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What are Spinal Problems and Back Weaknesses in Dogs?

What are Spinal Problems and Back Weaknesses in Dogs?

Dogs, like humans, need a healthy back to get around and live their lives. Back and spinal injuries or problems cover a vast array of issues and it can be anything from an injury sustained through trauma or an accident to a genetic or breed-specific issue such as IVDD.

Dog Back Braces Here

What are the early signs of dog back weakness and spinal problems?

Back and spinal problems can be caused by a variety of reasons. Signs and symptoms aren’t necessarily generic. In addition, depending on where in your dog’s spine is injured, you may see different signs and symptoms.

Symptoms may vary in your dog depending on the type of injury and what has caused it.

  • Acute onset - you’ll most likely notice symptoms come on quickly and suddenly if there’s an injury caused by an accident or trauma
  • Gradual onset - symptoms with loss of use of back limbs for example, in degenerative cases such as osteoarthritis or other degenerative spinal issues
  • Loss of function - your dog may lose some, if not all, function of their legs or lower half of the body. This can be physical difficulty walking/moving their back legs for example, or your dog may become incontinent.
  • Ataxia - there may be a loss of coordination in your dog’s limbs, and this may give them an unsteady walk
  • Pain - your dog may begin to experience pain in their neck, back and/or limbs due to the spinal injury

If your dog is suffering from back weakness or a spinal problem, you may notice he’s arching his back, his posture or gait is looking different/unusual, he may be pacing a lot, having difficulty urinating, difficulty or reluctance to get up, yelping or whining when moving or being touched.

"Our nearly 4 year old female Frenchie has been diagnosed with a spinal disorder"

"Our nearly 4 year old female Frenchie has been diagnosed with a spinal disorder"

Where she has a growth inside her spinal cord that can’t be operated on. She has now lost all 90% of the feelings in her back legs. I wanted to get her a set of wheels.

Dog Wheelchair

What should I do if I notice my dog has back weakness and spinal problems?

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from a back or spinal problem, make sure you consult a vet to get a definitive diagnosis. The sooner appropriate treatment is started, the more likely it is that your dog will have a better outcome. 

Some of the conditions that cause back weakness or spinal problems are time sensitive, and need urgent treatment. 

If your dog develops sudden paralysis, treat it as an emergency. Likewise, if there’s sudden, unexplained back pain.

What causes back weakness and spinal problems in dogs?

A healthy back is critical to a dog’s ability to get around. Back and spinal injuries or problems covers a vast array of issues; it can be anything from an injury sustained through trauma or an accident, to a genetic or breed-specific issue such as IVDD (see specific page on this here).

While IVDD is perhaps one of the most well-known back issues, there are a number of other relatively common back and spinal problems, such as:

  • Lumbosacral disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Subluxations of the spine
  • Spinal fractures or dislocations, and soft tissue damage
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Spondylosis
  • Spinal muscular atrophy

Less commonly spinal and back problems can also include:

  • Spinal fractures or dislocations
  • Tumours
  • Infections
  • Blocked blood vessels and more.
"Hannah had unsuccessful spinal surgery leaving her completely paralysed. After recovering for 6 weeks, we got her a dog wheelchair"

"Hannah had unsuccessful spinal surgery leaving her completely paralysed. After recovering for 6 weeks, we got her a dog wheelchair"

Dog wheelchair

What happens next?

Your vet will do a thorough physical examination of your dog. This will help your vet get a picture of your dog’s overall health and locate the specific site of pain or paralysis. It’s likely blood tests will be done, to eliminate any infections or imbalances that might be contributing factors.

Diagnostic imaging will likely be recommended. CT (computer tomography) scans, MRI or a myelogram (an x-ray that’s done with a dye that’s injected into the spinal cord). These techniques all give more information about bones and joints along the spine. 

Sometimes a synovial fluid sample will be taken if arthritis is suspected as a culprit for the back weakness.

There are also specific examination techniques for evaluating neurological function, particularly where there’s partial or total paralysis.

