Lumbosacral Spondylosis in Dogs

Lumbosacral spondylosis is a degenerative arthritic condition of a dog’s spine. It usually develops as a dog moves into his later years, and it affects his mobility. Let’s look at the symptoms of lumbosacral spondylosis and what you and your veterinarian can do to help your dog feel better if he has this condition.

Lumbosacral Spondylosis Symptoms

Symptoms of lumbosacral spondylosis can range from asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) to severe disability. Common symptoms include

  • back stiffness and pain
  • incontinence
  • lameness
  • leg joint pain
  • loss of balance
  • loss of mobility
  • vocalizing in pain when touched
  • weakness

The exact cause of lumbosacral spondylosis is unknown, although genetics, trauma or environmental factors may play roles in its development.

Lumbosacral spondylosis affects the lower part of the dog’s spine and should not be confused with cervical spondylosis, which affects a dog’s upper spine, or thoracic spondylosis that affects the middle of a dog’s spine. It is common in large breed dogs, especially the German shepherd, in their later years. Dogs are most likely to show symptoms as the disease first develops, but they seem to adjust to the disease after an initial adjustment period.

Diagnosing and Treating Lumbosacral Spondylosis

Your veterinarian may use a variety of tests to diagnose lumbosacral spondylosis in your dog. These may include a physical examination, laboratory tests and x-rays. He or she may also request a myelogram (a test of spinal compression), a force plate analysis (to determine weight tolerance) and joint fluid analysis (an examination of fluid from your dog’s joints to determine whether his problems are caused by a degenerative or infectious disease).

After a diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will formulate a treatment plan. Depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms, treatment may include:

  • alternative treatments, such as acupuncture
  • pain or anti-inflammatory medication
  • physical therapy 

In severe cases, surgery may be required to relieve your dog’s pain. In most cases, your veterinarian will remove bone spurs that have formed on your dog’s spine and irritate the nerves in your dog’s back legs. Follow-up care, including physical therapy, is usually needed to help your dog make a full recovery in about six months.

Additional Steps That Can Help Your Dog

Discuss your dog’s treatment plan with your veterinarian to see if additional steps can be taken to further ease your dog’s discomfort. If he’s overweight, a weight reduction and management plan may need to be part of your dog’s treatment plan because additional weight is detrimental to your dog’s overall health, and the extra weight isn’t helping his lumbosacral spondylosis, either.

Implementing a daily exercise plan tailored to your dog’s situation can help manage his condition. Walking is one recommended exercise, but swimming or other water therapy can also help less-mobile dogs achieve their exercise goals. Exercise also helps your pet maintain a healthy weight.

Heat therapy may be another useful part of your dog’s overall treatment plan. He may benefit from moist heat, such as the use of water bottles or warm towels wrapped around his joints to help ease his discomfort. Some dogs may also find pain relief from regular gentle massages, which can help stimulate blood flow and loosen tight muscles.