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IVDD French Bulldog

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)/Back Pain Treatment

IVDD Dachshund

What is IVDD?

IVDD stands for intervertebral disc disease. It is also sometimes described as a ruptured, slipped, bulging or herniated disc. This condition is very commonly seen in Dachshunds, French bulldogs, Pekingese, Beagles and Shi Tzus. 

Signs of IVDD  in pets can include:

  • Holding the neck low

  • Neck or back pain

  • Limping on one or both front legs

  • Panting or shaking 

  • Reluctance to jump up 

  • Lethargy

  • Weak uncoordinated movement

  • Paralysis 

  • Arched posture

If any of these symptoms are noted and you are concerned about this condition it is important to follow up with your primary care veterinarian or the emergency veterinary clinic right away. 

A thorough neurological exam and advanced imaging such as x-rays and/or MRI will help confirm the diagnosis of IVDD and will better determine if surgery is needed. 

IVDD French Bulldog

How Can Canine Physical Rehab Help IVDD?

Conservative Management of IVDD

There are many dogs diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease who do not require surgery. These pets are typically managed with pain medications, activity restriction and physical rehabilitation. 

Many different treatment modalities can be used when treating a dog undergoing conservative management of IVDD. Possible treatment options might include acupuncture, laser therapy, massage, therapeutic exercise and stretching, hydrotherapy and a home exercise program. Our immediate goals for conservative management are to reduce pain and inflammation in the spinal cord and prevent surgery, while our long term goals include reducing the frequency and severity of any future flare ups that may occur. 

While the diagnosis of IVDD can be frightening - we are here to guide you on how to best manage your pet's condition so that  you get can back to the activities you love. 

Post-Operative Management of IVDD

For dogs or cats with sever pain or paralysis IVDD is treated with surgery. For those pets, rehabilitation is a very important part of recovery after surgery. We utilize many of the same techniques and tools we use for conservative management including acupuncture, massage, laser therapy, underwater treadmill therapy and therapeutic exercise and stretching. Each patient recovering from surgery will have unique needs and it is our goal to formulate a plan that is specific to their concerns. We will work closely with their surgeon to ensure we get the best outcome possible for your pet. 


What Causes IVDD & Back Pain?

If your pet has been diagnosed with IVDD, then like most clients you are probably trying to gain a better understanding of their condition. Learning more about your pet’s anatomy can be helpful and is the first step in having a better understanding. Your pet’s backbone or spine is made up of several small bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae house and protect the spinal cord which runs the length of their body from their neck down to the tail. The intervertebral discs rest between each of the vertebrae and act as a cushion between the bones. The discs have a hard, fibrous outer covering (the annulus fibrosus) and a soft jelly-like interior (the nucleus pulposus). There are different types of disc disease which can affect pets. The type of disc disease is classified based on the part of the disc which is affected.


Intervertebral disc disease types


Hansen Type 1 disc disease: Normally the intervertebral disc is soft and flexible acting as a shock absorber between the vertebrae and allowing for flexible movement in the spinal cord. In Type 1 disc disease, the soft, inner portion of the disc called the nucleus pulposus becomes calcified. Once the inner portion has calcified there is a potential even with normal movement for the outer portion of the disc to tear and the soft inner portion to ooze out.  This can affect the spinal nerves resulting in extreme pain.  It may also cause bruising and damage to  the spinal cord itself resulting in pain, weakness or paralysis. This type of disc disease typically has a sudden onset and most commonly occurs in Dachshunds and other breeds with long backs and short legs. 


Hansen Type 2 disc disease: Type 2 disc disease is caused by a chronic bulging of the outer portion of the disc (the annulus fibrosus) resulting in chronic spinal cord compression. Symptoms are similar to type 1 disc disease but the onset of symptoms is typically more gradual and may be progressive. Middle-age to senior large breed dogs such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are more likely to suffer from type 2 disc disease. 

How Is IVDD Diagnosed?

Step 1: A Complete Neurological Exam

A neurological exam can initially be performed by your primary care veterinary clinic, but more than likely, your veterinarian will refer your pet to a neurologist.  A neurologist is a veterinarian who is an expert in neurological conditions. A complete assessment of your pet’s gait and reflexes will help the neurologist better determine the location of the bulging disc. Localizing the disc to a specific area of the spinal cord (i.e. in the cervical, thoracic, lumbar or sacral region) is an important step before moving on to imaging such as an x-ray, CT scan or MRI. 


Step 2: Imaging


These can be used to rule out other spinal issues such as fractures or cancer which can mimic the symptoms of IVDD. The disc itself is considered soft tissue and will not show up on x-rays unless it is mineralized. Overall x-rays are a great first step in terms of the diagnostic process. 



If surgery is recommended for your pet, advanced imaging such as an MRI is necessary to identify the exact disc which is affected so the surgeon knows where to perform the surgery. The MRI is generally performed immediately prior to surgery. The MRI does require general anesthesia so once the MRI has been completed your pet will be transferred directly to the operating room. In some cases, other non-surgical conditions such as a fibrocartilaginous embolism or FCE might be diagnosed on the MRI. In that case your pet would recover from anesthesia and the care team would discuss the next best steps for your pet.


Healing Tails Chicago Can Help With IVDD Treatment

At Healing Tails we understand that every patient recovering from IVDD is unique. Each dog or cat that walks through our doors has special concerns and goals to achieve. During the initial consultation we spend time discussing all of the concerns you have for your pet. After assessing your pet during the physical exam, we will make recommendations on how you can best care for and support your pet during their recovery. Our team is led by our expert veterinarian who has over a decade of experience caring for patients with IVDD and helping them thrive after surgery. She will formulate a plan for both home care and in clinic care which may include massage, exercise, acupuncture, laser therapy and/or underwater treadmill. Caring for a pet recovering from surgery can be stressful. We have helped countless pets and pet parents through the recovery process and will be by your side every step of the way!

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