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Disc Disease In Dogs: Causes & Symptoms

Disc Disease In Dogs

Disk disease is the most common neurosurgical condition and the most common cause of spinal cord injury in dogs. Also referred to as degenerative or Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), this can also be described as a slipped, bulging, herniated, or ruptured disk.

The cervical (neck) and thoracolumbar (mid-spine) regions are the two most common locations of IVDD. The rupture may not be related to injury, although it often occurs after some sort of traumatic events, such as a relatively small jump or fall. Although traumatic acts are typically accused of disc rupture, the damage is caused because of chronic disc degeneration.

Degenerative disc disease usually affects middle-aged to older dogs, from four to eight years old. IVDD is prevalent among chondrodystrophic dogs –stout, long-bodied, short-legged dogs. Dwarfed dogs have been bred for their short stature and their regular cartilage development has been genetically altered.

This makes dwarfed dogs more prone to hardening and degeneration of the central gel residing between adjacent spinal vertebrae that normally serve as a shock absorber. When the cushioning falters, rupture of the disk and subsequent spinal cord compression and concussion occurs.

Symptoms Of Disc Disease

  • Soreness in the neck or back, reluctance to walk or turn the neck
  • Reluctant to go up or downstairs
  • Sore neck muscles or spasms
  • Thoracolumbar kyphosis- hunched posture, arched back
  • Lowered head stance
  • Rigidity/ stiffness, sensitivity to movement, and/or weakness
  • Loss of ability to urinate
  • Lameness/ dragging one or more legs when walking
  • Tentative gait/ stilted gait
  • Trembling, tremors, shaking
  • Knuckling of all 4 paws
  • Ataxia- lack of coordination
  • Inflammation of joints
  • Weight gain
  • Excessive panting

Treatment Options For Disc Disease

1. For Mild cases:

Physical therapy, pain medication, spinal supplements for dogs, and making sure the affected dogs do not become overweight.

2. In severe cases: Neurosurgery is inevitable. Two types of surgery are available - fenestration and decompressive surgery. Unfortunately, both of these procedures are complicated and Recovery is painful. Most vets do not suggest such surgeries.

3. NSAIDs like:

  • Metacam (meloxicam)
  • Deramaxx (deracoxib)
  • Rimadyl (carprofen)
  • Previcox (firocoxib)
  • EtoGesic (etodolac)

Home Remedies For Disc Disease

  • Home-prepared diets is good for IVDD dogs than dry and canned dog foods.
  • Multiple studies have shown the link between the increased risk of spinal problems and being overweight.
  • Make your dog more comfortable and safe at home. A hardwood floor may feel less comfortable. You can give them a fluffy bed, carpets on the floor to lie on, and more.
  • Ensure your dog is getting enough exercise.

Prevention Of Disc Disease

IVDD etiology is poorly understood. Specific causes are not yet known. However, Hereditary is, perhaps a factor in some breeds and it is better to evaluate the affected dogs before breeding or at least before getting a dog from a susceptible lineage.

Affected Breeds Of Disc Disease

Yorkshire Terrier, Chihuahua, Toy Dog Breeds, American Cocker Spaniel, Australian Shepherd, Basset Hound, Beagle, Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, English Springer Spaniel, Jack Russell Terrier, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Portuguese Water Dog, Scottish Terrier, Shih Tzu

Additional Facts For Disc Disease

1. Cause:

Compression: The gradual degeneration of the soft center material of the disc hardens the disc after losing all or some of its fluid. This will become more vulnerable after everyday deterioration. When this happens, the middle portion of the disc ruptures through or into the external layer, compressing the nerves of the dog's spinal cord. This is called a disc slip.

Concussion: When a dog lands poorly on the ground or jumps, the disc is ruptured instantaneously, sometimes it can burst one or more discs. However, this is not usually caused by one fateful traumatic event, but rather due to the wear and tear of the disc happening in everyday activities.

2. Types:

IVDD can be categorized by the spinal cord location where the damage occurs.

  • Cervical vertebrae 1-5
  • Cervical vertebrae 6 through thoracic vertebrae 2
  • Thoracic vertebrae 3 through lumbar vertebrae 3
  • Lumbar vertebrae 4 through the sacrum

3. Mortality:

When the dog is badly affected with IVDD, this would be really fatal. In some dogs, disc degeneration occurs relatively slowly, and a rupture may occur slowly and gradually, but in some dogs, the rupturing process may happen in a moment after a period of latent degeneration and they may go from normal walking to total paralysis in a moment.

4. Diagnosis:

  • Complete blood work, Serum chemistry, Urinanalysis
  • Radiographs to look at the bones and joints
  • Orthopedic exam to check for joint pain or problems
  • Neurologic exam
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Myelogram (imaging procedure using a contrast dye to highlight compression)
  • Spinal tap

5. Prognosis:

Veterinarians usually give suggestions for control or management of the problem since there is no proper cure.

Degenerative disc disease has a guarded prognosis. Dogs that receive early diagnosis and appropriate treatment have a better prognosis than dogs with chronic conditions.

When To See A Vet

Contact your vet right away, if you notice:

  • Pain in the neck or back, reluctance to walk or look around
  • Hesitant to go up or downstairs
  • Thoracolumbar kyphosis- hunched posture, arched back

Food Suggestions For Disc Disease

  • Beef, fish like tuna, and dairy products - milk and cheeses
  • Plant-based protein sources – Lentils, Chickpeas, potatoes, other Nuts, and Seeds
  • Calcium-fortified foods and beverages
  • Milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese
  • Vitamin D: liver, fish, egg yolks, beef
  • Cooked spinach and potatoes
  • Raw meaty bones, raw chicken wings, or lamb flaps


For a condition like a degenerative disc, don’t skip a wellness examination, your dog’s yearly veterinary check-up is not something to be missed. IVDD in dogs is a progressive disease that affects the animal’s spine and can restrict a dog’s mobility. Most of the treatments are intended at treating the pain and slow down the progression of IVDD. In most cases, the veterinarian recommends physiotherapy to restore range of motion and strengthen the spine.

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