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Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

One of the most commonly seen neurologic disorders in dogs, IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) can invoke terror in both an afflicted dog and their owner; generally, treatment is required early to combat IVDD, so in today's article our California vets discuss the common signs of IVDD and what treatment options exist for dogs suffering from the disorder.

IVDD Disorder in Dogs

A gelatinous substance that is surrounded by a thick outer layer can be found between the bones and spine in dogs.  Known as the intervertebral disc this gelatinous substance serves as a shock absorber for the spine. When the intervertebral disc herniates, it can result in concussion or compression of the spinal cord, causing lasting and debilitating damage. There are two types of IVDD, known as Hansen Type I and Hansen Type II.

Hansen Type I is more commonly seen in chondrodystrophic breeds (dachshunds, corgis, beagles, etc.) and involves an acute rupture of the disc. While wear and tear calcifies and damages the disk over time, the rupture generally occurs suddenly as the result of a forceful impact (jumping, landing, etc.). A ruptured disk causes compression of the spinal cord and can result in pain, difficulty walking, paralysis, and/or the inability to urinate.

Hansen Type II is more commonly seen in large breed dogs. Examples of dog breeds more vulnerable to Hansen Type II IVDD disorder are Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, or Dobermans. With Type II, the discs become hardened over a longer period of time, eventually bulging or rupturing to cause spinal cord compression.  This type is slowly onset, there likely won't be any particular moment or action that can be identified as having caused the damage.

While a disc can bulge or herniate anywhere along the spinal column, 65% of accounted disc ruptures occur in the thoracolumbar (midback) area, while 18% occur in the cervical (neck) region.

Signs and Symptoms of IVDD

Common symptoms of IVDD include, but are not limited to:
  • Pain in the neck or back region
  • Unwillingness or inability to walk
  • Difficulty urinating and/or defecating
  • Shaking or trembling (usually in response to pain)
  • Knuckling on paws

Diagnosing IVDD in Dogs

If your veterinarian suspects IVDD may be ailing your dog, they will usually begin with a physical exam to check your pet’s orthopedic and neurologic condition. Once IVDD is confirmed, and its severity determined, your pet will either begin conservative treatment to try and prevent further damage without surgery, or they will be referred for x-ray imaging in preparation for surgical intervention 

Owners should be aware that these breeds of dog are predisposed to IVDD:

  • Dachshund (45-70% of IVDD cases)
  • Shih Tzu
  • Beagle
  • French bulldog
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Corgi
  • Basset hound
  • Poodle
  • Chihuahua
  • Cocker spaniel
  • Labrador retriever
  • German shepherd
  • Doberman pinscher

Treatment of IVDD in Dogs

In its early stages, the symptoms of IVDD disorder are mild, your veterinarian may recommend non-invasive treatments like pain medication and strict exercise confinement. Many of these patients may require surgery further down the road should their condition continue to deteriorate.

Patients who undergo surgery will have the bone overlying the spinal cord, and the disc material compressing the spinal cord, removed. This will be followed by several days of hospitalization, pain management, physical therapy, and possible bladder management. Owners will need to continue physical therapy and exercise restrictions for a specified amount of time after the pet is discharged from the hospital.

Prognosis For Dogs with IVDD

The prognosis of IVDD can vary depending on how significant the injury is, the location of the injury, and the lapse of time between injury and treatment. Most dogs that are still walking, or still have pain sensation in their legs, have a good prognosis and will regain use of their legs and bladder function. With pets who no longer have pain sensation in their legs at the time of presentation, there is a higher likelihood that they may never walk again.

Early intervention is often critical in IVDD patients. If your dog is currently exhibiting any of the above-mentioned IVDD symptoms, contact our vets at Inland Valley Veterinary Specialists for consultation or advice

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