Lost Mobility in a Dog: Diagnostic Tests Are Only As Good As Their Interpretation—R.G.’s Hind End Lameness

How often do you think veterinarians misdiagnose their patients?

Diagnosis is a process, and sometimes it is not easy to peel the onion. However, sometimes a bad diagnosis is just that—a bad diagnosis due to a cock-up.

The most common veterinary mistakes involve:

  • surgical mistakes
  • drug-related mistakes
  • diagnostic errors

Both graduate vets and experienced practitioners can cock-up the diagnosis, whether it is due to inexperience or cognitive bias one develops during practice.

You’d think that with the advances of diagnostic tools, getting the correct diagnosis should be straightforward. However, diagnostic tests are only as good as their interpretation.

Further reading: When Vets Make Mistakes: The Three Most Common Veterinary Errors

Lost Mobility in a Dog: Diagnostic Tests Are Only As Good As Their Interpretation—R.G.'s Hind End Lameness

Loss of mobility in dogs

Mobility issues in dogs often have obvious reasons, but sometimes they do not. The list of potential causes is long. Arthritis and hip dysplasia are high on the list, whether the problem affects just one leg or both. However, bilateral weakness and loss of mobility have their own list such as:

  • tick-borne disease
  • degenerative myelopathy (DM)
  • lumbosacral disease
  • IVDD or disc injuries
  • myasthenia gravis

Further, diseases that lead to overall weakness are most likely to show as hind end weakness. These can include:

  • anemia from any causes
  • significant organ failure

The above conditions will present with other symptoms depending on the problem.

Further information: 4 Reasons Your Older Dog’s Back Legs Are Collapsing

R.G.’s story

R.G., a German Shepherd, suddenly became lame on her rear end. She got an MRI and left with a diagnosis of a herniated discs of the lower spine.

A second opinion orthopedic surgeon confirmed the diagnosis and recommended surgery.

Because this kind of surgery is quite invasive and risky, R.G.’s parents decided to try conservative management first. 

R.G.’s treatment included acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, and hydrotherapy for three months. Unfortunately, she continued to get worse and ended up in a doggy wheelchair.

A consultation with a neurologist

Her parents decided to get a consultation with a neurology specialist.

R.G.'s Hind End Lameness

When the neurologist reviewed the MRI, it turned out that R.G. did not have a disc problem at all, but a cyst on her spinal cord instead!

Without surgery, the cyst would put increasing pressure on the spinal cord, and R.G. would continue to deteriorate. However, with surgery to drain the cyst, R.G. should not worsen and has a fifty percent chance of improvement.

In hopes of keeping R.G. from getting worse, her parents agreed to the surgery. Then, perhaps, R.G. could get some mobility back too.

The surgery went well, and R.G. regained some mobility!

She still needs a lot of physical therapy, but she started to walk without her cart! Hopefully, over time, she will keep improving.

How much shorter could her recovery have been if the veterinarian interpreted the MRI images correctly the first time? How much time and resources were lost, and how much suffering could have R.G. avoided?

What would have happened if R.G.’s parents did not seek a third opinion?

Original story:
Misdiagnosis…Listen to Your Gut Instincts!

Related articles:
Why Is My Dog Limping? Causes of Lameness in Dogs—Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog

Further reading:
When Vets Make Mistakes: The Three Most Common Veterinary Errors
Brewster – Ruptured CCL

Categories: ConditionsDiagnosesDog health advocacyIntervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)LimpingMisdiagnosesMobility issuesParalysisReal-life StoriesSymptoms

Tags: :

Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

10 Comments
  1. OMG, that is more scary than I can even say. A misdiagnosis like this could have been horrendous for poor RG and his family. I’m so glad his owners decided to get additional opinions. I shuddered reading this, but thank goodness they got the right help for RG! Sharing
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  2. I’m glad that R.G.’s family could get that third and most important consultation, and that she is doing better.

  3. I’m so glad they got the second/third opinion so that RG could get the care they needed! Cysts are also very difficult to diagnose with imaging – basically you see a fluid-filled mass, knowing if that fluid-filled mass was a bulging disc vs. a cyst would be very difficult depending on the placement – even on an MRI. There are some third-party labs that veterinarians can send diagnostic images to get a second opinion from radiology veterinary specialists as well, many veterinary specialty hospitals will do with automatically.

  4. I think it’s important to remember that veterinarians (like doctors) are only human. Mistakes can happen. If you have a gut feeling that something isn’t quite right, trust your intuition and seek a second (or third) opinion. Honestly, worst case scenario, you find out you were wrong and the original diagnose was correct. But if it wasn’t correct, that additional opinion could make a huge difference!

  5. This is my biggest fear the vet making a mistake, they did with Baby RIP and will never forget it although unfortunately she had a virus that could not be cured. I question everything my Vet says as I want to be 100% sure all the time. I am happy RG is recovering

  6. Oh wow. A lesson to us all in knowing our own minds and feelings as well as respecting the opinion of our vets. If things do not go right or we have doubts we NEED to query things. We NEED a second opinion, or a third.

    I am so relieved this dog was such a loving family prepared to go the extra million miles it seemed to need to help her regain some of her previous fitness.

  7. robincrittear

    Such a scary story! I’m so glad that R.G’s parents decided to get that extra opinion. I have a neighbor whose dog has a limp and has been to 4 different veterinarians and no one knows what is wrong. I wonder if one of these less obvious issues could be the case. If I see him again, I will send him to your website.

  8. How frustrating that two separate vets misdiagnosed R.G. When one of my own dogs experienced rear end weakness we went straight to a neurologist. Second, and sometimes even third, opinions can be so vital – as well as visits to the appropriate specialists when needed. I’m glad R.G. was eventually properly diagnosed.

  9. I always encourage people to get second or third opinion for their pets and themselves. It’s definitely critical and R.G. is a prime example. Sometimes its difficult to think clearly when you feel so vulnerable. I know I’ve had my own experiences with this type of issue. I have a great vet now, which is also important. But he knows anything big pops up, I will get another opinion, I have and he encourages it. That’s a sign of a great vet. Thanks for sharing this important message!

  10. I’m so glad R.G.’s parents seeked a third opinion. I know from experience how valuable and life changing it can be to get another opinion and/or diagnosis from a more experiences vet. Thank you for enlightening us on the ways in which loss of mobility can present itself. The reasons are not always so easy to diagnose.

Share your thoughts