He still has a slight wobble in his back legs that his owner Tony McBride says makes him, at times, look like a “drunken sailor.”
But Noodles, a 7-year-old dachshund-schnauzer mix, can walk and even give chase to the occasional squirrel or cat. That was all in question just three years ago when he arrived at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital with an injury that had left him paralyzed in his back legs.
Surgeons gave Noodles a 10% chance of regaining any mobility without surgery, and those odds only improved to 50% with an intensive procedure and a lengthy rehabilitation that would be difficult on Noodles and his owners.
“The prognosis wasn’t good, but his spirit never died. After the surgery, he just kept wanting to get better and better, and little by little, he has kept improving,” McBride said. “We are thankful every day for WSU and for how they helped Noodles.”
Exactly how Noodles injured himself is a question, but McBride suspects it occurred on Thanksgiving of 2020 while celebrating the holiday with family. Nothing had seemed awry until McBride tried to coax Noodles into his car for the ride home.
“He wouldn’t jump up into the backseat like he always does,” McBride said. “I thought maybe he’s just tired from playing.”
McBride helped Noodles into the car, and he seemed better by the time they got home. The next morning, though, the young dog “froze” on the stairs and was unable to move as McBride tried to take him for his normal morning outing.
McBride and his wife, Suzanne, rushed Noodles to an emergency care clinic near their home in Spokane. An exam found Noodles had no deep pain sensation in the rear portion of his body, and he was unable to move his legs. The prognosis, the veterinarian told the couple, was not good.
“They were doubtful he would walk again, and they recommended we take him to WSU,” Tony said. “We were heartbroken, but there was no question in my mind that we wanted the best possible medicine and technology available to do whatever they could to help that little dog.”
An MRI at WSU found Noodles had a herniated disk in his spine. Just as in a human spine, a dog’s backbone has a series of vertebrae, and between the vertebrae are round cushions called disks that act as a buffer between vertebrae and allow for bending and movement. A herniated disk occurs when some of the material within it protrudes or extrudes into the spinal canal and compresses the spinal cord.
Not long after, neurologist Dr. Vishal Murthy and surgery resident Dr. Marjorie Owen performed a procedure to relieve the condition. The surgery went without complications, but Noodles was still unable to feel or use his hind legs when he left the hospital days later.
At his six-week checkup, however, he had regained some movement.
“The most telling time period is that first six weeks, and so when we saw that we were cautiously optimistic that he would continue to improve,” Owen said.
Noodles still had a long and slow road ahead. He began an intense rehabilitation that included frequent walks, hydrotherapy, red light therapy and acupuncture.
His owners used a unique harness that ran the length of his body to stabilize him as he was relearning to walk. They also purchased specially designed boots that helped to protect his hind paws and prevent him from “knuckling,” a neurological condition caused by his injury. In dogs with this condition, one or more of its feet will curl, causing the animal to either drag the feet or walk on its knuckles rather than its paws.
“I would take him on multiple walks a day,” Tony said. “We started out slow, maybe five minutes or so, then we’ve worked out to 15 minutes and a half an hour. It was a really long, long process to see this little dog with so much heart regain his mobility.”
Noodles showed steady improvement, which is still continuing today.
“His owners were very committed to his care and wanted to do whatever they possibly could, and that makes a huge difference,” Owen said. “Our part as veterinarians and surgeons is so small in the grand scheme of things, and these owners are really the people who make or break a recovery.”