Slipped discs in dogs are no fun. However, by the time you’re finished reading this post, you’ll have a good understanding of what happens when a disc slips or ruptures.
More importantly, you’ll have a better understanding of anatomy awareness and veterinarian-suggested treatment options.
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How to Help Your Dog From Home
You can help your dog tremendously by providing very gentle, soft-tissue massage. Watch your dog’s reaction to the massage and do not apply pressure directly to the spine. The idea is to get blood flowing around the injury.
Reduce inflammation by wrapping ice in a towel and applying (gently!) for ten minutes. If your dog doesn’t tolerate it, do not force it.
A physiotherapy can do wonders for your dog. Water therapy is particularly good for increasing mobility.
Be careful! Always consult with a physiotherapist or massage therapist before trying these techniques on your dog.
Post Surgical Treatments:
5. After surgery, your dog will need to be carefully shifted to avoid bed sores.
6. The veterinarian should refer you to a physiotherapist who can tailor a program for your dog that includes an exercise program, neuromuscular stimulation, hydrotherapy, etc.
7. Before leaving the physiotherapist’s office, make sure you have a print-out, and a demonstration of the home-exercises you need to do with your dog.
The Mechanics of a Slipped Disc in Dogs
Below is the skeleton of a dog. From the neck, all the way down the spine, there are soft discs that connect vertebra to vertebra, like links in a chain. These soft discs are what enable us to move around comfortably. Slipped discs in dogs – as with people – are painful and sometimes difficult to treat.
I purposely embedded the images below nice and big so you’d be able to see what I’m talking about. The left image shows what various types of disc degeneration actually looks like. Each disc has a fibrous outer ring (kind of looks like an elastic) and contains a pulpy center which acts like a cushion and absorbs everyday jolts and movements.
Dogs with inter vertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition that allows the discs to bulge, and those bulges can press against nerves.
When the jelly-like, or pulpy material inside the disc bursts (or herniates), the disc projects fluid into the spinal column. The risk here is compression against the nerves that send messages to the dog’s body to move, i.e. paralysis.
If the herniated disc happens in the neck, it doesn’t cause any paralysis, but can leave the dog in a fair bit of pain.
If the herniated disc happens down the back, it could cause paralysis, but the dog will not feel a lot of (if any) pain.
Degenerative discs caused by IVDD is exactly how it sounds. It’s a slow process where the liquid gradually makes its way out of the encased disc and into the spinal column. This is very painful for the dog.
Another problem associated with IVDD is a thinning disc (seen above) in which the entire disc wears down.
The Dog’s Spinal Column
The cervical vertebrae consists of the bone within the neck and extends from the shoulder blades up to the head.
The thoracic vertebrae is the system that lines the area just beneath the shoulder blades.
If you place your palm on the back of your dog’s neck and run it all along the spine, you’ll feel a little dip or sway and that is where the lumbar vertebrae is.
Vertebrae in this area travel across the top of the pelvis and extend into the tail which is where the caudal vertebrae are found.
The caudal vertebrae extend down through the entire tail.
Symptoms of a Slipped Disc in Dogs
You’ll notice something is wrong when he/she is suddenly hesitant to jump into your lap, on the bed, walk up stairs, etc.
Your dog might appear hunched or tense along his back. If your dog is in pain, he/she will vocalize by whimpering or crying.
Inter Vertebral Disc Disease in the Dog
Above, under the category of bulging discs, I briefly mentioned inter vertebral disc disease (IVDD). IVDD is a common condition to aging dogs. They are just like us in that way…as the years pass, their bodies begin to wear down.
HANSEN TYPE I
With Hansen Type I, the disc rupture happens very fast due to weakness in the disc. A sudden slipped disc in dogs is extremely painful and may require surgery. When the disc herniates, the spinal cord becomes compressed and can cause paralysis. Hansen Type I is common in young chondrodystrophic breeds (dogs with really short and curved limbs).
HANSEN TYPE II
This type tends to happen to medium and large dogs over a time. As the dog ages, the discs weaken. The outer part of the disc bulges and presses into the spinal column causing pain and distress.
This type is more like the type of slipped disc that happens to people. Maybe you’ve had some back pain or nerve pain but you’ve still been able to get around. It’s not comfortable, but you can manage.
One day, you do something innocuous like grab a bag of groceries and BANG, the disc slips. This is kind of what happens in dogs but instead of reaching for a grocery bag, maybe the try to jump off the bed or hurt it jumping into the car.
At this point, your dog could be facing surgery, depending on symptoms and location of the slipped disc.
There are 4 classes of disk disease and they include:
- Class 1: back pain only; there is a reluctance to move or jump and hunched posture, quiet behavior, and often a finicky appetite (a common reason for a veterinary visit)
- Class 2: back pain with a wobbly or incoordinated gait and mild weakness in the hind limbs; they are still able to walk
- Class 3: presence of “proprioceptive deficits” which basically means the brain doesn’t know where the feet are; if you turn your dog’s paw over on its knuckles, it will quickly flip it back over, but with spinal compromise, the brain doesn’t realize the paw is “upside down” and they leave it that way; other times, “scissoring” of the back legs when they attempt to walk is observed; in all of these classes, the front limbs generally remain normal
- Class 4: complete loss of function of the back legs (paralysis) but they can still feel their toes when you pinch them; pet owners will often observe their pets dragging themselves around
At the end of the day, it’s important to pay attention to your dog and how he moves.
Slipped discs in dogs need to be seen by a veterinarian because of the extreme pain to the dog and the risk of paralysis.
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