Once there’s a specific diagnosis, you and your vet can then discuss the best way to proceed.

Can I do anything to prevent my dog from developing back weakness or spinal problems?

Every dog is unique. Age, breed and health history will all play a part in your dog’s overall wellbeing. Some dog breeds are more predisposed to spinal issues, such as IVDD

If you have a breed prone to such conditions, be extra vigilant. Learn their normal gait/posture so you’ll quickly be able to recognise if they start moving differently. Also discuss preventative measures with your vet.

To do what you can to minimise the risk of your dog developing back weakness or a spinal issue, here are some proactive measures to take:

  • Maintain a healthy weight - obesity can contribute to various health issues, including spinal problems. 
  • Regular exercise - regular, moderate exercise will keep your dog’s muscles and joints strong. Activities like walking, playing fetch, and supervised running can help maintain overall health and prevent weight gain.
  • Proper nutrition - a well-balanced, nutritionally complete diet will support your dog’s overall health. Consider supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can contribute to joint health. 
  • Regular veterinary check-ups - schedule regular check-ups to monitor your dog’s overall health. Early detection of potential issues allows for prompt intervention and can prevent the progression of certain conditions.
"Our Cocker Spaniel is recovering from spinal surgery and sometimes drags his claws during his step"

"Our Cocker Spaniel is recovering from spinal surgery and sometimes drags his claws during his step"

Boots for dragging paws
  • Breed-specific considerations - discuss preventative measures with your vet.
  • Avoid high-impact activities - limit activities that put excessive strain on your dog’s back, especially if they’re prone to back problems. Avoid high-impact activities, like jumping from heights or strenuous agility exercises, which can increase the risk of injury.
  • Provide orthopaedic support - invest in orthopaedic bedding and comfortable resting areas for your dog. Proper support during rest is essential for maintaining spinal health, especially for older dogs or those with existing conditions.
  • Gentle handling - be gentle when handling your dog, especially if they’re older or have a history of spinal problems.  Lift and support them properly, avoiding unnecessary twisting or bending.
  • Regular grooming - helps maintain a clean and healthy coat. Additionally, it allows you to check for any bumps, lumps, or abnormalities that may indicate a potential issue with the spine.
  • Dental care - good oral health is linked to overall well-being. Dental problems can contribute to systemic issues, so ensure regular dental check-ups and practise good dental hygiene at home.
  • Environment - make adjustments to your home environment to reduce the risk of falls or injuries. Provide ramps or steps for dogs to access elevated surfaces and secure slippery floors to prevent accidental slips (or get some non-slip socks for your dog)
"Teddy was diagnosed with IVDD Stage 3 years ago. Despite his operation he never managed to walk again and is paralysed"

"Teddy was diagnosed with IVDD Stage 3 years ago. Despite his operation he never managed to walk again and is paralysed"

But he's the happiest boy and is super fast on his wheels! 

dog wheelchair

Treatment options: how can I help my dog?

Treatment of your dog’s back or spinal injury depends on what condition they’re suffering from.  Generally, treatment involves a combination of restricting exercise, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy, massage therapy, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, painkillers, and weight management. 

There’s a strong link between osteoarthritis and obesity. Extra weight means added stress that pulls downward on the spine.  Adipose tissue (fat) also secretes hormones that increase inflammation in the joints and elsewhere in the body. Because osteoarthritis isn’t a disease that can be cured, it’s better to prevent its occurrence by introducing healthy eating and exercise at an early age. 

You should also deal with trauma - hard falls, etc, - quickly to minimise any lasting damage to your dog’s body. Giving a joint supplement (even from a young age) if you know that your dog has had any sort of spinal or back injury is very helpful too.

Some dogs will require surgery, particularly in cases of spondylosis and IVDD.

Whether your dog needs surgery for their back or spinal problem or not, a back brace can give your dog firm support along their spine, giving them full security and reducing pain caused by the pinching of back nerves. 

