Dog herniated disc surgery: home exercises for muscles and nerves

Our French bulldog, Truffle, had an operation on his intervertebral disc. In this post, we describe how you can support your dog’s recovery with physio exercises and care at home.

In April 2022, we noticed that something was wrong with our dog “Truffle”. From one day to the next, he was suddenly restricted in his movements, could no longer walk and screamed in pain during certain movements. When his right hind leg showed signs of paralysis, it was about time for the operation. If paralysis remains untreated for more than 24 hours, the chances of recovery decrease with every minute that passes. Nerves can then be so badly affected that irreparable damage can occur, often leading to complete paralysis of the hind legs or even complete loss of control over urination and defecation. 

Truffle was taken to surgery on a Friday afternoon and was already out of hospital on the following Tuesday. The operation went well, but Truffle was still impaired. It was difficult for him to keep his balance, especially on his affected right hind leg. At first, the reflex to put the deliberately bent paw back up was hardly observable, the leg was numb.

In the following we describe how you can support the healing of such symptoms.

Stimulation of the nerves on the paralysed leg

Parts of the body affected by paralysis or numbness should be revitalised through massage. For example, you can comb a paralysed leg with your fingernails against the stroke.

Also very practical is the use of a brush, which is actually intended for humans: anti-tangle brushes with their soft bristles are hard enough to stimulate the dog’s body regions, but at the same time soft enough not to hurt the animal. Truffle really loves this form of massage – even without disc symptoms. We used a “Tangle-Teezer” * to stimulate the leg twice a day for about 10 minutes:

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Natural stimulation of the paws can also come from walking on slightly uneven ground. We increasingly walked on coarse gravel and grass paving stones. In a spa park nearby, there are also benches with seats made of metal mesh, he could walk over. If the dog is not yet able to walk so much, it is enough to sit the dog on these bases and stroke the paw slowly over the ground – this already stimulates the nerves and senses.

We also bought so-called sensory mats *, which are actually intended for children. These mats can be put together like a carpet from individual puzzle pieces and the dog can thus walk on soft, uneven floors with different structures. 

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These sensory mats also stimulate nerves and the musculoskeletal system. The good thing about it is that you can get rid of these children’s toys quite easily on Craigslist after the dog has recovered – or you can simply make children yourself and use them for your own offspring.

After 3 weeks of this therapy Truffle had his reflex to put up his paw back – still a little delayed, but with enormous improvements compared to the previous condition where the reflex was completely absent.

Support the regeneration of the muscles

The dog naturally loses muscle mass due to the reduced movement after the operation. Since you try to prevent the dog from climbing stairs and jumping after the operation, the animal does not have much opportunity to rebuild the muscles. Especially a dog leg that has been affected by paralysis, for example, is not used very much by the dog and the muscles shrink. Here we used a balance cushion with nubs *.

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The aim is for the dog to stand on this balance cushion with its legs in trouble and to be encouraged with a treat at the front. The wobbly cushion forces the dog to regain its balance through muscle tension.

When you see that the dog is relieving the pressure on the bad leg, you move the treat and the dog is forced to put pressure on the back leg again to follow the chew. We repeated this exercise every 2 days for about 15 minutes. 

For this exercise you can also let the dog stand with its hind legs on the balance cushion while it stands with its front legs slightly elevated on a step, a cushion hill or your thigh. In this position you can really watch how the muscles are tensed at the back.

The above exercises were recommended to us by our dog physiotherapist and are easy to do at home. Of course, these exercises are no substitute for professional treatment of your four-legged friend – but they are an absolutely useful support for the healing process. Since Truffle is now doing really well again, the success at this point definitely proves us right.

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