My vet told me my dog has FCE - what is it and what should I expect?
For those of you in college, FCE may stand for "full course equivalent," but in the veterinary world, FCE is a relatively newly recognized condition in the spectrum of disc disease. FCE or FibroCartilaginous Emboli is when a small portion of the disc between the vertebrae (or bones that protect the spinal cord) breaks off and enters the arterial blood supply for the spinal cord. This blockage prevents oxygen from reaching the spinal cord. the portion of the cord supplied in this area dies.
|Discs provide cushions to allow mobility of the boney vertebral bodies that protect the spinal cord.|
What are the signs of FCE?
Unlike prolapsed discs seen with intervertebral disc disease where the dog may show progressive weakness and pain, a dog suffering from FCE will often suddenly become weak, limp, or paralyzed without any sign of pain. Your dog may suddenly yelp and be unable to walk normally. Yet when your check him or her for pain, there appears to be no area that is painful. Also, the dog is not usually a dachshund or corgi, which we associated with disc herniation. Instead usually it is a large or giant breed dog. Most dogs are 3-6 years or young to middle aged. In addition, since the emboli or disc material may cut off the blood supply to only one side of the spinal cord, both legs may not be affected. If the emboli is in the lower part of the spine, then only the rear legs will be affected.
How to diagnose FCE?
FCE is what is commonly called a "diagnosis of exclusion." Knowing that your dog was okay and suddenly started limping or having troubles walking may make your vet suspicious if there are no signs of pain or other orthopedic injures. However, most vets will do a full neurologic exam and recommend more testing such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). In some cases, they may also do a spinal tap to examine the fluid in the spine to check for bacteria, viruses, or cells in the spinal cord fluid. In some cases, your vet may recommend testing for degenerative myelopathy. While these tests will not definitively diagnosis FCE, they will rule out the need for surgery for a prolapsed disc or medications for an infection.
What can I expect if my dog is diagnoses with FCE?
Typically, the degree of dysfunction you see after 24 hours, whether it be paralysis or weakness, will not worsen. That is the good news. More than two-thirds of the dogs diagnosed with FCE will improve with time. However, like with any spinal cord problem, it takes time for any nerve repair to occur so the improvement may occur very slowly over several weeks or not at all. If you pet is paralyzed, you should be prepared for the nursing care of a paralyzed pet. This may be as simple as using a handheld sling to assist your dog with walking or learning how to express your dog's bladder if bladder control is not present. Diapers made specifically for animals can make managing a paralyzed pet easier. We usually recommend that if your dog is paralyzed with FCE that you consider a K-9 Cart dog wheelchair earlier rather than later because muscle loss or atrophy will occur with disuse and then the muscle mass is hard to replace. Since your dog is not in any pain nor does your dog require surgery, a dog wheelchair can restore your dog's mobility almost immediately. Often dogs in K-9 Cart dog wheelchairs will regain bowel control and may no longer need diapers. Otherwise, our catch-it-all is designed to attach to your cart to make things more sanitary.
Need more information?
Have questions? Call K9 Carts East toll-free at 866-K9-CARTS and talk with a vet!