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Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE)

Close up of a tired French Bulldog lying on the floor of his home near an unrecognisable persons feet.

Your dog is playing in the back yard when she suddenly cries out. When you come running to see what's wrong, you notice that she is unable to use one of her rear limbs. She doesn't seem to be in pain, so why can't she use her limb? Fibrocartilaginous embolism, or FCE, happens when a piece of cartilage from the disk blocks blood flow to the spinal cord, causing a stroke. Symptoms usually come on suddenly, often when the pet is being active, and usually affect one side more than the other.

Is your dog having difficulty getting around due to weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs?
Our neurology specialists can help.

What Causes FCE in Dogs?

FCE happens when a small piece of fibrocartilage from a nearby intervertebral disk makes its way into the bloodstream. This fibrocartilage flows down the bloodstream until it lodges in a blood vessel that supplies the spinal cord. When the spinal cord does not have a constant blood supply, it cannot function, causing the symptoms of weakness or inability to use the limbs.

How Can I Tell If My Pet Has FCE?

The main signs of FCE include a sudden onset of weakness on one side of the body (either one limb or both limbs on the same side). FCE is typically not painful, however, many dogs are anxious or may cry out in pain at first. Signs do not get worse after the first few hours.

There are many other spinal cord conditions that can look similar to FCE, and some are treated very differently. Some get better on their own, while others may get worse without treatment. For this reason, it is very important to make an accurate diagnosis by doing tests.

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Diagnosing FCE

We will review your pet's history and perform a physical and neurological examination. Typically, an MRI and spinal tap (CSF analysis) are needed to diagnose FCE and rule out other causes that may look just like FCE. An MRI allows our neurologists to see inside the spinal cord and can also help us determine a more accurate prognosis for your pet. These are things that CT scan, X-rays, and myelograms cannot show.

How Can FCE Be Treated?

Fortunately, your pet will not have to undergo surgery if they have been diagnosed with FCE. Instead, we recommend physical therapy and nursing care to help them heal and recover. A majority of dogs with FCE have a good prognosis and can go on to lead happy, normal lives.

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