Although not a silver bullet, back braces have emerged as a valuable tool in aiding dogs with back issues, providing support and stability to their spine. 

Back braces designed for dogs are orthopaedic devices that support the spine and surrounding muscles. 

They’re typically made of lightweight, breathable materials that are comfortable for the dog to wear. These braces are designed to stabilise the back, reduce pressure on the spine and limit movement in certain directions that may exacerbate the condition. 

They offer a non-invasive and effective means of improving quality of life. When used in conjunction with veterinary care and other treatment modalities, these braces provide valuable support, pain relief, and mobility enhancement.

It’s recommended that you consult with your vet to determine the most suitable approach for addressing your dog’s specific back issues and to explore the potential benefits of incorporating a back brace into their care routine.

Benefits of Back Braces for Dogs:

  • Stabilisation and Support: Back braces offer crucial stabilisation to the spine, especially for dogs with conditions like IVDD. By restricting certain movements, these braces help prevent further damage to the spinal cord and promote healing.
  • Pain Management: Dogs with back issues often experience pain. Back braces provide compression and support, helping to alleviate pain and discomfort. This can improve the dog's overall well-being and encourage a more active lifestyle.
  • Post-Surgery Recovery: After spinal surgery, dogs may require additional support during the healing process. Back braces can assist in maintaining proper alignment and reduce the risk of postoperative complications.
  • Improved Mobility: Back braces can enhance a dog's mobility by providing support to weakened or injured areas. This allows dogs to move more comfortably and engage in regular activities without exacerbating their condition.
  • Prevention of Further Injury: Dogs prone to back issues can benefit from wearing back braces. These braces can in some instances, reduce the risk of re-injury and maintain the long-term health of the spine.

Sadly, in some cases, back or spinal injuries result in your dog becoming paralysed or partially paralysed. When this is the case, a dog wheelchair can be life-changing, enabling your dog to still enjoy an active life, despite reduced function of their hind legs.

What breeds and ages commonly suffer from back weakness or spinal problems?

Any age of dog can suffer a back or spinal injury, especially if this is caused by trauma or an accident. Degenerative back or spinal problems tend to develop when your dog is in middle or older age, but this varies breed to breed and dog to dog.

Statistics show that some dog breeds are prone to certain spinal conditions. For example, Boxers, German Shepherds and Airedale Terriers seem over-represented for Spondylosis. 

Acute cases of IVDD affect breeds with long bodies and short legs (chondrodystrophic), including Dachshunds, Pekingnese, Shih-Tzus, Beagles, Poodles, Basset hounds, and Corgis, Breeds vulnerable to a more gradual version of IVDD include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Doberman Pinschers.

Help around the house

Your dog’s spine acts as a shock absorber, so when they have any sort of back injury, preventing your job from jumping or activities that cause concussion on their spine is incredibly important.

So stopping them from jumping up, going up and down stairs, on and off furniture (such as sofas or beds) is vital. Although sometimes this is easier said than done! If you struggle to prevent your dog from jumping etc, you can try and mitigate this by putting in little stepping stones, so the impact on their spine is less.

If you have slippery floors, anti-slip socks or boots can help your dog get traction with their back legs, especially if they have some muscle wastage in their hindquarters. Similarly, putting down carpets on any slippery floors can be just as good.

Ramps can be very helpful.

As previously mentioned, a comfortable orthopaedic bed is also highly recommended.

A body harness might be a helpful support, if your dog needs assistance getting up and going outside to do their business or going for short walks.


The prognosis for spinal conditions varies according to the specific condition, how easy it is to treat, and whether or not surgery and a long recuperation period is needed.

Whether or not your dog needs surgery, ensure there’s a peaceful and calm environment for them to heal. There should be food and water available. 

You should help your dog with everyday activities, such as toileting and getting up and down stairs.

Your vet will advise you on medications, diet, and exercise that will help your dog and help with their recovery.

Dogs with Back Weakness & Spinal Problems - Causes, Prevention and How to Help

Read More about Back Injuries

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