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October 2016

FCEM – a disease that often has a good ending, unless you’re a squirrel

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Skye had been completely normal when her family left for work and school that morning. But, when her big brother arrived home early in the afternoon, he found her sprawled out at the front door, her eyes two big saucers. She toppled over with each flailing attempt to stand. It was like her legs had abandoned her. Panic set in.
When she arrived at our hospital around 4 pm, she no longer had the use of her limbs. Her heart was pounding – she was a very scared dog. Skye was given sedative medication to help her relax and to allow us to perform some tests. X-rays showed that she had some narrowed intervertebral disc spaces and considerable arthritis along her spine. She would need to be referred to a neurologist for a definitive diagnosis, but we suspected fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy (FCEM) was the culprit.

FCEM is an acute infarction of the spinal cord caused by a vascular embolus of fibrocartilage. The condition can be thought of like a spinal stroke. There is usually a history of sudden collapse with or without vigorous exercise. The symptoms may worsen within the first few hours but often do not progress beyond the time a patient is examined by a veterinarian. A single limb, or all four limbs may be affected with varying degrees of weakness or paralysis. Many patients will regain near normal function of their limb(s) within 2 to 6 weeks.

With the love of her family, lots of nursing care, and her own unwavering determination, Skye is now walking short distances with assistance. Hopefully before long, she’ll be chasing squirrels out of her backyard again!