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Dog IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) or Slipped Discs in Dogs

Dog IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) or Slipped Discs in Dogs

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a degenerative disease that can affect your dog's spinal cord and causes a range of painful mobility issues. IVDD in dogs is also sometimes referred to as a ruptured, slipped, bulging or herniated disk. This condition is most commonly seen in Beagles, Dachshunds, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, Corgis, Basset Hounds or French Bulldogs but may occur in dogs of any breed. 

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IVDD in dogs

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a condition where the spine 'herniates' which means the spinal cord compresses, causing lasting and debilitating damage. The intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae, providing cushioning, are supportive and allow for flexibility in the spine. IVDD occurs when these discs degenerate or herniate, leading to spinal cord compression and neurological symptoms.

There are two main types of IVDD in dogs:

  • Hansen Type I: This happens when the soft, jelly-like centre of the spinal disc becomes hardened over time. With one wrong jump or sudden impact, this rock-like disc shoots out of its thick shell and pushes upward into the spinal cord and its surrounding nerves. This movement of the disc material (called a herniation) causes compression and bruising of the spinal cord, and therefore can also cause paralysis. Because of its action, Hansen Type I is characterised by sudden, sharp pain but the degree of damage and consequent disability varies. This form of IVDD is more commonly seen in chondrodystrophic breeds (dogs with long backs but relatively short legs) such as Dachshunds, Shih Tzus and Corgis.

  • Hansen Type II: This type is a slower, degenerative process where the soft disc material intrudes on the spinal cord and spinal nerves over time, this can be either months or years. What happens is the thick fibres around the soft disc material will slowly collapse over time and push upwards, thus causing more chronic, long-term pain and spinal cord compression. This in turn causes progressive paralysis. This form of IVDD is more common in larger breeds of dogs such as German Shepards, Labradors and Dobermans.

Signs and Symptoms of IVDD in Dogs

IVDD can occur in any of the discs in your dog's spine and symptoms of this condition will depend upon which part of the spine is affected and how severe the damage is. Symptoms of IVDD may also appear suddenly (more typical of Type I) or come on gradually (more typical in Type II).

Common signs include:

  • Back pain: Dogs may exhibit signs of discomfort, sensitivity to touch or hunching of their back. Sometimes neck muscles can be tense also

  • Loss of coordination: IVDD can lead to neurological symptoms, causing difficulty in walking, stumbling, unsteadiness or dragging of back legs

  • General weakness or paralysis: Dogs may experience muscle weakness or in severe cases, complete paralysis in the hind limbs

  • Reduced Mobility: Dogs may seem reluctant to move or jump or climb the stairs, this can be gradual or sudden.

  • Loss of bladder and/or bowels: Sometimes, due to paralysis, there is a loss of bowel and/or bladder control or it may just be that your dog has difficulty maintaining their posture while urinating/defecating

  • Anxious behaviour: Your dog may just display general anxious behaviour such as shivering or panting, this is often a way of displaying pain/discomfort

As always, if you suspect your dog may have IVDD, it is important to consult with your vet for a proper diagnosis. The vet will perform a physical examination and may recommend further diagnostic tests, to assess the condition of the intervertebral discs and spinal cord. The sooner IVDD is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of recovery is.

What causes IVDD?

IVDD causes gradual changes to the spinal disks and cord over time and therefore is often developing undetected, until a sudden trigger causes a dog's hardened disc or discs to become ruptured and painful symptoms become obvious. This trigger can be something as simple and every-day as jumping up onto the sofa. While wear and tear damages the disc over time, the rupture generally occurs suddenly, as the result of a forceful impact (e.g. jumping, landing).

In large-breed dogs, which are more prone to Type II, such as German Shepherds, Labradors and Dobermans, the discs become hardened over a longer period. This causes eventually bulging or rupturing to cause spinal cord compression, it happens gradually and a specific forceful impact won’t be the cause of damage.

What age does a dog get IVDD?

Typically, Type I affects dogs from about 2 years old onwards, this is the most common type of IVDD. Type II which is more gradual, tends to become evident at 5-12 years old.

How to help an IVDD dog around the house?

IVDD can be both painful and debilitating for your dog. They may find activities such as going up or downstairs difficult, similarly jumping on or off the sofa can likewise be painful and difficult, as well as potentially being the trigger to cause the rupture of a disk. Either minimising these activities or giving your dog support can help to mitigate this.

Whether your dogs needs to have an operation or not, a period of strict confinement is usually recommended. Consider a snuffle mat to keep your dog mentally stimulated but be careful they are not becoming too boisterous when playing with this.

Treatment for IVDD in dogs

Treatment should IVDD should happen as quickly as possible, in order to optimise the best and most successful outcomes for your dog. Treatment options for IVDD depend on the severity of the disease, the level of damage and the specific symptoms your dog has.

In mild cases of IVDD, conservative (non-surgical) management may be all that is needed for a good outcome. This usually means a period of strict confinement, to reduce activity levels along with pain killers, muscles relaxants and possibly some physio therapy. Preventing your dog from being too overweight is also very helpful. A brace such as a WigglesLess back brace can also be invaluable in giving your dog the support it needs, to aid a successful recovery.

In more severe cases, where your dog has a degree of paralysis, surgery to the herniation is often needed. This is usually an emergency surgery to decompress the spinal cord and remove the herniated disc material. This is done by removing a portion of the bony vertebra over the affected part of the spinal cord and is called a laminectomy. The sooner this is done, the less chance of irreversible neurological damage occurring.

Post-operatively, your dog’s management is likely to be similar to that of mild cases, involving strict confinement, painkillers and physio therapy to aid spine healing. It is also very important to try and mitigate any further episodes from happening, so careful ongoing care and management is vital.

Sadly, in some cases paralysis or partial paralysis is unavoidable, even where surgery has occurred. Where this is the case a wheelchair can be lifechanging, enabling your dog to still enjoy an active life, despite reduced function of their hind legs.

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