Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs, or IVDD, is also referred to as a ruptured or herniated disc of the spine. Dogs that are afflicted with this disease will typically be in a great deal of pain and need prompt medical treatment. For this reason, it is essential that dog owners be aware of intervertebral disc disease, as well as how to identify the associated symptoms.

Intervertebral Disc Disease Explained

In dogs, the spinal column creates anatomical structure and acts as a shock absorber. Every movement of the dog’s body depends on proper alignment and strength of the spine and paraspinous muscles. The bones that surround the spinal column are known as the vertebrae, and between each vertebra is a sack-like, water-filled-type disc. This disc is responsible for displacing weight and reducing the load on the spine.

The uppermost section of the spine is known as the cervical spine, which predominantly supports the neck and shoulders. Next is the thoracic spine, which incorporates the chest and abdominal areas. Following this is the lumbar spine, the area of the spine which supports the back and rear flank.

When the discs lying between the vertebrae rupture or protrude from their normal positioning, the result is direct pressure on the spinal column, and the discs no longer have the ability to disseminate the weight load of the spine. This inevitably causes a variety of symptoms and limitations for the dog. Intervertebral disc disease in dogs is not limited to one specific area of the spine, but rather it can occur in the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine.

Causes of IVDD

The number one cause of intervertebral disc disease in dogs is age. Over time, the vertebral discs can loose their elasticity and water-like content, which makes them more vulnerable to injury and weightbearing. In elderly dogs, even normal amounts of weight can place undue pressure on the discs and cause them to expand or even rupture.

Injury is probably the second most common cause of intervertebral disc disease in dogs. Injuries affecting the spine can happen at any age, although geriatric dogs are definitely more susceptible. Spinal injuries causing IVDD can happen as the result of a car accident, a fall, or even twisting awkwardly during normal play. There does, however, appear to be a genetic component with intervertebral disc disease in dogs. Some breeding lines seem to carry a predisposition to progressive degeneration of the discs, including Bassett Hounds, Corgis, Beagles and Dachshunds.

Signs and Symptoms of IVDD

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs is an extremely painful condition, and it can giv eway to a variety of secondary health conditions when left untreated, including urinary incontinence and paralysis. It is important to remember that the dog’s symptoms will be dictated by the particular area of the spine that is affected. Some of the early symptoms of intervertebral disc disease in dogs include:

  • Stiffness of the neck (cervical)
  • Shivering or tremoring due to pain
  • Reluctance to walk or run (thoracic or lumbar)
  • Decreased range of motion of the hind legs (lumbar)

In cases where range of motion of the neck or legs becomes severe, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. This means that there is severe nerve compression, and this can result in permanent paralysis if not treated promptly.