Spinal Injuries in Dogs

Spinal injuries in dogs occur because of some sort of trauma to the spinal column. These are not the types of injuries that should be taken lightly, but rather they are injuries than cause serious life-threatening and often debilitating conditions in dogs.

Canine Spinal Anatomy

In order to fully understand trauma to the spinal area, dog owners must first understand the spinal anatomy of dogs. The spinal cord in dogs originates in the brain and ends just anterior to the tail. It is surrounded by vertebrae that protect the spinal cord and provide stabilization for the structure of the dog’s body. Dogs have a total of 31 vertebrae; 7 of which support the neck, 13 that support the chest area, 7 that support the lower back, and 3 fused vertebrae that allow for pelvic structure.

The brain and spine work together to complete the complex nervous system in dogs. The spinal cord is complete with nerves that branch out to other areas of the body to allow for various bodily functions, including walking and movement, urination and sensation. Without communication from these nerves, both body function and mental capacity can be severely affected.

It is important to realize that the spinal column in dogs does not have the ability to regenerative itself; that is, the cells and nerves of the spine cannot re-create themselves in the event of injury. This is part of why the spine in dogs is such a sensitive anatomical structure.

Types of Spinal Injuries in Dogs

In general, there are four types of spinal injuries which can affect dogs, and they include:

  • cord laceration
  • spinal compression
  • spinal concussion
  • suboptimal blood flow to the spine

Lacerations occur when a spinal injury actually causes the cord to tear. This is a major spinal injury that essentially causes interruption of communication between the brain and the spinal column.

Compression injuries of the spinal cord can happen when one of the spine’s vertebral discs either protrude or rupture, placing an excessive amount of pressure on the spinal cord and its nerves. Concussion to the spine is the result of a traumatic event that temporarily suspends all spinal function, much like the temporary unconsciousness that occurs with brain injuries. Although less common, blood clots within the spinal cord can cause poor blood flow and decreased function for the dog as well.

Hemorrhaging of the spinal column is not uncommon in dogs with spinal injuries. The natural reaction of the dog’s body is to send more blood to the site of injury. This, however, can be dangerous as it leads to unhealthy levels of bleeding and excessive pressure on an already damaged spinal cord.

Diagnosing Spinal Injuries

Such types of spinal injuries in dogs are the result of severe, forceful trauma, such as when a dog is hit by a car, shot, or falls from an extremely high height. Usually the type of trauma is obvious and can be relayed to a veterinarian professional so that diagnosis and treatment can begin.

The first diagnostic method used is generally an x-ray of the spine. This determines whether or not the dog suffered from any fractures or abnormal spinal placement. A myelogram may then be performed to detect swelling around of the spinal cord. Following this, a CT scan of both the brain and the spinal cord will be used to determine the extent of damage to the dog’s nervous system.