A Doggone Pain: Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

intervertebral disc disease in dogsBack problems plague many of us, and our canine companions are not exempt. Sometimes a pinched nerve or a muscle spasm can be a literal pain in the neck, but other times things are more serious.

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs is a fairly common condition that requires timely evaluation and appropriate treatment to get your pet back on their feet. At Heart of Texas Veterinary Specialty Center, we are equipped to do just that.

Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

The spinal canal in pets and people is made up of a series of vertebral bodies stacked end to end. In between each of these bony structures is a disc that absorbs impact. The delicate spinal cord runs protected inside of the vertebrae, passing over the discs as it continues through the spinal column.

While this setup works rather well, sometimes things can go awry. Intervertebral discs are made up of a fibrous outer ring and a gel-like inside. If the outer ring of the disc deteriorates, the inner material can herniate, placing pressure on the spinal column or the nerves leaving the spinal column.

The degeneration within the discs of dogs with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) may be part of the normal aging process, result from trauma, or can be caused by a genetic predisposition. Chondrodystrophic breeds (think Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and Corgis) are at high risk for developing IVDD.

Recognizing Trouble

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs often requires emergency care. But how are you to know that’s what is going on?

One pet suffering from IVDD may have somewhat different symptoms than another, as it can vary, depending on where the problem is and how severe it may be.

Even mild flare-ups of IVDD can be quite painful, and often neurologic deficits appear as the condition worsens. Signs that your pet needs medical attention include:

  • Signs of pain when picked up or handled
  • Tension in the back or neck when moving or touched
  • Avoiding lowering or raising the head
  • Reluctance to jump or use the stairs
  • Incoordination
  • Difficulty walking
  • Paralysis of one or more limbs
  • Sudden loss of bladder control
  • Involuntary defecation

These symptoms are not amenable to wait-and-see. In fact, the more sudden and severe the symptoms, the more likely prompt action is required. If your pet is exhibiting any signs that he may be suffering from intervertebral disc disease, please call us right away.

To the Rescue

When we see a pet who we suspect is suffering from IVDD, it is important to come to a speedy and accurate diagnosis. Sometimes a good physical examination can tell us a lot about what is going on; however, in order to determine the location and extent of the issue, advanced imaging is often needed.

Milder cases of intervertebral disc disease in dogs may be managed medically. Rest, anti-inflammatory treatments, and adjunctive care, including acupuncture, can be helpful in these cases. Patients with mild IVDD must be monitored closely for progression of symptoms.

More severe cases and extreme pain or major neurological deficits need to be treated aggressively. Often surgery is the best path to help these pets. The sooner we act, the better our chances for a good outcome.

Surgeries for IVDD aim to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and/or associated nerves and remove any disc material that may be causing an issue. These surgeries are ones that are best performed by board-certified, expert surgeons such as those on our veterinary surgery and neurology teams.

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs is a common pet emergency, and one we are well-equipped to handle. If you have any concerns about your pet, please don’t hesitate to let us know any time, day or night. We will get started helping right away.