Degenerative Disk Disease in Dogs

Degenerative disk disease in dogs can be a life-changing condition for your pet, depending on the severity of his symptoms. Let’s learn more about this condition, including why some breeds may be more prone to developing the disease, along with symptoms, diagnosis methods and treatments.

Some Breeds Are Prone to Degenerative Disk Disease

The typical dog with degenerative disk disease is a mature animal between the ages of 3 and 7 years. Long, low-slung dogs are particularly prone to developing the disease and other back problems, especially if they are allowed to become obese.  In some cases, the condition is hereditary.

Breeds at increased risk of developing degenerative disk disease include

  • the basset hound
  • the clumber spaniel
  • the dachshund
  • the petit basset griffon vendeen
  • the Welsh corgi

Symptoms of Degenerative Disk Disease

Degenerative disk disease occurs when the fluid-filled disks between the vertebrae in your dog’s spinal column begin to leak and deteriorate. Over time, the disks can lose all their shock-absorbing fluid and begin to harden, which can lead to eventual disk rupture if the problem is not treated.

Symptoms of degenerative disk disease depend on the stage to which your dog’s disease has progressed. Dogs in the preliminary stages act tired and lethargic from the pain the disease causes in the dog’s neck and back.

As the disease progresses, the dog may walk stiff-legged, whimper or cry when touched, or he may drag his back legs. In extreme cases, the dog may even become paralyzed. Other symptoms can include shivering and appetite loss.

Diagnosing and Treating Degenerative Disk Disease

Diagnosis of degenerative disk disease is usually made after a complete physical examination is made. X-rays may also be taken to determine the location and extent of spinal damage.

Treatment depends on the stage of the disease your dog is in and the severity of accompanying symptoms. Treatment options can include

  • activity restrictions
  • alternative therapies
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • pain relievers

In extreme cases that involve disk rupture, surgery may be required to successfully relieve symptoms.

Dogs with stage 1 disk disease usually have mild pain that goes away after a few days rest and without further treatment. Dogs with stage 2 disk disease causes moderate pain in the dog’s neck or lower spine and may require veterinary care to treat successfully. Dogs with stage 3 disk disease may stagger when they walk or suffer from partial paralysis, while dogs in stages 4 and 5 of disk disease suffer from paralysis. Dogs in stage 4 have paralysis with feeling, while dogs in stage 5 have paralysis and loss of feeling.

Alternative Treatments May Help Improve Mobility, Ease Pain

In addition to traditional treatment methods, some dogs in the early stages of degenerative disk disease may benefit from the use of alternative treatments, such as acupuncture or chiropractic. Acupuncture may help improve your dog’s mobility and ease some of his discomfort, while chiropractic can improve spinal flexibility and mobility. Massage therapy and physical therapy can also help alleviate pain in some affected dogs.

Other steps to help your dog cope with degenerative disk disease include

  • ensuring he stays active without damaging his spine further
  • managing his weight effectively
  • protecting your dog from overexertion