Intervertebral disk disease in dogs can cause a very sudden onset of neck pain, clumsiness in walking where it appears your dog is literally drunk, or in some cases, the inability to walk at all.
This extremely painful condition is also known as a ruptured disk, as well as IVDD and it comes in two forms; cervical as well as thoracolumbar disc disease.
Each one of these forms will affect different parts of your dog’s spine, and as a result, will affect different parts of their body.
In fully understanding intervertebral disk disease in dogs, it is very helpful for any owner to understand some basics on how a dog’s spine is made up.
Your dog’s spine has several small bones that are referred to as vertebra, and they extend from the base of their skull all the way to their tail.
They are interconnected by very flexible disks that are in turn made up of a cartilage type of material.
These are referred to as the intervertebral disks, and their major function is to provide cushioning between each of the bones.
When this all works in unison, it allows your dog to move their neck, their spine, and to change positions.
It also allows the correct posture in your dog.
It is also this function that allows your dog to bend and move their tail.
Each of these vertebra's has a tunnel that runs through it, and this is where the spinal cord passes.
They are protected by the bone that surrounds it throughout these tunnels, with a few exceptions.
This includes the places between the vertebrae where they run over the tops of these disks.
The strength of these disks is critical to the spinal cord, as it is made up of a mass of nerve fibers that basically runs back and forth between your dog’s brain and the entire body.
If they become weak or something else damages them, intervertebral disk disease in dogs can develop.
Intervertebral disk disease in dogs can occur when one of these disks becomes weak as your dog ages, or it can become weak as the result of an accident or traumatic event that has occurred.
It can also rupture which will cause a portion of the disk to literally protrude in an upward direction.
When this occurs, it begins to place a tremendous amount of pressure on your dog’s spinal cord, and this is referred to as a ruptured or a herniated disk.
This event can occur very suddenly, where it is referred to as acute, or develop very slowly over an extended period of time, where it is considered to be chronic.
However, whatever the time frame is, it places pressure on your dog’s spinal cord.
This pressure will prevent or dramatically reduce the amount of nerve transmissions that are running along their spinal cord.
There are two major types of intervertebral disk disease in dogs; cervical and thoracolumbar, also known as TL.
Cervical Disk Disease
The first form of intervertebral disk disease in dogs is referred to as cervical disk disease, and it places pressure on your dog’s discs that are on or around their neck area.
The exact cause of this form is not fully understood, but in many cases there is a change in the content of the disk.
It can change from a soft and very pliable gel like substance, to a very stiff material.
When this occurs, one of two things may happen; it will slowly depress your dog’s spinal cord, or it will literally explode into their spinal cord.
The disks that are located in this affected area can affect your dog’s front legs and their back legs, but to a much lesser degree.
It can also affect one side of their body, or if it severe enough, both sides.
The most common symptoms with this form of intervertebral disk disease are neck pain. This neck pain may be mild where it only causes discomfort in your dog, or it can be severe.
As it starts to become severe, your dog will begin to walk very clumsily and appear as they are literally drunk.
It is a real warning sign as the next symptom is about to occur; a complete paralysis in all four legs.
When this happens, your dog will have absolutely no feeling or sensations in their legs at all. If this loss of sensation is deep enough, your dog may have no chance of surviving.
This form can affect any breed at any time; however, there are some breeds that are more predisposed than others.
These breeds include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, as well as Dachshunds. Pekingese, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apos, and Corgis are also at a higher risk of these ruptures.
Thoracolumbar Disc Disease
The next form of intervertebral disk disease in dogs is referred to as thoracolumbar disc disease, or TL.
This is a situation where the pressure is placed on your dog’s spinal cord in their thoracolumbar area of their back.
This is considered to be the most common spinal disorder in dogs.
When this disc becomes affected, it involves your dog’s mid-portion of their body and affects their rear legs.
The early signs with this form of the disease are also back pain as well as a complete reluctance to play or move in some cases.
They will also become extremely reluctant to climb stairs because of this pressure, and will yelp or cry out when you make any attempt to touch them.
If it advances to the severe stage, it can also paralyze all four of your dog’s legs.
The same predisposed breeds are subject to this form of the disease.
The treatments for intervertebral disk disease in dogs is basically the same for both kinds of the disease; medical or surgical.
With the medical form of treatment, if the disease is considered to be mild to moderate, strict rest will be required.
It may also involve placing your dog in a cage to ensure this rest is followed through.
In the early stages muscle relaxants and steroids will be given.
And if it does not improve, your dog may have to be hospitalized and given intravenous steroids. However, it is the vast majority of cases; medical management has not proven to be successful.
If this is the case, the only option you may have left is surgical treatments.
Your veterinarian will run a series of tests to determine the location of the disc that is affected.
Then they will drill into a small window of bone in the underside of your dog’s spinal bones, usually on both sides of the affected disc area.
This will allow access to the ruptured material where it can be removed from their spinal canal.
In this case, however, it has been quite successful, although your dog will not be cured instantly.
This process will take the pressure off of the spinal cord which allows it to begin to heal, but it does nothing to the spinal cord itself.
Only time will allow it to heal, but there is a bright side. The spinal canal in your dog is at its largest though the neck region, and because of this, it is a lot more tolerant.
However, if the ruptured disk is located in the thoracolumbar, it may take longer to heal.
Intervertebral disk disease in dogs is an extremely painful ordeal and surgery may be the only possible solution.
Because of this, the expense may be prohibitive to some owners and you may have a very difficult decision to make.
If you can afford this process or have insurance, your dog has a very good chance at full recovery.
However, if they have lost what is called a deep sensation in their legs as a result of this process, even surgery may not be successful.