If you suffer from a chronic back problem, you know how painful and debilitating the condition can be. Back pain takes a toll on your physical and mental health, and can make the smallest task feel insurmountable. Your dog can develop back problems that are equally painful, and negatively affect their quality of life. You may be unaware of your pet’s back problem until their pain becomes so severe that their behavior visibly changes. If your pet has become reluctant to walk or has developed an unusual gait, they may have intervertebral disk disease ([IVDD] i.e., a slipped disc). All pets—but rarely cats—are at risk for developing IVDD, and certain dog breeds have a higher IVDD risk. Any spinal injury can have serious, life-altering consequences, which can make your pet’s IVDD diagnosis feel particularly frightening. Knowledge about pets’ common adverse health conditions—especially IVDD—is the best way to help reduce your initial fears regarding any untoward diagnosis. Conquer your fears about IVDD by reading our Bayview Animal Hospital team’s description, signs, diagnosis, and treatment for this common canine condition. 

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs

Intervertebral discs sit between the spinal cord’s vertebrae. These discs have a tough fibrous-tissue outer layer and a gel-like center that acts as the vetebrae’s shock absorbers. IVDD occurs when a disc becomes ruptured, displaced, or herniated. A deteriorating disc presses on the spinal cord, and can lead to severe spinal cord damage, pain, weakness, nerve disruption, andin some casesdecreased mobility or paralysis. Dogs’ two most-common IVDD forms include:

  • Hansen type 1 — Type 1 IVDD is an acute (i.e., sudden) disc rupture resulting from a forceful impact such as a jump from the sofa. This IVDD type is most common in chondrodystrophic (i.e.,  short legs and long backs) breeds such as dachshunds, corgis, and beagles. The ruptured disc compresses the spinal cord and can cause pain, difficulty walking, paralysis, and urinary incontinence. 
  • Hansen type 2 — Type 2 IVDD is more common in large-breed dogs such as Labrador retrievers, German shepherd dogs, and Doberman pinschers. Unlike Hansen type 1’s acute nature, Hansen type 2 disc ruptures progress gradually, and a specific forceful impact does not cause the condition. Rather, the discs harden over time, eventually bulging or rupturing, and causing spinal cord compression. 

Intervertebral disc disease signs in dogs

Regardless of a dog’s Hansen type IVDD, signs usually appear suddenly. A dog with IVDD often feels back or neck pain, and may display the following signs:

  • Limb weakness
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Abnormal posture
  • Vocalization (i.e., yelping in pain) 
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Panting
  • Reluctance to move
  • Difficulty jumping 
  • Using the stairs
  • Paralysis

Diagnosing intervertebral disc disease in dogs

Your veterinarian may suspect IVDD based on your dog’s—especially chondrodystrophic breeds’—clinical signs, and they will perform diagnostic tests to confirm the condition. To pinpoint the spinal area affected, your veterinarian may perform the following diagnostic tests:

  • Neurologic exam — A thorough neurologic exam can rule out other neurologic issues, which can have signs similar to IVDD.
  • X-rays — Spinal X-rays can reveal disc space narrowing and help determine the affected vertebral column’s status.
  • Advanced imaging — A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan is necessary for a definitive IVDD diagnosis, and is useful if your veterinarian must plan your pet’s surgical treatment. 

Treating intervertebral disc disease in dogs

Your dog’s IVDD treatment depends on their condition’s severity. Your veterinarian may recommend the following IVDD treatment: 

  • Conservative management — Nonsurgical treatment requires three to four weeks of crate rest or confinement to prevent extraneous movement—running, jumping, or playing roughly—that could further damage your dog’s spine. To ensure your dog remains comfortable and relaxed, your veterinarian may prescribe pain medications and sedatives. 
  • Surgery — If your dog has partial paralysis, your veterinarian may perform surgery to remove the bone over the spinal canal, which relieves the pressure on your canine pal’s spine.  

If left untreated, IVDD can lead to permanent paralysis, and the earlier your dog’s condition is diagnosed and treated, the better their prognosis. If your dog shows IVDD signs, contact our Bayview Animal Hospital team to schedule an appointment.