Cervical intervertebral disc 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 disc herniation. A thorough neurological examination is necessary to ascertain the location and severity of the problem.
Dog with a slipped disc in the neck.
(Note how she is weak in the left front leg)
Anatomy of the Canine Cervical Spine
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) 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 disc, which acts as a ‘cushion’ between each bone. The intervertebral disc is made up of a fibrous outer part, the annulus fibrosus and a jelly-like inner part, the nucleus pulposus. Intervertebral disc disease occurs when the nucleus pulposus loses it’s jelly-like consistency, becomes dry, and herniates through the top of the fibrous outer part. disc 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, discospondylitis, tumor, syringomyelia, arachnoid diverticula, caudal cervical spondylomyelopathy (Wobbler’s), and some others.
Diagnostics for Neck Pain in Dogs
A minimum database of complete blood count (CBC), chemistry and thoracic radiographs should be performed. Well-positioned cervical radiographs are useful in detecting bony tumors or discospondylitis, however, they are limited in their ability to visualize the intervertebral disc, the spinal cord, and other soft tissues. High-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is considered the optimal modality to image the nervous system. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis is sometimes warranted.
Treatment of Cervical Disc Disease
Surgical decompression is typically curative. Most dogs with a herniated disc 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 disc herniation.
The prognosis for most dogs that have a slipped disc in the neck is typically excellent with surgery. Some dogs may improve with strict crate rest and medications.
Same dog as in previous video after surgery for a slipped disc in her neck. She was back to normal within 24 hours of surgery.