Life of the party, Ludo is happy to be rolling along after a life saving surgery. French Bulldog, Ludo was always a happy, healthy and very active little dog. Even after a scary diagnosis and emergency surgery, nothing could keep him down for long! With his fighting spirit and the support of everyone around him, Ludo became the fastest Frenchie on two wheels!
Ludo’s Journey Told By His Mom
We adopted Ludo when he was six months old. Adopting him from someone who relinquished him to the animal hospital, where I work part- time. Ludo was originally purchased from a breeder, and we knew that he had a few issues like extra teeth and a pronounced corkscrew tail. Luckily, he was, in all other respects, a perfectly happy and healthy pup. Ludo was always the “life of the party,” and he was always the first to instigate a game of race-and- chase. He was so nimble that I once even commented that he should join an agility team!
I was aware that French Bulldogs could have orthopedic issues later in life, so I always kept his weight strictly in check and tried to carry him up steps when I could. I thought that those few things would help keep him in shape for years to come.
Sudden Mobility Loss
Everything changed in January 2019. At 1:00 am Ludo woke me up, whimpering by my bedside. He had been reluctant to go outside the night before, but it was stormy, so I did not begrudge him that. I woke up and carried him down the steps to go potty, which he did, but had no interest in walking. I assumed he did feel well for some reason and scoured my memory to think if he ate something inappropriate.
At 3:00 am, he woke me again, and once again, I carried him down: this time, he just sat. Now I knew that he didn’t feel well, so I stayed in the front room to be with him. I dozed off at some point, and when I woke, he was on the floor next to, with one leg oddly dragging behind him. This time, when I picked him to set him right, his legs crumpled underneath him.
That morning we drove from my boyfriend’s apartment in Los Angeles to our hospital in San Diego, as I was still, unfortunately, in the dark about how serious his condition was. (At this point, I thought that perhaps he had torn a cruciate, or some other leg injury. He was always very active, so that seemed a likely scenario.
Thanks to Dr. Brandes and the team at Rancho Santa Fe Veterinary Hospital, Ludo was quickly diagnosed as having no neurological response in either hind limb. Likely caused from a herniated disc. Dr. Brandes recommended immediate surgery to salvage any mobility. The team at RSF called around to all of the South California hospitals to find a neurosurgeon on duty.
Racing to Save Ludo
We drove another hour and a half to the nearest neurologist at California Veterinary Specialists, Ontario. The team there assessed Ludo quickly and confirmed Dr. Brandes’ diagnosis. Ludo had a herniated disc pinching off his spinal column. Likely caused by one of a few misshapen, “butterfly” vertebrae in his spine. The surgeon, Dr. Zingale, felt that the sudden and serious impact of Ludo’s herniation meant that surgery was not about getting mobility back: it was about saving his life. Ludo’s spine seemed bruised enough that, even with surgery, he was at very high risk for developing degenerative myelopathy and losing all function below the point of his injury.
People might think that those of us who work in veterinary settings get everything for free, but this is not the case. Ludo’s surgery would cost over $6,000.00 – and while I had a credit card for pet emergencies, I did not have anywhere near that amount. I scrambled to call and get an additional line of credit, kicking myself for all of the time wasted while Ludo lay in pain.
Recovering from Emergency Spinal Surgery
Luckily, I was approved for additional credit, and Ludo went into surgery for an hemilaminectomy. The doctor wanted to clear space around Ludo’s other problematic vertebrae, to lesson his risk of a herniation happening again, but his heart rate dropped too much while he was under anesthesia, so there wasn’t time.
The doctor explained that the next two weeks were critical to monitor and see if Ludo developed myelopathy. She was not hopeful for him to walk again, and her main concern was seeing him safely through the 14-day mark. As I cried in thinking of what I could have done differently to avoid this, Dr. Zingale tried to comfort me in that Ludo’s breed and body type have a 35% chance of experiencing this injury… which could happen at any time. A wrong step off of a sidewalk could cause enough force to dislodge a disc if the spine is malformed. She informed me that this likely would have happened at some point, and, if Ludo were to make it, it very well might happen again.
Adjusting to a New Way of Life
Those first two weeks were sleepless. Ludo had a medicine and therapy regime that involved something every two hours. My boyfriend and I watched videos on how to express bladders, and what to look for in seroma formation. We had to mix special food for Ludo so he could eat lying down, because he could not yet sit up. We checked his anus regularly to make sure it stayed closed, and we stimulated and stretched his legs.
Dr. Zingale rechecked Ludo at the two week mark and confirmed that he had good anal tone and stimulation response. It looked like the surgery had alleviated pressure on his spinal cord quick enough to avoid myelopathy. She again reiterated that she did not believe Ludo would walk again, but he needed to keep his spine stable and body strong. His best chance to avoid another herniation would be to get him a wheelchair and into physical therapy.
Caring for Ludo
I was instantly relieved that his life expectancy was not egregiously truncated by myelopathy, that relief was quickly replaced by the grief of knowing I could not afford a wheelchair or therapy. I took on the thousands of dollars of debt without question.
When I adopted Ludo, I didn’t just adopt a cute puppy: I adopted the responsibility for another life. Paying it off, however, was going to be nearly impossible. In addition to the surgical debt, Ludo suddenly needed tons of puppy pads again, grooming wipes, diapers, etc. He would need to stay on softer food for a while to ease his bowel movements… there were just so many immediate costs that I could barely manage.
A few weeks went by, and we adjusted to the new regime. My boyfriend and I rearranged our work schedules so that Ludo was always supervised. And could be flipped, expressed, cleaned, and more, on time. Ludo started to sit up to eat and turn himself around in his bed.
A Wheelchair for Ludo
As he got stronger, I knew Ludo needed a wheelchair. We started a GoFundMe for Ludo, but even with a good deal of support from friends and family, the surgical bills were looming. Asking for help is a humbling experience. But I knew I would not be able to get him a wheelchair without assistance. I started to look online, and reached out to multiple charities, including the Handicapped Pets foundation.
A few days later I got the news I was waiting for, Ludo was getting his Walkin’ Wheels! Ludo’s donated wheelchair gave me hope and confidence to reach out regarding physical therapy for Ludo, too. After reachingI reached out to Maja and the team at Tsavo’s Canine Rehabilitation in San Diego. Maja made time to meet Ludo the same week I called, and she has helped us craft a therapy plan for Ludo at home and at Tsavo’s so that we can afford to keep him working. We used some of our GoFundMe donations to start his therapy. And it was the best investment we could have made.
Recovering His Mobility
Everyday Ludo is improving. Ludo can now stand, eat and drink at his elevated bowl. He can walk for 25 minutes on the underwater treadmill. Ludo practices walking at home in his Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair by wearing booties and letting his feet down out of the stirrups – and he is FAST! He literally bounces with excitement when he sees it is wheelchair or therapy time.
I could not imagine the transformation! From that sad whimper at 1:00 am six months ago, to the happy, active dog Ludo is now. I could not have done this without lots of help. If “it takes a village,” to raise a child, it takes a nation to raise a disabled pup! Through Ludo and his story we’ve learned there is always hope and people willing to help. And happiness is available for all of us – pets and people alike. As Ludo’s advocate, I am so grateful we were able to make the choice to get him surgery. And I am even more grateful for all of the support that decision generated.
Ludo’s life is happy, full, and worth living to the utmost. He can enjoy the years to come, not because of one person, but because of the nation of support he has surrounding him.
I encourage all adoptive owners to look into IVHD or IVDD and find out more about how to keep their pups happy!
Thank you to Ludo and his owner for sharing his story!
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