WHAT IS INTERVERTEBRAL DISC DISEASE?
Intervertebral disc disease is a condition affecting the discs which separates your dog’s vertebrae and act as shock absorbers or cushions between the bones of the spinal column. The disease occurs when a disc moves out of position and presses against the spinal cord. Many people commonly refer to this condition as a “slipped disc”. This week we will review the symptoms, diagnostics and surgical treatment options for pets suffering from this condition.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF IVDD?
Your pet’s back is divided into several distinct regions: cervical spine (aka neck), thoracic spine (aka mid-back), lumbar spine (aka low back) and sacrum (aka tailbone). Symptoms can vary depending on which region of the back the affected disc is located. The symptoms of intervertebral disc disease can also vary depending on how quickly and forcefully the disc moves into your pet’s spinal canal and compresses the spinal cord. This can result in back pain and/or neurological deficits. In some dogs, these symptoms may occur gradually over time; in other dogs, the symptoms may occur rapidly and be severe, resulting in paralysis and inability to walk.
Symptoms of IVDD in dogs include:
Tense or tightness of the belly
Yelping or crying when they are moved or picked up
Reluctance to jump
Reluctance or refusal to go up or down stairs
Arching of the back
Trembling or shaking legs
Trouble bending the head or neck
Knuckling or scuffing of the paws
Weakness in the limbs
WHICH BREEDS ARE SUSCEPTIBLE TO IVDD?
All breeds can be affected by intervertebral disc disease, but some are more susceptible than others. Breeds which were selectively bred to have dwarfism or short legs are genetically susceptible to the discs in their back drying out over time; in fact, in these dogs, the breakdown of the disc can occur as early as 2 months of age and by the age of 1 year 75-100% of discs in these dogs have some degree of degeneration. These breeds include:
In non dwarf breeds, the degeneration to the disc typically occurs slowly as part of the aging process. Breeds which are commonly affected include:
If you suspect that your pup may be suffering from disc disease, it is important to have them examined by their veterinarian right away. There are other conditions which can mimic a compressed disc so it is important to rule out those other conditions and injuries. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical exam which will include a neurologic exam to more closely evaluate your pet’s nervous system function. Your veterinarian may order x-rays of your pet’s back. However, it is important to note that the discs and your pet’s spinal cord are made of soft tissue and are invisible on x-rays. If your veterinarian suspects IVDD after the initial exam and your pet’s symptoms are severe, your veterinarian may refer you to a neurologist who specializes in these conditions and can order more advanced testing, such as a CT scan or MRI if necessary.
TREATMENT FOR IVDD
Treatment for your pet will depend on clinical signs and the severity of your pet’s pain. Depending on the damage that the injury caused to the spinal cord, 100% recovery may not be possible. After your veterinarian or the neurologist evaluates your pet, they will be able to advise you on the best treatment.
In more severe cases of disc compression, a neurosurgeon will need to perform surgery to remove the material which is compressing the spinal cord. Typically your pet will need to be hospitalized for several days following surgery and, depending on which nerves were affected, may require additional nursing care such as expressing the bladder to help them relieve themselves.
Conservative management typically consists of strict rest and medications to help reduce pain and inflammation. In less severe cases, many dogs respond well to this approach.
IVDD Part 2
Stay tuned for next week's blog when we’ll discuss how physical rehabilitation is an extremely important component of recovery for pets suffering from intervertebral disc disease, whether they are treated with surgery or conservative management.
If your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD and you're ready to get started with rehab, click the logo below to speak with a team member.
Dr. Arielle Herndobler is the owner and founder of Healing Tails, a clinic located in Chicago focusing on physical rehabilitation and holistic medicine for pets. She is certified in acupuncture, certified veterinary spinal manipulation therapy (chiropractic) and physical rehabilitation.