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Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

funny young dachshund, black and tan,  lying covered in throw blanket and falling asleep.

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) can be described as a slipped disk, ruptured disk, herniated disk, or bulging disk. This condition mostly affects Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and Beagles. Whether your pet suffers from trauma to the spine or has abnormalities due to their breed, the gel-like center of the intervertebral disk may turn dry and brittle, rupture through the fibrous outer layer and push on the spinal cord. This may cause severe pain, limited mobility, or even paralysis.

Time is of the essence. If your pet has any of the symptoms listed below, these can lead to irreversible damage.
Please call us immediately.

Symptoms of IVDD

The symptoms you see in your dog can help us determine the severity of their condition on a grading scale. Your dog has intervertebral disks that run the length of the vertebral column. IVDD can happen in any of these disks, but it most commonly happens in the neck (cervical region), the back (thoracolumbar region), or the lower back (lumbosacral region).

Symptoms of cervical disk disease can be graded on a scale from 1-5.

Grade 1

  • Holding head low
  • Muscle spasms
  • Arching back
  • Shivering, crying, not wanting to move or jump

Grade 2

  • Weakness in all four legs
  • Wobbliness; may cross all four legs when walking, walk with legs splayed out, or walk with all four paws knuckled under

Grade 3

  • Can move their legs and wag their tail, but lacks the strength to support their own weight and walk

Grade 4

  • Unable to move all four legs
  • Unable to stand or walk
  • Still has feeling in their toes

Grade 5

  • Unable to move or feel all four legs at all
  • Uncommon, but extremely serious

Symptoms of thoracolumbar IVDD can also be graded using the scale below.

Grade 1

  • Shivering, crying, not wanting to move or jump
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tense belly

Grade 2

  • Weakness in the back legs
  • Wobbliness; may cross back legs when walking, walk with legs splayed out, or walk with their back paws knuckled under

Grade 3

  • Can move their legs and wag their tail, but lacks the strength to support their own weight and walk

Grade 4

  • Unable to move their back legs
  • Unable to stand or walk
  • Still has feeling in their back toes

Grade 5

  • Unable to move or feel their back legs at all

Symptoms of lumbosacral IVDD include:

  • Pain and difficulty jumping
  • A limp tail
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Dilated anus

How We Diagnose IVDD

  • Neurological exam. Because the symptoms of IVDD are similar to those seen with other conditions, we need to do a neurological exam to see what is more likely. Our neurologists have years of experience and training in recognizing signs of a neurological problem in patients, and working to narrow down the possible causes. After the neurological exam, we will need to do additional testing to get the most accurate diagnosis.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI is usually the best option for visualizing the spinal cord and determining for certain that a patient is living with IVDD. At Southeast Veterinary Neurology, we use this tool almost exclusively.

What is My Pet's Prognosis?

There are several factors that will determine your pet's prognosis and likelihood of walking again:

  • The severity of their symptoms
  • How quickly the signs appeared
  • How much compression there is on the spinal cord
  • How quickly one of our neurologists can address the problem
sevn-veterinarians-near-mri-machine

Treatment Options

Without timely treatment, IVDD can progress quickly and cause irreversible damage. Therefore, your dog should be evaluated by our team as soon as you notice any signs of back pain and difficulty walking.

There are two basic ways to treat IVDD in dogs:

Non-surgical. For patients with first-time back pain or mild weakness, we can try a medical approach that includes pain medication and cage rest. We also use this approach if the patient cannot undergo MRI either due to owner preference or concurrent medical conditions.

Surgical. If your dog is experiencing difficulty walking or has back pain that will not respond to rest or medication, surgery to decompress the spinal cord could be the best option. Our goal is to remove all disk material that is pressing on the spinal cord. We can also do a preventative procedure to reduce the likelihood that your pet will ever have IVDD again.

Many neurological conditions can look like IVDD.
If you are concerned that your dog has symptoms of IVDD or any other spinal cord condition, call us today.

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