What is Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs?
What is it?
How is it Treated?
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As Lisa watched her cherished Dachshund, Frankie, play in the living room, she noticed him suddenly whining in pain and struggling to move his back legs. Concerned about her beloved pet’s well-being, Lisa took Frankie to the veterinarian for a comprehensive examination. After a thorough evaluation, the vet diagnosed Frankie with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), a spinal condition that can affect dogs, particularly those with long backs like Dachshunds.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is when the spinal cord becomes irritated due to pressure from a herniated intervertebral disc. Intervertebral disk disease occurs when one or more of these discs rupture and leak out of their normal position. Most disc ruptures happen in the mid back and some in the neck.
An intervertebral disk is located between each pair of spinal bones. Each bone has several discs, and there are three pairs of these discs in the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers, allowing us to bend forward, backward, and side to side without putting too much stress on the spine.
Each disc consists of an inner part called the nucleus pulposus (NP) and an outer portion called the annulus fibrosis (AF).
- The Nucleus Pulposus is made up of gelatinous material. It acts as a cushion between the annulus fibrosis and the vertebrae.
- The Annulus Fibrosus comprises tough connective tissue and surrounds the nucleus pulposus. When the annulus fibrous tissue becomes damaged, the nucleus pulposus leaks out of its place, resulting in inflammation and swelling of the annulus fibrosis.
What Causes Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs?
Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) is a painful condition in which the intervertebral disks become damaged due to age, injury, or congenital disabilities. It is characterized by degeneration of the intervertebral disc’s nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus. IVDD is one of the leading causes of chronic back pain or spinal disease in dogs.
The cause of IVDD is unknown; however, several risk factors are associated with this condition, including breed predisposition, obesity, and genetic disorders. In addition, there are many theories regarding how IVDD develops.
- Age – Older dogs are at greater risk than younger ones.
- Breed – Bulldogs, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Pitbulls, Chows, Great Danes, Mastiffs, St Bernards, and Bull Terriers are among breeds known to be predisposed to IVDD.
- Diet – High-fat diets increase the likelihood of developing IVDD.
- Exercise – Excessive exercise increases the chance of developing IVDD. This includes running, jumping, playing fetch, agility training, and field trials.
- Genetics – Certain genetic disorders, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, make certain breeds more prone to developing IVDD.
Also, One theory suggests that the lack of nutrition from the nucleus pulposus leads to decreased cell viability and increased apoptosis. Another theory states that lacking nutrients leads to inflammation, further damaging the tissue. Finally, a third theory suggests that the lack or decrease in proteoglycan synthesis leads to reduced water retention and swelling of the discs.
Another theory suggests that the lack of collagen production leads to fissures in the annulus fibrosus.
Types of Intervertebral Disc Disease
There are many types of IVDD, including degenerative disc disease, ruptured discs, and protruding disks. These conditions can be done in surgical treatment or medically.
- Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is when the discs inside the spine become damaged and lose their ability to support the body’s weight. This causes pain and discomfort in the back, legs, hips, and tail. The most common symptoms include difficulty walking, stiffness, loss of appetite, depression, and lack of energy. It is usually caused by age, genetics, obesity, bowel control, and poor nutrition.
- Ruptured Disc Disease (RDD) is a condition with damage to the intervertebral discs in your dog’s spine. This causes pain and discomfort in the back legs. It is most commonly seen in larger breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Bull Terriers, Mastiffs, Pit Bulls, etc.
- Protruding Disk Disease (PDD) is a condition with swelling of one or more intervertebral discs, which causes pain in the back and legs. It occurs most commonly in large breed dogs such as Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Bullmastiffs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, St Bernards, Mastiffs, etc. The condition usually affects older dogs and is often hereditary.
Symptoms of Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs
The most common symptom of intervertebral disc disease in dogs is sudden, unexplained pain in the back or neck. If the affected area is the neck, your dog may show signs of stiffness and restraint during movement. In addition, his ability to walk may not be normal, and he keeps his balance when walking.
Other clinical signs of IVDD in dogs include loss of appetite, refusal to eat or drink water, trembling or shaking due to pain, listlessness, and lethargy. If the lesion occurs in the lower back area, your dog may drag its hind legs while walking due to nerve damage. Severe cases can cause urinary incontinence and paralysis if left untreated.
The symptoms usually appear gradually over several months, and most owners notice them only when their dog stops limping. IVDD is often misdiagnosed because many veterinarians lack knowledge of this condition.
Diagnosis of Intervertebral Disc Herniation in Dogs
Diagnosis of Intervertebral Disc Herniation in dogs is typically made after a comprehensive physical exam and review of your dog’s medical history. Depending on the suspected disorder, the veterinarian may take X-rays or even perform an MRI. Red flags for disc herniation include signs of pain and neurologic deficits such as limping, lack of coordination, muscle atrophy, an abnormal gait, or inability to move certain body parts.
If a veterinarian observes these physical signs, your pet must be tested for disc herniation. This often involves performing blood work to check for infections that may lead to nerve damage and inflammation in the spine, as well as imaging studies to examine the structure and integrity of the vertebrae. Other diagnostic tests include CT scans, myelography (or contrast studies), and electromyography (a test that measures electrical signals from muscles).
Ultimately, suppose a diagnosis of intervertebral disc disease is confirmed through this process. In that case, your veterinarian must develop a treatment plan with you and discuss any potential long-term implications for your pet’s health.
Treatment Options for Intervertebral Disc Degeneration in Dogs
Treatment for Intervertebral Disc Disease varies depending on the condition’s severity and progression. Treatment options include rest, pain medication, physical therapy, surgery, and euthanasia. Resting the affected area helps reduce stress on the spine and reduces inflammation. Medicine includes NSAIDs such as meloxicam, carprofen, and tramadol.
Two types of treatment for IVDD are available, and both require surgery.
- Surgery involves removing and replacing the damaged disc material with an artificial implant. Surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia; recovery takes approximately four weeks. Therefore, a patient who undergoes surgery should expect to recover fully 90% of the time.
- Non–surgery treatment involves medications for pain relief and inflammation associated with IVDD. Medicines that treat IVDD include anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and narcotics. These medications are administered orally.
The most common types of intervertebral disc surgeries include:
- Discotomy involves removing part of the damaged disc material, usually when only one small piece is left.
- Fusion involves fusing two adjacent vertebrae. This is often recommended after discectomy because it helps prevent future problems.
- Total Laminectomy involves removing the lamina (the bony plate) surrounding the spinal cord. This is often done when the damage is severe enough to cause neurological symptoms.
- Partial Laminectomy is similar to total Laminectomy except that only part of the lamina is removed.
Prevention of intervertebral disk disease can help reduce the risk of injury to your dog’s spine. Fortunately, you can follow a few simple tips to prevent this debilitating condition in your pup!
Could you make sure your dog exercises regularly? Even a few minutes of moderate exercise daily can keep your pup’s muscles strong and flexible and protect their spinal health. In addition, exercise stimulates blood flow and increases muscle mass, both of which help prevent the development of IVDD.
Feed your canine companion a nutritious diet. A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals like Omega-3 fatty acids helps keep your dog’s bones and joints healthy. Owners should avoid feeding diets containing excessive protein, fat, or carbohydrates. Excessive intake of rich foods can lead to obesity, which puts extra stress on the joints and ligaments.
Make sure your pup is not overweight. Too much weight puts extra stress on the vertebrae in the spine, which can cause or amplify existing problems with intervertebral disk disease. Keep portions appropriate for your pup’s size and activity level, and take them for regular walks, so they don’t gain too much weight.
Frequently Asked Questions
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