Your dog has just been diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) or a slipped disc.  You’re wondering, what the heck is that and what does that mean for my dog? Is this something I need to worry about long term? Is my dog in pain? Here are some answers…

Intervertebral disc disease occurs when the discs (or shock absorbers) between the vertebrae of your dog’s back are pushing up into the spinal canal, compressing his spinal cord. This can happen with a sudden trauma like jumping off of the bed or as a slow bulging action that occurs over time. When this occurs, your dog will likely be in quite a bit of pain. Compression of the spinal cord can also lead to nerve damage or deficits which can progress to  paralysis in the extreme case.  We see this condition most commonly in dachshunds (45%-70%), but it can occur in any breed.  That is why it is important to keep your dog from becoming overweight and from any actions that may be jarring to his spine like jumping on or off of high objects.

SYMPTOMS often include a hunching of the back or pain when being touched, picked up or moving a certain way. A common description is “walking on eggshells”. Oftentimes, your dog will be reluctant to jump up on things that they normally jump on.  They might also act like they just want to stay in one position and not move much at all. If the compression is significant your dog may act weak or wobbly in the back, looking like the back end is acting independently from the front. And, most seriously, your dog may be dragging either on or both back legs.  This latter condition is an emergency and the sooner you seek veterinary help, the better chance your dog will walk normally again.

DIAGNOSIS by your veterinarian is usually presumptive based on clinical signs and presenting history. Sometimes a spinal x-ray will show a calcified disc or a compressed disc space which would suggest a herniation. A more definitive diagnosis requires either a myelogram (dye injected around the spinal cord to show a compressed area), CT or MRI scan.

TREATMENT may consist most commonly of cage rest and pain medications in a less severe situation. However if the compression is severe, surgery might be your only option if you want your dog to have the chance of a full recovery. Surgery should be done by a board certified veterinary surgeon.It involves going in and removing the herniated disc material from around the spinal cord, called decompression surgery.  Most of the time, the surgery is very successful and dogs will return to full walking, following a recuperation period. If the damage is severe, your dog may not completely recovery but will likely have better function than before the surgery.

If your dog does not recover completely neurologically or you have decided against the surgery, he can still live a long, active life. These days, there a many items available such as wheelchairsdrag bags, and support slings that can make it more convenient for you to get your handicapped pet around, and help make his quality of life as good as it was before. We have all of these items and more on Doolittle’s Pet Products. Come and look around and if you have any questions, I will be happy to try and answer them.

Your pet's friend,

Dr. Kelley