Invertebral Disk Disease in Dogs

Invertebral disk disease in dogs, or ruptured disk disease, is a condition that often occurs due to spinal injury. Flexible cartilage disks rest between the vertebrae in your dog's spine, cushioning them and allowing for comfortable movement in the joints. When invertebral disk disease occurs, one or more of these disks slips out of position, and can place pressure on your dog's spinal cord. Read on to learn more about the possible severe consequences of ruptured disk disease in dogs.

Causes and Risk Factors for Invertebral Disk Disease in Dogs

The cartilage disks in your dog's spine can weaken over time. Age or injury are often contributing factors. Disks can slip out of place suddenly, or slowly, over a long period of time. Often, vets never manage to determine the exact cause of a dog's ruptured disk.

Certain breeds are more likely to develop ruptured disk disease than others. These breeds include:

  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Beagles
  • Basset Hounds
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Pekingnese
  • Corgis
  • Shih Tzus

Factors of heredity in these dogs often contribute to ruptured disks in the spine.

Symptoms of Herniated Disks in Dogs

When a disk in your dog's spine slips out of its proper position, it usually places pressure on your dog's spinal cord. Symptoms can range from mild pain and weakness to total paralysis, depending on how far the disk has slipped. Symptoms may vary, depending on where the ruptured disk is located in your dog's spine.

Disk rupture can cause extreme pain when the herniation first occurs. Your dog may arch his back, refuse to move his head even to eat or drink, or move slowly and carefully because he is in pain. If the injury is severe, your dog may become paralyzed in some part of his body.

In severe injury, the back legs often become somewhat or completely paralyzed, and the dog may even lose control of his bladder and bowels. If your dog experiences any level of paralysis, seek veterinary care immediately. Paralysis may or may not be permanently, and may be affecting his internal organs in ways you can't see.

Diagnosing and Treating Your Dog's Ruptured Disk

Your vet will base his diagnosis largely on a physical exam. CAT scans, MRIs and X-rays can help your vet confirm disk disease. Your vet may want to test a sample of your dog's cerebral fluid, to make sure he is not suffering from an infection of the spinal cord, brain, or membranes thereof.

In mild to moderate cases of ruptured disk disease, anti-inflammatory pain relievers can reduce pressure on the spine and promote healing. 

If your dog is experience severe pain or serious symptoms, surgery can help relieve them. Your vet may surgically remove the protruding part of the disk, and may need to remove some bone from your dog's vertebrae to ease pressure on the spinal cord. Surgery is most effective when it is done as soon as possible after the original injury. With or without surgery, your dog make take a month or longer to recover; if he has suffered paralysis, he may never completely regain his full range of motion.