By Caitlin Ultimo
A simple Sunday evening spent grilling outside quickly turned into a pet parent’s worst nightmare for the McCulloughs of Oklahoma City this past October.
Dr. McCullough and his wife Laura walked out to the startling sight of their 10-year-old pit bull, Shock, lying motionless at the bottom of their pool. Having only left him alone for a matter of minutes, they can only speculate how he ended up there.
“We have an automatic [pool] vacuum and he tries to bite the water that squirts out,” says Dr. McCullough. “All we can figure is that he had jumped when it squirted and had slipped and fell into the shallow end, possibly hurting his neck.”
McCullough jumped into the pool immediately to retrieve his family’s beloved dog. Shock wasn’t breathing and his temperature had dropped. McCullough’s next move was an essential first part of Shock’s survival.
“I’m an orthodontist, so we have to have CPR refreshers every year,” says McCullough. “I knew how to do it on a person, but never thought about doing it on a dog.” But without thinking further, McCullough began CPR on Shock’s lifeless body.
“I first pumped his chest to get any water out; after a few compressions some water came out of his mouth. I then held his mouth closed and blew into his snout.”
After successfully reviving his dog, he rushed Shock to Oklahoma City’s Blue Pearl Specialty + Emergency Pet Hospital.
This would be Shock’s second visit to Blue Pearl. A few years after the McCulloughs’ son rescued Shock from a gym’s parking lot, Shock hurt his back and couldn’t walk on his back legs. “We went to our vet and they recommended Blue Pearl,” said Dr. McCullough.
After his first successful recovery, the McCulloughs returned to Blue Pearl for this emergency situation years later.
Shock was first admitted to the emergency department, where he was still having difficulty breathing, seemed unresponsive, and couldn’t walk. After he was put on oxygen support, Shock was stabilized. Dr. Benjamin Spall, DVM, MS, from the surgery department went in to further assess him the next day.
It was still difficult to determine the possible cause of the fall and its effects, said Dr. Spall. “We did our neurological assessment and a physical exam,” explains Spall. “We tried to get him up, checked his reflexes, tried to see if his paws could move, and were able to localize the issue to his neck.”
After identifying that it was too painful for Shock to move his neck, his doctors ordered an MRI.
“We knew we had to do the MRI," said Spall, and because dogs are administered anesthesia before they undergo certain tests like MRIs, "we waited another day to be sure his breathing had stabilized before administering the anesthesia.”
The MRI showed lesions on the discs of Shock's spinal cord that most likely occurred as a result from his fall into the pool.
The next day Shock underwent a surgery that lasted over two hours to remove the disc material that had ruptured in his spinal cord. Spall and McCullough were unsure if Shock would make a full recovery. “The recovery process can be very touch and go, and possibly more difficult when dealing with a larger dog,” shares Spall.
Shock remained in the hospital for about a week and a half after his surgery so that doctors could monitor his respiratory rate, prevent pneumonia after surgery, and begin physical rehabilitation, including balancing Shock on an exercise ball, bicycling his legs, and helping him stand with a harness in hopes of stimulating his muscle memory.
“We visited him every night. The doctors probably wanted to have him stay longer, but we wanted him home,” says McCullough.
After about a week of keeping up with physical therapy exercises at home and supporting him with a harness to lift his back legs while he walked, Shock was back on his own four paws—much quicker than anyone had anticipated.
“One day I decided to see if he could support himself, and he was able to stand. Then a few days later, I told my mom to call him and he took off on his own right towards her,” says McCullough.
Needless to say, Shock had incredible support throughout the unfortunate ordeal, and still does today.
To aid in a pet’s successful recovery, "it takes the right owner, time, practice, and communication between a pet’s doctors and owners,” says Spall. It was not an easy road, but Shock and his family never gave up.
“I wasn’t always optimistic, but I was going to try as long as he was,” says McCullough.
Today, Shock is getting back to his old self but is staying away from the pool—and the McCullough’s are only running their pool vacuum at night.