing the dogs were “blinded” as to which one of the three things each of the dogs was receiving. During weeks one and two, all dogs received the placebo. Throughout weeks three and four, half the dogs were treated with 4-AP and half with t-butyl. The dogs received nothing during weeks five and six so as to allow the drug to washout of their system. They then received the drug they were not yet exposed to during weeks seven and eight. All dogs again received the placebo during the final two weeks.


Thirteen of the 19 dogs completed the protocol. The researchers found that there was little difference in effectiveness between the two drugs. Both produced improvement in the dogs’ ability to step compared to the placebo. However, the levels of response were variable, ranging from no improvement at all to marked improvement in three dogs who were able to take steps on a treadmill without any support.

The t-butyl was extremely well tolerated by all of the dogs. Two dogs suffered side effects from the 4-AP including gastrointestinal upset and seizures.


The study results indicated that both 4-AP and t-butyl produce significant improvement in some dogs with paraplegia caused by intervertebral disc disease or trauma. Best of all, t-butyl seemingly does so without producing the side effects of its parent drug, 4-AP. The major question that remains is why did some dogs show dramatic improvement while others were seemingly unaffected.

Dr. Natasha Olby, one of the study researchers stated,

The question quickly went from, “Do the drugs work?” to, “Why aren’t they having similar effects across the board?” And there are many possible factors to consider- some of the dogs may not have any axons left for the drug to act on, or it may depend on how long they’ve been paralyzed or even whether or not they have a genetic predisposition to respond to this treatment. There is no doubt that either or both of these medications can have an amazing effect on the right patient, but now we have to do the work of finding out what conditions make the patient the right one. If we can do that, we may save both patients and owners a lot of unnecessary frustration.

My fingers are crossed that Dr. Olby and her colleagues are successful in their ongoing research.

Have you ever cared for a paraplegic dog?

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy new year,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


Be Sociable, Share!

8 Comments on “New Hope for Paraplegic Dogs

  1. I have a 10 y/o cardigan welsh corgi who has IVDD. He is currently recovering from his second episode of going down in the back. The first time he was paralyzed and required surgery. This time he did not become paralyzed but was unable to walk and was in pain. We treated him with cold laser therapy, chiropractic treatments, prednisone, Tramadol and several supplements. It has been six weeks since onset and he can now walk a short distance. His gait is very unsteady. Were these two drugs tested on dogs who were not paralyzed and would they possibly be worth trying for a dog like mine?

  2. Thank you for sharing Dr. Natasha Olby’s important research. It is important to note that what Dr. Olby’s team at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine learns through this work may be of potential help to human patients.

    Here’s a link to feature coverage of the research in the Raleigh News & Observer.

    Dave Green
    Director of Communication
    College of Veterinary Medicine
    North Carolina State University

  3. Thank you for the wonderful information in your article “New Hope for Paraplegic Dogs” with their dachshund poster child.

    I will pray for Dr. Olby and her colleagues to be successful in their ongoing research.

    Wish I did not live in a 2-story apartment — so I could rescue one of these adorable dachshunds.

    You write so beautifully, so scientific, so precise. Thank you again for educating all of us.

  4. Midwest Border Collie Rescue (MWBCR) currently has a dog that just received a cart and is looking for someone to adopt her! Chloe had physical trauma (currently both hips are dislocated) and also a neospora infection. Her foster home is amazing and is still doing therapy with her (PROMs, laser, underwater treadmill) and of course amazing at home care. Chloe. They are still treating the neospora.
    Chloe is an amazing girl who loves to play and has the sweetest personality.
    More info on her, along with video and photos of her can be found at

  5. I own and care for a paraplegic dog (Pembroke Welsh Corgi). His name is Bevo and he suffers from degenerative myelopathy (“DM”), a disease of the spinal cord for which there is no cure. Bevo’s walking difficulties progressed very slowly over a period of many months. Now that he cannot walk on his own, he uses a wheeled cart and has adjusted very well. He does not have pain with DM, so the cart has enabled him to continue living a happy and positive life. He still enjoys “walkies” and playtime, we just don’t go as far or move as fast. Walking in a cart does take some effort, so when Bevo becomes tired, he gets to retire to his pet stroller (and then “Mom” gets her exercise pushing him around while he barks at the world!). If your dog might need a wheeled cart, it can take some time for acceptance, so try to introduce the cart as soon as possible . . . and take “baby steps”, using it just a little more each day. Also, as Bevo’s muscles atrophied, it became necessary to add extra padding to the cart saddle to prevent pressure sores. Caring for a paraplegic dog is demanding and time-consuming; one must be patient and adaptive, but it is immensely rewarding!

  6. I have a dog who is on her way to becoming a paraplegic. I do hope that the next trials indicate which dogs will benefit from the treatment because she is too big for me to man-handle her about. She’s a lab and I have a five-pound weight limit for lifting.

  7. I pet-sat for a dog that was recovering from surgery. He never became completely continent and he still drags his hind feet a bit. Considering that he was completely paralyzed from his injury, he made a great recovery.

    And yes, his name is “Lucky.”