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Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a degenerative disease that affects the spinal cord, causing a host of painful and severe symptoms for dogs. Our veterinary neurologist specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nerves, spinal cord, muscles, and brain such as IVDD. Today we look at the symptoms and treatments for IVDD in dogs.

What is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)?

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) in dogs can be described as a ruptured, slipped, bulging or herniated disk. Breeds most affected by this condition include dachshunds, shih tzus, pekingese, and beagles. 

What causes Intervertebral Disc Disease in dogs?

IVDD is a gradual degenerative process that affects the spinal cord of the dog over a period of time. In many cases this condition will go undetected until the disc becomes ruptured. A simple jump can easily damage a disc that has already been weakened by IVDD and trigger acute and painful symptoms of the disease.

IVDD causes the cushioning discs between the dog's vertebrae to begin to harden until they reach the point when the discs can no longer adequately cushion the vertebrae. The hardening of the discs can eventually cause them to bulge and compress the spinal cord, possibly damaging the nerve impulses such as those that control bladder and bowel control. In other cases, once the discs are no longer able to cushion the vertebrae a powerful jump or poor landing can cause one or more of the discs to burst and press into the nerves of the dog's spinal cord causing pain, possible nerve damage or even paralysis.

How do I know if my dog has Intervertebral Disc Disease?

IVDD symptoms can appear suddenly or may come on gradually. The condition can occur in any of the discs in your dog's spine and symptoms of IVDD depend on which part of the spine is affected and how severe the damage is. If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms seek veterinary care as soon as possible. IVDD can be very painful for dogs and early treatment is essential for preventing the condition from becoming more severe or causing irreversible damage to your dog's spine. 

Symptoms of Neck Intervertebral Disc Disease

If your dog has IVDD in the neck region you may notice one or more of the following symptoms which can affect the whole body and range from mild to very severe:

  • Holding head low
  • Arching back 
  • Crying or shivering
  • Reluctance to move or jump
  • Weakness in all 4 legs (Wobbliness)
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of all 4 paws
  • Inability to support their own weight
  • Inability to stand or walk
  • Inability to feel all feet and legs


Symptoms of Back Intervertebral Disc Disease

Dogs with IVDD in the mid-back region may display one or more of the following symptoms which mainly affect the back portion of the body and can range from mild to very severe:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Tense belly 
  • Weakness in hind legs
  • Crossing back legs when walking
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of back paws, or dragging rear legs
  • Inability to support their own weight
  • Unable to move or feel back legs


Symptoms of Lower-Back Intervertebral Disc Disease

When a dog has IVDD in the lower back region, symptoms typically affect the very back of the body and may range from mild to very severe:

  • Pain and difficulty jumping
  • Limp tail
  • Incontinence (urinary or fecal) 
  • Dilated anus

Diagnosis of Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

If your dog is showing any of the above symptoms an immediate veterinary examination is recommended. Tests for diagnosing IVDD in dogs may include x-rays, a neurological exam, and/or MRI to help locate the disc or discs causing the condition.

Treatment of Intervertebral Disc Disease

In order to achieve good treatment outcomes, early diagnosis and treatment is essential. Delays in treatment could cause irreversible damage.

If your dog is diagnosed with a mild to moderate injury, treatment may include steroid and anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce pain and swelling, combined with strictly reduced activity (which may mean cage rest) for approximately 4 - 6 weeks.

Surgery is typically recommended for dogs suffering from more severe cases of IVDD where rest and medication are not sufficient to reduce pain and other symptoms. The goal of surgery is to remove the disc material which is pressing on the spinal cord and causing the associated symptoms. Surgery tends to be more successful if the dog has not lost their ability to walk. In cases where surgery is not successful, a dog wheelchair can help your dog to enjoy a happy and active life while living with IVDD.

Following surgery, your dog will require 6 - 8 weeks of minimal activity in order to recover. Activities such as running, climbing stairs, playing with other dogs, or jumping on furniture must be prevented in order to avoid further damage as the spine heals.

Your vet may also recommend physical therapy for your dog following surgery to help with muscle strengthening and to help get your dog moving comfortably once again.

Veterinary Neurology & Neurosurgery in Winston-Salem

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem, pets with neurological conditions such as IVDD are diagnosed and treated by our board-certified veterinary neurologist, who provides comprehensive medical and surgical care for these animals. If you live in the Winston-Salem area and your pet might have a IVDD, request a referral to our board-certified veterinary neurologist.

If your dog is showing signs of IVDD it is essential to seek emergency veterinary care. Contact your primary care vet, or bring your dog to the closest emergency animal hospital. In Winston-Salem, the emergency vets at Carolina Veterinary Specialists are available late nights, weekends, and holidays. Contact us when your pet needs emergency care.

Caring for Winston-Salem Pets

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, we accept new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service welcomes all clients.

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