Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Understanding the Causes, Treatment and Prevention of Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) in Dogs

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) is a neurological condition that can occur in dogs and is characterized by the sudden onset of paralysis or weakness, typically affecting one or more limbs. The causes, signs, treatment, and prevention of Fibrocartilaginous embolism in canines will be reviewed in this article.

What is FCE in Dogs?

Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) is caused by the obstruction of blood flow to the spinal cord due to the presence of fibrocartilaginous material, which usually comes from the intervertebral discs. When a dog experiences FCE, a small piece of fibrocartilaginous material, such as a fragment of an intervertebral disc, dislodges and enters the blood vessels that supply the spinal cord. This can cause blockage of blood flow and subsequent damage to the affected part of the spinal cord.


In this article, we will examine the causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventative measures for FCE in dogs.


Potential reasons that could lead to the emergence of FCE in dogs include:

  • Spinal trauma: Spinal cord injury or trauma can result in the dislodgement of fibrocartilaginous material and subsequent embolism.

  • Intervertebral disc disease: Dogs with pre-existing intervertebral disc illness or degeneration are more likely to develop FCE. Degenerated discs may discharge pieces that restrict blood flow to the spinal cord.

  • Exercise or physical activity: Strenuous or excessive exercise, particularly activities that entail jumping, running, or rapid movements, may cause FCE in some dogs. These activities are thought to cause the dislodgement of fibrocartilaginous debris.

  • Breed predisposition: Certain breeds, particularly giant breeds, are thought to be more prone to FCE. Breeds with deep chests, such as Doberman Pinschers and Boxers, have been observed to be more vulnerable.

  • Vascular abnormalities: Vascular anomalies, such as congenital deformities or deficiencies in the blood arteries nourishing the spinal cord, may increase the probability of FCE.

  •  Unknown causes: In certain circumstances, the illness might still emerge spontaneously without a definite cause or predisposing conditions. The precise cause of FCE in these cases is uncertain.

Symptoms of FCE in Dogs

Below are the most prevalent indications and FCE in dogs symptoms, although it can vary according to the degree and location of the afflicted spinal cord:

  • Sudden onset of paralysis or weakness: FCE is characterized by a rapid and frequently dramatic development of paralysis or weakening in one or more limbs. Legs affected by this condition may look limp and lack voluntary mobility.

  • Difficulty or incapacity to walk: Dogs with FCE may struggle to stand or walk. When attempting to move, they may be unable to support their weight on the afflicted limbs and may drag them or knuckle over.

  • Loss of coordination: FCE can result in a lack of coordination or balance. Affected pets may experience difficulties maintaining their balance or stumble when walking.

  • Pain or discomfort: While pain is not a common symptom of FCE, some dogs may display indicators of discomfort, such as vocalization, restlessness, or sensitivity when the afflicted region is handled.

  • Loss of reflexes: FCE can cause a loss of deep pain feelings and reflexes in the afflicted limbs. Specific tests may be performed by the veterinarian to determine the existence or absence of reflexes.

  • Lack of bladder or bowel control: Dogs with FCE may have trouble managing their bladder or bowel motions in more severe instances.


FCE is commonly diagnosed in dogs using a combination of clinical indicators, physical examination, and diagnostic testing. A veterinarian may take the following measures to diagnose FCE:

  • Medical history: The veterinarian will inquire about your dog's medical history and any recent behavioral or activity changes.

  • Physical examination: The veterinarian will examine your dog physically, including a neurological assessment to determine spinal cord function and any evidence of paralysis or weakness.

  • Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may be performed to see the spinal cord and assess the location and degree of the injury. These tests can aid in the exclusion of other illnesses that may cause similar symptoms.

  • Blood tests: Blood tests may be conducted to rule out any underlying medical disorders that may be contributing to FCE.

  • Urine testing: Urine tests may be conducted to rule out any urinary tract infections or bladder dysfunction that FCE might cause.

  • Spinal tap: A spinal tap (cerebrospinal fluid examination) may be conducted in some circumstances to rule out other spinal cord illnesses or infections.

Treatment and Management Options

Supportive care and symptom control are the primary therapy and management options that aid fibrocartilaginous embolism recovery in canines. Fibrocartilaginous embolism in dogs treatment options include:

  • Rest and limited activity: Dogs with FCE should be kept completely still for the damaged spinal cord to recover. Physical exertion should be minimized or avoided to avoid further harm or difficulties.

  • Pain management: Pain medication may be provided to relieve any discomfort related to FCE. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) or other pain relievers may be administered under the supervision of a veterinarian.

  • Physical treatment and rehabilitation: Physical therapy and rehabilitation may be useful for dogs with FCE. Exercises, passive range of motion, hydrotherapy, and other approaches to enhance muscular strength, coordination, and mobility can all be included. 

  • Bladder management: FCE dogs may have bladder dysfunction, such as difficulties urinating or lack of bladder control. Your veterinarian may offer procedures or treatments to help with bladder management, such as physically expressing the bladder or utilizing pharmaceuticals to enhance bladder function.

  • Monitoring and follow-up: Constant monitoring of your dog's development and follow-up appointments with your veterinarian are essential. They may examine the dog's neurological function, as well as its reaction to therapy.

Preventive Tips

Preventing fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) in dogs is difficult since the specific cause is unknown. However, some preventative measures that may help to lessen the risk or severity of FCE are:

  • Avoid high-impact activities: Limit your dog's involvement in activities that require excessive leaping, running, or rapid movements, especially if they are prone to FCE or have a propensity for spinal cord injury. 

  • Leash control and supervision: Keep your dog on a leash and under control during walks or trips. This keeps children from engaging in activities that might result in spinal stress or damage.

  • Appropriate exercise: Exercise your dog regularly to maintain general fitness and muscle tone. Moderate activity, such as leash walks or restricted play sessions, can help keep your dog physically fit without placing too much strain on its spine.

  • Weight control: Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Avoid obesity which can place additional strain on the spine, increasing the risk of spinal injury. 

  • Regular veterinary check-ups: Routine examinations enable the early diagnosis and control of any underlying problems that may contribute to FCE.

  • Breed selection: If you are thinking about buying a dog, do your homework and pick a breed that has a lower incidence of spinal disorders or FCE. Breeds with deep-chested body forms are thought to be more prone to FCE, thus, choosing a breed with a different body structure may lower the risk.

While these precautions may help lower the incidence of FCE, it's crucial to remember that FCE can develop in dogs without any risk factors.

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