Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) in dogs is a serious condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst into the spinal cord space, putting pressure on the nerves running through the spinal cord and causing pain, nerve damage or paralysis.
Certain breeds are predisposed to IVDD, including Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Shih Tzus and German Shepherds.
Symptoms and Types of IVDD in Dogs
Think of the intervertebral discs as the “shock absorbers” of your dog’s spine. IVDD is also commonly called a herniated disc or slipped disc.
There are two types of disc herniation seen in dogs: Type I and Type II.
Symptoms of IVDD may include several of the following:
- Abnormal walking gait
- Unwillingness to jump
- Pain and lameness in back legs
- Crying out in pain
- Anxious behaviour
- Hunched back or neck with tense muscles
- Reduced appetite and activity level
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control or unwillingness to “posture” correctly
Causes of IVDD in Dogs
Type I and Type II of IVDD have different root causes.
- Causes of Type I IVDD in Dogs
In Type I, most commonly affected is the mid-back region of smaller dog breeds with long backs and short legs. A
hard impact such as jumping and landing, or even just a misstep can cause one or more discs to burst and put pressure on the spinal cord.
- Causes of Type II IVDD in Dogs
With Type II, the discs have become hardened and fibrous over time as the dog has got older and eventually they can break down, bulge out, and compress the spinal cord.
Type II IVDD is more common in older, large-breed dogs.
Spinal Cord Compression
When the nerves of a dog’s spinal cord are compressed, the nerve impulses are not able to transmit signals to the limbs, bladder, etc. and if the damage is severe enough, paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control can occur.
Depending on the location of the disc that is bulging, signs occur anywhere in the dog’s body, from the neck to the back legs, and often one side of the body may be more severely affected than the other.
Diagnosing Back Problems in Dogs
Your Vet should do a full neurological exam to check where in the spinal cord the injury is. X-rays may show an abnormality in the spine, but to check the spinal cord, special imaging through a myelogram may be necessary to locate the source of the injury and will require that your dog be put under anaesthetic.
If necessary, further testing such as an MRI or CT Scan can also be used to find where the nerves are being pinched.
Treating IVDD in Dogs
Depending on the severity of the damage to your dog’s spinal cord, treatment can range from conservative to surgical.
- Conservative IVDD Treatment
Conservative treatment is generally with steroids, anti-inflammatories and pain medication to reduce the swelling and pain.
Your dog should ideally also be crated to prevent further damage – your Vet will advise on how long this will need to be
Physical rehabilitation is recommended.
- Surgical Treatment for IVDD
If the damage is severe and your dog is paralysed or incontinent, surgery is likely to be needed to relieve the pressure.
The decision to proceed with surgery must be made quickly as waiting too long will decrease the chances of the surgery being successful
Treatment of Back Spasms in Dogs
Treatment for back spasms usually includes heat and massage techniques along with medication to act directly on the nervous system instead of on the muscles.
Managing IVDD in Dogs
Many dogs that have a mild to moderate case of IVDD will get feeling back in their legs and be able to walk again if you follow your Vet’s recommendations.
Post-surgery rehabilitation is important to help your dog regain function and improve his recovery.
Dogs that have had one IVDD episode are more likely to have subsequent episodes. Physical rehabilitation therapy can help strengthen your dog’s muscles and improve their long-term prognosis.
Preventing IVDD and Back Problems in Dogs
Dog breeds that are predisposed to IVDD, keep them at a healthy, lean weight to reduce the stress on their spine and other joints.
Walking your dog with a harness will keep pressure off their neck too, especially if your dog tends to pull on the leash.
Use steps or ramps to help your dog get up on furniture and beds and try to limit jumping as much as possible!