Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. Although I carefully research, there are times when I could be wrong. Use these posts as a launching pad to think about and ask more questions of your veterinarian. That said, I do hope you get something useful out of this article on slipped discs in dogs.
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Oh, Look! Another post on slipped discs in dogs
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you might have reached the conclusion that I like to give a lot more value than anybody else. I dig a little deeper and stretch the concepts a little wider. This article on slipped discs in dogs isn’t like any of the other posts you’ve read, and here is why:
- You came here looking for treatment options and I’m going to give that to you right up front.
- I will explain what happens when a disc slips or ruptures.
- You will find out more about spinal cord degeneration.
- I will guide you through the the stages of the disease and the differences between Hansen Type 1, and Hansen Type 2.
- You’ll get an unbelievable freebie just by completing the form at the bottom of this post.
- You will be able to understand the importance of anatomy awareness.
- MOST importantly, I am going to walk you through veterinarian-suggested treatment options along with alternative therapies (massage, acupuncture, pain relief) to managed slipped discs in dogs.
7 Common Treatments for Slipped Discs in Dogs
This is what brought you to the site, so instead of making you comb through every word looking for the answer, I decided to give it up right at the beginning. It’s one thing to have some tricks up your sleeve for treating your dog, but it’s really important that you understand the mechanics of how it all works. I know…boring, right? All I’m saying is that when you understand slipped discs in dogs, you’ll know what not to do.
So here we go!
Warning: These exercises and suggestions should never be performed at home without the instruction of a physiotherapist or veterinarian. This list is designed to give you hope for the options available and should be a starting point for discussion with a licensed veterinarian.
If your dog does not require surgery, a physiotherapist can help by showing you how to:
- Provide gentle, soft-tissue massage
- Reduce inflammation with ice or may suggest in-office laser therapy
- Home exercises to control core stability.
- Once your dog is showing signs of improvement, hydrotherapy or exercise using an under-water treadmill might be considered.
If your dog requires surgery, here are some post-surgical treatments designed to get your pup up and walking again:
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-0ut, 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.
To the Left we Have Disc Degeneration
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.
And to the right we have an image of a dog’s spinal column.
The cervical vertebrae consists of the bone within the neck and extends from the shoulder blades up to the head.
b. Thoracic Vertebrae
The thoracic vertebrae is the system that lines the area just beneath the shoulder blades.
c. Lumbar Vertebrae
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.
d. Sacrum Vertebrae
Vertebrae in this area travel across the top of the pelvis and extend into the tail which is where the caudal vertebrae are found.
e. Caudal Vertebrae
The caudal vertebrae extend down through the entire tail.
SYMPTOMS OF A SLIPPED DISC IN DOGS:
- Hesitant to jump into your lap, on the bed, walk up stairs, etc.
- Your dog might appear hunched or tense along his back.
- Obvious pain will make your dog vocalize or cry
- You might notice weakness in your dog’s legs
- Depending on what nerves are pinched and where the slipped disc is, the dog may experience a loss of bladder or bowel control.
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.
IVDD is the most common spinal disease in dogs ~fitzpatrickreferrals
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