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Cervical Disk Disease–a Cause of Neck Pain in Dogs

Dachshund Milo

Neck Pain in Dogs, Tetraparesis and Inability to Walk

Cervical intervertebral disk disease may cause a range of clinical signs including pain.  Signs of neck pain in dogs include: walking slowly, holding their head low, spasms of the neck muscles, and crying spontaneously.  Some dogs may show weakness (tetraparesis) or wobbliness (ataxia) in all four legs.  They may buckle over in the front legs and stumble.  Cranial nerves are normal.  Spinal reflexes may be decreased in the thoracic limbs depending on the location of the disk herniation.  A thorough neurological examination is necessary to ascertain the location and severity of the problem.


Anatomy of the Canine Cervical Spine

Intervertebral Disk Disease is a common cause of neurological disease in the dog.  There are seven bones in the canine neck (vertebrae).  Between each vertebrae is an intervertebral disk, which acts as a ‘cushion’ between each bone.  The intervertebral disk is made up of a fibrous outer part, the annulus fibrosus and a jelly-like inner part, the nucleus pulposus.  Intervertebral disk disease occurs when the nucleus pulposus loses it’s jelly-like consistency, becomes dry, and herniates through the top of the fibrous outer part.  Disk herniations often lead to compression of the spinal cord.


Other Causes of Neck Pain in Dogs

Other diseases to consider that may cause similar signs include atlantoaxial instability, meningitis/myelitis, diskospondylitis, tumor, syringomyelia, arachnoid diverticula, caudal cervical spondylomyelopathy (Wobbler’s) and others.


Diagnostics for Neck Pain in Dogs

A minimum database of CBC, chemistry and thoracic radiographs should be performed.  Well-positioned cervical radiographs are useful in detecting bony tumors or diskospondylitis, however, they are limited in their ability to visualize the intervertebral disk, the spinal cord, and other soft tissues.  High-field MRI is considered the optimal modality to image the nervous system.  CSF analysis is sometimes warranted.

MRI of the cervical spine showing a herniated intervertebral disk (arrow).


Treatment of Cervical Disk Disease

Surgical decompression is typically curative.  Most dogs with a herniated disk in their neck have about a 98% chance of cure when treated with surgery by a qualified neurologist/neurosurgeon.  A ventral slot procedure is often the surgery of choice, but depends on the size and location of the disk herniation.