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Sunny's scrape with death

Poor little Sunny, a 5 month old Jack Russell Terrier cross, was brought in on a Sunday evening having been hit by a car. At the scene of the accident he had been unconscious, but by the time he arrived at the hospital he was conscious but unable to stand or move properly. It was immediately apparent that he had sustained severe head and neck injuries and careful handling was essential to prevent further injury.

X-rays confirmed that Sunny had fractured the base of his skull and his first cervical vertebrae (the atlas). His mental depression and inability to move properly were due to inflammation, swelling and bleeding around his brain and the spinal cord at the top of his neck. The initial treatment plan for a severe head and spinal injury consists of maintaining blood pressure to ensure adequate perfusion of the damaged tissue, pain relief and immobilisation to prevent further damage.

The following morning Sunny had an aluminium neck brace fitted to immobilise the fractured vertebra. Over the following few days he recovered the ability to stand and walk. Fortunately because he is a young dog his bones healed relatively quickly. The neck brace was removed after 3 weeks when x-rays showed the bones were sufficiently healed.


A ventrodorsal x-ray showing a skull fracture (red box). Specifically opening of the basioccipital-temporal suture line.


A lateral x-ray showing fracture of the wing of the atlas (red arrows).

A lateral x-ray taken 3 weeks later showing healing of the wing of the atlas (red arrow).


Although Sunny is still slightly uncoordinated from his spinal injury, this should improve with more time and it is unlikely to stop him enjoying a normal life.

This sort of severe traumatic neck injury is seen infrequently, probably because most animals with this injury would have died at the roadside. Severe damage to the spinal cord at the top of the neck can readily lead to paralysis of the breathing muscles and rapid death. All the staff who treated Sunny agree that this cheeky chap is very lucky to be alive and is definitely a worthwhile courageous pet!

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