Treatment for Ruptured Disc in Dogs

Treatment for ruptured discs in dogs depends on the severity of the rupture, and it can include rest, medication or surgery. Let’s look at how your dog’s spinal column works under normal conditions, what happens when a disc ruptures and the conventional and alternative treatment options available so you’ll know what to do if your dog ever suffers a significant back injury.

How Your Dog’s Spinal Column Works

Your dog’s spinal column is composed of his spinal cord, which runs down the middle of many small bones that are called vertebrae. The vertebrae stretch from the bottom of his skull to the tip of his tail and protect the spinal cord from harm. Between the vertebrae are cartilaginous discs that act as shock absorbers to cushion the spaces between the discs while allowing the spine to move freely.

How a Disc Can Rupture

Canine disc rupture can occur as the result of sudden injury or as a consequence of the natural aging process. Car accidents, poorly planned jumps off the couch or falls that injure a dog’s spine can result in disc rupture, or your dog’s spinal discs can deteriorate with age.

Some breeds are more prone to disc problems than others. Breeds with an increased risk of ruptured discs include:

  • the basset hound
  • the beagle
  • the cocker spaniel
  • the corgi
  • the dachshund
  • the lhasa apso
  • the Pekingese 
  • the shih tzu

Symptoms of Canine Disc Rupture

The first sign of canine disc rupture in many cases is intense pain. Other symptoms can include:

  • back arching
  • loss of bowel and bladder control
  • numbness
  • paralysis
  • shying away from being touched
  • weakness
  • whimpering after being touched

Depending on the location of the ruptured disc, a dog’s entire body can be affected, or he may only lose control and sensation in his hind legs.

Treatment Options for Canine Disc Rupture

Once your veterinarian diagnoses a ruptured disc in your dog’s back, the treatment options will depend on the severity of the rupture. If your dog has suffered a single incidence of symptoms related to a ruptured disc, simple rest and restricted movement for four to six weeks may be all he needs to recover. Medications such as steroids to reduce swelling or pain relievers to ease your dog’s discomfort may also be prescribed to aid in the healing process.

If your dog’s symptoms are more severe or if they recur regularly, surgery may be recommended. Your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist who can remove either the ruptured disc or part of a nearby bone that is applying pressure to your pet’s spinal cord. Your dog will need to be confined and follow a course of rest and physical therapy before he returns to his normal activity level after the surgery.

Alternative Treatment Methods for Canine Disc Rupture

Some dogs receive pain relief from alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, massage therapy or chiropractic manipulation. Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may also provide relief for some dogs’ pain. None of these treatment methods are designed to resolve the actual rupture, but they may be effective in managing your dog's pain.