Cervical Disc Disease in Dogs

Cervical disc disease is the most common neurological condition found in dogs. Some breeds are more susceptible to cervical disc disease than others, though the condition has been found in dogs of all breeds and sizes.

How Cervical Disc Disease Affects Your Dog's Spine

The discs between your dog's vertabrae normally function like shock absorbers. A healthy intervertebral disc has two parts, a gelatinous center and a fibrous ring around it.

Cervical disc disease causes the intervertebral disc to lose its flexibility, as the gelatinous center of the disc degenerates and becomes hard and calcified. When this happens, your dog's intervertebral discs can no longer function normally as spinal shock absorbers. They become more likely to bulge and rupture. This puts undue pressure on the spinal cord and can lead to severe pain and even paralysis.

Symptoms of Cervical Disc Disease in Dogs

Dogs experiencing disc degeneration due to cervical disc disease will develop neck pain. Your dog's head and neck will appear to be tense and stiff, and he may try to avoid lifting his head. Severe muscle spasms may cause your dog's neck to swell or seem to thicken.

If a disc ruptures, your dog could experience paralysis in one, two or all four limbs. Cervical disc rupture often occurs gradually over a long period of time, so symptoms may appear to come and go.

Diagnosing Canine Cervical Disc Disease

Your vet will consider your dog's complete medical history when making a diganosis of cervical disc disease. X-rays may identify bulging, ruptured or calcified discs. Your vet may perform a myelogram, a procedure in which dyes are used to compare the tissues of the spine, to confirm disc rupture, identify the location of the ruptured disc and evaluate damage to the spinal cord.

Treating Dog Cervical Disc Disease

If your dog is still in the early stages of cervical disc disease, your vet may administer corticosteroids to relieve the pain caused by muscle spasms and inflammation. Corticosteroids can also relieve swelling of the spinal cord. However, treatment with corticosteroids can't cure the disease, and it will continue to progress, until eventually your dog will need surgery.

Surgical treatment of cervical disc disease in dogs requires removing ruptured disc tissue. Your vet will leave the area formerly occupied by this tissue intact so that your dog can recover normally. Your vet will also remove diseased tissue from other discs in the cervical spine; he may have to operate on as many as five of your dog's cervical discs. He'll cut through the outer layer of fibrous disc tissue to remove the hardened, calcified gelatinous material within.

This type of surgery prevents future rupture of other diseased discs. After surgery, your dog should regain his freedom of movement in the cervical spine, and he shouldn't experience any further pain as a result of cervical disc disease.

Following surgery, your dog will be kept under observation and treated with pain medication for a couple of days. Once home, he'll need to be confined to minimize movement; he may require pain medications and rehabilitation therapy. Dogs recovering from cervical disc surgery should be walked on a harness rather than with a neck collar.