Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common condition among dogs, particularly those with certain breeds predisposed to spinal issues. IVDD can cause significant pain and discomfort for affected dogs, often requiring medical and/or surgical intervention. Understanding the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and prevention measures for IVDD is crucial for dog owners and veterinarians to ensure early detection and appropriate management of this condition.

Cause: IVDD occurs when the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spine degenerate or herniate, leading to compression of the spinal cord or nerves. Several factors contribute to the development of IVDD in dogs, including genetics, breed predisposition (notably Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Beagles, and other chondrodystrophic breeds), age, obesity and trauma. Most often, the herniation appears to occur spontaneously, with no known associated event or trauma.

Clinical Signs: The symptoms of IVDD in dogs vary depending on the severity and location of the affected disc. Common signs include back or neck pain, reluctance to move or climb stairs, stiffness, reduced activity level, trembling, muscle weakness, loss of coordination, dragging limbs, and in severe cases, paralysis. It’s essential to recognize these signs early to seek prompt veterinary care.

Diagnosis: Diagnosing IVDD typically involves a combination of physical examination, neurological assessment, and diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, myelography, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

Treatment: Treatment options vary based on the severity of the condition but may include conservative management with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, pain relief, physical therapy, and weight management. In more severe cases or those with neurological deficits, surgical intervention such as hemilaminectomy or spinal fusion may be necessary to decompress the spinal cord and alleviate pressure on nerves.

Prevention: While intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) cannot consistently be prevented, there are steps dog owners can take to reduce the risk of their pets developing this condition. Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and regular exercise can help minimize strain on the spine. Additionally, avoiding activities that put excessive stress on the back, such as jumping from heights, can potentially decrease the likelihood of spinal injury. For breeds predisposed to IVDD, such as French Bulldogs and Dachshunds, proactive measures, such as using ramps instead of stairs and providing consistent, low-impact exercise, can also help reduce spinal problems. Unfortunately, in these high-risk breeds, IVDD may occur despite every known precaution. 

Intervertebral disc disease is a prevalent and potentially debilitating condition in dogs, particularly those with genetic predispositions or certain breeds. Early recognition of symptoms, prompt veterinary evaluation, and appropriate management are essential for optimizing outcomes and improving the quality of life for affected dogs. By understanding the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and prevention strategies for IVDD, dog owners can take proactive steps to support their pet’s spinal health and overall well-being and intervene early if symptoms of IVDD appear.

Elizabeth F. Baird, DVM, CVPP, CCRT, cVMA
Steele Pain Management & Rehabilitation Center

Call Us Text Us
Skip to content