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Intervertebral Disc Disease In Dogs

IVDD in dogs is a common cause of back pain, rear limb paralysis, and inability to walk or feel the back legs.

The spine of the dog comprises a series of vertebrae separated by discs. Discs offer a cushion from impacts such as running and jumping. The exterior of the spine consists of a mesh of fibrous tissue filled with a gelatinous mixture of fluid and cartilage. The spinal cord rests above the discs, threaded through the vertebrae.

When compressed, the nerves and the spinal cord impulses cannot send their signals to the final destination. If the damage is severe enough, it can lead to paralysis and loss of bowel control. Once the location of the spinal cord in which IVDD symptoms have occurred and the severity is determined, a treatment plan will be created.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) can affect any dog.  Smaller breeds and breeds with longer backs are more prone to the disease. Disc degeneration often occurs over the life of a dog nevertheless, the onset of symptoms can be all of a sudden.

Your dog needs immediate veterinary attention if they show IVDD symptoms. The treatment may vary from administering a drug to a surgical procedure. The prognosis varies depending on the extent of the damage of the disc.

Signs your dog may have IVDD

  • Extreme pain
  • Arching of the back
  • Reluctance to move their head, even while eating and drinking
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • A partial or complete incontinence

Symptoms of IVDD may include 

  • Reluctance to exercise or decreased activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pain and neurological alterations in extremities
  • Anxious behavior
  • Muscle spasms in the back or neck
  • Analgesic postures
  • Ataxia (incoordination)
  • Paresis or paralysis
  • Loss of control of sphincters depending on the location of a hernia

Most Affected Breeds

  • Dachshund
  • Shih Tzu
  • Pekingese
  • Beagle
  • French Bulldog
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pekingese
  • Pomeranian
  • Welsh Corgi
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of IVDD is based on a grading scale of severity:

  • Grade 1:  PAIN – Dogs are able to walk, but exhibit signs of pain including the reluctance to move, jump, shiver, cry, have muscle spasms and or a tense abdomen.
  • Grade 2:  AMBULATORY PARAPARESIS – Dogs are able to walk but are weak and wobbly in the hind legs.  They may cross their back legs when walking, splay out, knuckle over or stumble.
  • Grade 3:  NON-AMBULATORY PARAPARESIS – Dogs are still able to move their legs and wag their tails, but are not strong enough to support their own weight and walk.
  • Grade 4:  PARAPLEGIA – Dogs have no voluntary movement in their rear legs.
  • Grade 5:  PARAPLEGIA WITH ABSENT NOCICEPTION (NO DEEP PAIN) – Dog are unable to move and are unable to feel their rear legs.

A veterinary examination will include a complete neurological exam, which will help to make a clinical judgment about the location and severity of the lesion.  X-rays may show an abnormal area in the spine. However, more sensitive tests such as CT (computerized axial tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are needed to determine the degree and location of compression.

Conservative treatment refers to those who do not need surgical intervention.  Treatment will combine various pharmacological therapies, rehabilitation and moderate rest until the dog g returns to normal life.

If the damage is too severe, recurrent or the dog becomes paralyzed, the dog will most likely require surgical treatment.

Rehabilitation after surgery and or conservative treatment is important to help regain their function and speed up their recovery.

Prevention

  • Weight management, in predisposed breeds, is essential to avoid overloads and unnecessary spinal strain.
  • Choose a collar or harness that best suits your dog to avoid tugging and preventing any neck and back pressure is a great way to prevent damage to the neck.
  • Limit your dog from jumping in and out of the car, off and on furniture, etc.

Owners who suspect a spinal cord injury may be present might want to consult with a veterinarian, veterinary neurologist or orthopedic specialist.

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