Fibrocartilagenous Embolus (FCE)

Fibrocartilagenous Embolus (FCE)

What is FCE?

  • The sudden obstruction of the blood supply to the spinal cord with fibrocartilage from an intervertebral disc.
  • It is the functional equivalent of a stroke, except that it occurs in the spinal cord, rather than the brain.

The Typical Patient:

  • Usually affects large breed dogs, although there are some reports that schnauzers are also predisposed.
  • Typically affects young adult dogs, between the ages of 3-6 years.

Clinical Signs:

  • Sudden onset paralysis, often associated with exercise.
  • Some people report that their dog yelps initially, but after that initial pain, FCE is not painful.
  • Signs depend on the location of the embolus.  One or more limbs can be affected and can range in severity from change in gait to complete paralysis.
  • Signs tend to be asymmetrical, meaning that the left side and right side of the body are not affected equally.
  • Signs develop over minutes to hours and usually stabilize (stop getting worse) within 12-24 hours.  If pain is present at onset, it usually subsides within 12-24 hours.


  • The goal of rehabilitation is to achieve a quicker and more complete recovery.
  • Exercises focus on maintaining muscle tone and joint mobility and improving proprioception (body awareness).


  • Depends on location and severity
  • The following signs are associated with a poorer prognosis: loss of muscle tone, loss of spinal reflexes, and loss of deep pain perception.
  • Most dogs show some improvement within 10 days.  Some dogs can continue to improve over the course of a few months.





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