Disc disease, IVDD, back injury, slipped disc, etc. It has many names and is one of the more common reasons that a dog will be brought to a veterinarian for evaluation and is a result of pain and discomfort. In order to understand how to manage the disease and what it is, we have to do a quick review of the anatomy so hold on for the boring stuff! The spinal column is made up of multiple vertebrae with a cartilage disc in between each one. The disc’s purpose is to separate the vertebrae and provide cushion during movement. The disc itself is formed similar to a piece of Rolo candy with a thicker outer shell and a softer, more gelatinous center.
A disc injury, whether it is located in the neck or back, is an expulsion of the center of the disc which puts pressure on the spinal cord and creates a lot of inflammation and ultimately pain. The symptoms of a disc injury include pain, hunching up of the back, pain when being picked up, reluctance to go up the stairs or jump, wobbly or dragging back legs, or even the inability to use their legs. Any of the above symptoms require a veterinary visit as soon as possible but any inability to use their legs or walk requires an emergency visit immediately!
Diagnosis of IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) is often done on examination through various exam findings which may include palpation of the spinal column, neurologic examinations and history of your pet. Radiographs can be helpful but will often miss the obvious diagnosis of the problem, you really need advanced imaging of the spinal cord either by MRI or CT scan.
Treating IVDD is aimed at both the acute injury and chronic management of the disease.
1. Acute Injury: Therapy is often guided by the severity of the injury. If the neurologic deficits or compression of the spinal cord is significant, surgical repair is often recommended. If your dog is still moving normally but just painful then pain medications and strict exercise restriction is recommended. Keeping your dog from sliding or falling is very important. We recommend PawFriction to aid in recovery from a back injury and in the post-operative setting if your dog has back surgery.
2. Prevention/Chronic Injury: Chronic pain medicine may be necessary if you dog remains in pain after their injury. Weight management is extremely important for all dogs prone to spinal injuries. Rehabilitation, acupuncture, etc. can all improve your dog’s long-term mobility and decrease risk of re-injury. Traction aids like PawFriction can be paramount in preventing your dog from re-injuring themselves.
Thankfully, most dogs we see with spinal injuries often respond to conservative treatment but remember, the success of IVDD surgery in dogs is very good when early intervention is performed. Don’t be afraid to discuss with your vet about whether a referral to a neurologist is necessary. Also, don’t forget the importance in restricted jumping, sliding/slipping, and decreased activity level, which will keep your dog’s back stronger and healthier in the long run.