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Intervertebral disc disease


Published: Jun 04, 2013

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For years I have suffered from back problems. Most veterinarians and animal professionals (groomers, farmers, vet technicians) at some time or the other will suffer from a back condition that is usually due from lifting up dogs and holding large animals. My back condition resulted from lifting heavy dogs and lifting weights. However, just like their own owners and some of their veterinarians, dogs may suffer debilitating spinal injury and back problems.

Intervertebrate disk disease is most common in small breeds (Shih tzu, Pekingnese, Lhasa Apso) and are particularly in those dogs with long backs and short legs (Dachshund and Basset hound).

The spine is a chain of bones (vertebrae) held together by ligaments with intervertebratal disks in between each vertebrae acting as cushions. These disks provide the spine’s flexibility. The spinal cord is strung through a bony canal inside each vertebra and is the neurological highway that sends nerve impulses from the brain throughout the body.

The disks act as a shock absorber for the back and are filled with fluid, collagen and other substances. Disk disease typically begins as early as seven months of age, when the disk suffers a loss of this fluid and begins to calcify and loses its resiliency. Eventually, the degenerate disk may rupture which compresses the spinal cord. This causes the dog severe pain in the neck, or back, and may compromise function and feeling in the legs.

Signs depend on the site of the damage. Ruptured disks located in the lower back cause a weak, wobbly gait in the rear legs. Ruptured discs located in the neck cause the dog to tilt his head down in a hunched, painful posture and may cause front leg weakness. The dog may even refuse to move. The most severe signs are complete paralysis due to compression and/or damage to the spinal cord.

Usually, a client would tell me that their dog is usually very active — jumping on the couch, on the bed, climbing the stairs and does not like to stay still for too long.

Diagnosis is based on signs, and sometimes x-rays confirm the condition and pinpoint the location of the problem. Treatment depends on the severity of the signs and prompt veterinary help improves your dog’s chance for a complete recovery. Ideally, confinement and enforced rest for two to three weeks may return the dog to normal mobility.

The discomfort that arises form the degenerate disk helps restrict the dog’s activities. Otherwise, the dog may move too much and cause further damage. Pain management and anti-inflammatories are prescribed along with restricted activity (cage or crate rest). The other option for treatment when more symptoms do not improve is surgery.

Surgical decompression of the spinal cord creates a window in the vertebrae to remove the encroaching disk material from the spinal cord. Prognosis can vary depending on the severity of the signs and how long the dog has suffered from the problems.

Some veterinary researchers report significant improvement in some dogs suffering from disk disease by combining conventional therapies (rest, painkillers and anti-inflammatories) with veterinary acupuncture treatments. Complete recovery may take as long as six months and typically requires physical therapy.

If you suspect your dog is having a back problem, your veterinarian should be consulted to evaluate the condition.

• Dr. Basil Sands can be contacted at Central Animal Hospital at 325-1288.

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