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IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) in Dogs

IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) is a degenerative disease that can impact your dog's spinal cord and lead to a range of severely painful mobility issues. Today, our Lexington vets explain more about the causes of and treatment options for IVDD in dogs, along with tips for recovery. 

What is IVDD in dogs?

IVDD - also referred to as intervertebral disc disease - in dogs involves a bulging, herniated, ruptured or slipped sic. This painful condition is most often diagnosed in dogs with longer spines such as Beagles or Basset Hounds, but may happen in dogs of any breed. In this post, we'll explore the causes and symptoms of IVDD in dogs, as well as options for treatment and recovery. 

Causes of IVDD in Dogs

This gradual degenerative process is an age-related disease that impacts a dog's spinal cord over a period of time. Even with annual wellness exams, signs of IVDD may also progress undetected until your dog's harden disc or discs rupture and painful symptoms appear. If your dog has iVDD, something as simple as making the jump up onto your sofa (which your dog may have done regularly throughout their lives) can damage a disc that's been weakened by the condition and trigger acute and severely painful symptoms. 

When the discs that absorb shocks and impact in your dog's spine start to slowly harden until they can no longer properly cushion your dog's vertebrae, this is when IVDD typically happens. As they harden, these discs will bulge and compress the spinal cord. Your dog's nerves and nerve impulses that control bowel and bladder functions sustain damage. In other cases, a poor jump or landing can cause a hardened disc to burst and press into the nerves of your dog's spine, which causes serious nerve damage and pain. 

IVDD in Dogs: Symptoms to Watch For

Any of the discs in your dog's spine can be affected by IVDD, and the symptoms of this condition will depend on which part of the spine is impacted and the severity of the damage. These signs will often come on gradually but may also potentially appear quite suddenly. 

If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms, bring them to a vet as soon as possible. IVDD can be quite painful and have long-term health consequences for dogs, so having it treated early is imperative in preventing the condition from worsening. 

This list of symptoms is divided by the area of the back that's impacted. Your dog will experience slightly different symptoms depending on where the discs have degraded.

Cervical IVDD - Neck

  • Inability to stand
  • Inability to feel all 4 feet and legs
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of all 4 paws
  • Unsteadiness in all 4 legs
  • Crying or shivering
  • Reluctance to move
  • Inability to support own weight
  • Holding the head low
  • Arching back

Thoracolumbar IVDD - Middle Back

  • 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

Lumbosacral IVDD - Lower Back

  • Pain and/or difficulty jumping
  • Limp tail
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Dilated anus

Diagnosing Dogs with IVDD

Immediate emergency veterinary care is required if your dog begins showing any of the above symptoms. Tests for diagnosing IVDD in dogs typically include standard X-rays, a neurological exam and MRI to help locate the disc or discs causing your dog's symptoms.

Treatment for IVDD in Dogs

When it comes to addressing IVDD in dogs, treatment should begin as early as possible in order to achieve the best possible treatment outcomes. That's why we recommend taking your dog to the vet for a full examination if you spot signs of IVDD in your dog. Delays in treatment could lead to irreversible damage.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications For IVDD in Dogs

It is common for dog owners to inquire whether their dog can recover from IVDD without surgery. If your dog is diagnosed early with a mild to moderate IVDD injury, your vet may try treatment with steroid and anti-inflammatory medications (to help reduce pain and swelling), combined with strict crate rest for approximately 4 - 8 weeks. 

Surgery to Treat Dogs with IVDD

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. During surgery, your dog's veterinary surgeon will remove the hardened disc material which is pressing on your dog's spinal cord and causing the IVDD symptoms.

Surgery outcomes are most successful in dogs that have not lost their ability to walk. If your dog's surgery is not successful in returning your pet to normal mobility, a dog wheelchair can help your canine companion to enjoy a happy and active life while living with IVDD.

Recovery from IVDD surgery requires 6 - 8 weeks of restricted activity. Running, climbing stairs, playing with other dogs, or jumping on furniture need to be prevented in order to avoid further damage as your dog's spine heals.

The cost of IVDD surgery varies greatly depending on a number of factors including where you live. Your vet will provide you with an accurate estimate and breakdown of costs.

Physical Rehabilitation for Dogs

Following surgery, your veterinarian may also recommend physical rehabilitation (physical therapy) for your dog in order to work on muscle strengthening and to help get your pet moving comfortably again.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you seeing symptoms of IVDD in your dog? Contact Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency today to learn more and to book an appointment to have your dog assessed for IVDD. 

Emergency Care

Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for advanced diagnostic appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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Contact (859) 268-7604