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Fibrocartilaginous Embolism in Dogs

FCE symptoms in dogs

Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) in dogs is a condition that causes paralysis when a blood vessel in the spinal cord is blocked. It can occur during vigorous exercise, such as running and jumping in the park, so it's important to learn to identify symptoms so you can act quickly. The following article explains everything related to fibrocartilaginous embolism in dogs, including its causes, and treatment.

What is fibrocartilaginous embolism in dogs?

To understand the full spectrum of this condition, it is first essential to define a few terms. Among them is the fibrocartilage, a fibrous connective tissue that forms the tendons, aponeurosis, ligaments, and structures that receive traction in the direction in which their collagen fibers are oriented.

An embolus is a solid, liquid, or gaseous mass that travels with the blood, causing a blockage in one of the vessels. This event is known as an embolism, and it can be partial or total.

Combining both terms, we have fibrocartilaginous embolism, which is defined as the obstruction of a blood vessel caused by an embolus of fibrocartilage. It is also known as fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy - myelopathy being a reference to the condition of the spinal cord, which is mainly affected by this blockage.

The consequence of fibrocartilaginous embolism in dogs is the acute death of a part of the spinal cord by preventing blood supply. Despite this, affected canines may appear relatively well for a short time until signs of weakness and paralysis of a body part begin.

Symptoms of FCE in Dogs

Fibrocartilaginous embolism in dogs typically occurs between 3 and 6 years of age. The first signs are often subtle, discontinuous, and painless, so it can be challenging to diagnose the condition right away.

Dogs with FCE usually suddenly experience sharp pain during physical activity, running, or jumping. They show it with a howl or expression of pain, but then they don't seem to show any more pain. They can be kept like this for 12 to 24 hours until the most apparent symptoms begin.

Subsequently, the abrupt loss of function of one or both hind limbs occurs, although it can also affect all four; this can manifest as extreme weakness or paralysis.

Typically, this loss occurs in only one part of the body while another remains functional; when it appears in the whole body, one factor is usually significantly worse than others.

Furthermore, the severity of all the symptoms described will depend on how the embolus has blocked the spinal cord. In some cases, they can be as simple as the loss of coordination; in others, as severe as total paralysis of the animal's limbs.

Causes of Fibrocartilaginous Embolism in Dogs

The reasons why fibrocartilaginous embolism occurs in dogs are still debated among veterinarians and neurologists. There are no defined causes yet, but statistics show a higher propensity in larger dog breeds.

It has also been observed that FCE in dogs usually occurs after minor trauma or, as we said, during vigorous exercise. Despite this, there have been reports of dogs developing the disease even while walking.

Treatment of Fibrocartilaginous Embolism in Dogs

The symptoms described can be very worrying since they imply a significant disability for the animal. For this reason, caregivers should be aware that there is no specific medical treatment to treat fibrocartilaginous embolism in dogs.

Unfortunately, there was no way to remove the embolus from the blood vessels of the spinal cord. If there is a diagnosis of this type, both veterinarians and caregivers must wait patiently to see how the animal does. Over time, the spinal cord may open the fibrocartilage-clogged vessel or grow new blood vessels to restore the blood supply.


Treatment is aimed at controlling the symptoms of FCE, not the root of the problem. The prescription of medications, such as corticosteroids and antioxidants, will depend on how affected the pet is.

Nursing Care

On the other hand, if the dog cannot walk, they will need intensive nursing care. It is best to keep the dog on a padded surface so that its body does not directly contact the hard ground. Regularly moving the dog from one side to another will also help prevent pressure sores.

Part of this care also focuses on encouraging the pet to move and walk to promote recovery. Physical rehabilitation may include assisted exercises, muscle stimulation, and hydrotherapy on an underwater treadmill.

Likewise, assistive devices are common, for example, a lightweight harness with a handle across the back, a fabric sling, or a walking cart. All of the above can promote the early recovery of the pet's mobility and will prevent muscle atrophy. It may take three to four months to see results.

When to Consult a Veterinarian

In conclusion, the prognosis of dogs with FCE will depend on both the severity of the symptoms and their care after diagnosis. This only reinforces the importance of paying attention to any sudden howling, especially after exercise, and the later signs: weakness, lack of coordination, and/or paralysis in the extremities.

If your pet shows these symptoms hours after the howl, it's time to take him to a vet with experience in neurology. They might order imaging studies such as spinal radiography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), two standard tests used to diagnose embolic fibrocartilaginous myelopathy in dogs.

Read more:

Caring for a Paralyzed Dog

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

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