Cervical Spondylosis in Dogs

Cervical spondylosis is a disorder in which there is degeneration of the cervical spine, the cartilage and bones of the neck. The individual vertebrate and joints, as well as the disks in between that cushion them, are affected. Cervical spondylosis in dogs is believed to be a genetic disorder that can occur in any breed. It most commonly affects adult large breed dogs, but some cases have occurred in dogs younger than one year of age.

Abnormal calcification can occur on the bones of the cervical spine, forming growths called spurs. The spurs may apply pressure to nerve roots in the cervical spine. As a result, damage to the nerve roots or spinal cord may occur and severely affect the dog's mobility.

Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis

Onset of symptoms may be sudden or may gradually develop over time. Symptoms of cervical spondylosis include:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Reduced mobility
  • Reduced reflexes 

Cases of cervical spondylosis in which the nerve roots or spinal are affected may show more serious symptoms that include:

  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of feeling or sensation in shoulders or limbs
  • Abnormal sensations in the shoulders or limbs
  • Loss of control over the bladder or bowels (in cases that involve spinal cord compression)
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Progressive loss of muscle function 
  • Permanent disability (rare)

Spondylotic cervical myelopathy may occur as a secondary disorder to cervical spondylosis. This is a serious disorder that occurs in dogs with a genetically predisposed small spinal canal in the cervix. In this condition, the effected cervical vertebrate put excessive pressure on the small spinal canal and cord. Symptoms of spondylotic cervical myelopathy include loss of feeling, weakness and loss of balance.

Diagnosis of Cervical Spondylosis

A physical examination by a veterinarian may show limited mobility of the neck. The dog may have difficulty turning or show pain when rotating the head. Diagnosis is made with laboratory tests and careful examination of the cervical spine. The veterinarian will recommend a CT scan, MRI, or radiographs (x-rays) of the neck region. In some cases a veterinarian may recommend a myelogram in which dye is injected into the spinal column for clearer observation of the cervix.

Cervical spondylosis is a degenerative disease that will progressively worsen over time if not treated. The rate of degeneration varies between individual cases, but early diagnosis will make treatment more effective in the majority of cases.

Cervical Spondylosis Treatment

Maintaining a healthy weight for the dog will alleviate strain on the joints and reduce pain. A healthy diet and exercise can reduce weight or maintain healthy weight. If the dog is unable to exercise due to pain or limited mobility, water therapy may be recommended. Water therapy, such as underwater treadmills, will allow the dog to exercise without putting pressure on the sensitive joints. Heat therapy may also be recommended as a localized treatment to reduce pain. This can be done at home with heat pads, heat discs, or hot water bags. To reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, a veterinarian will prescribe medications such as: 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Cortisone injections

There is no cure for cervical spondylosis. Treatment of the disease is meant to slow the degredation of the cervical spine and alleviate symptoms. In some cases surgery may be necessary to improve mobility or to treat secondary conditions caused by the disorder.