Spinal Issues, Diseases and Injuries in Dogs

I’ve asked Dr. Ryan Llera if he would discuss spinal issues, diseases and back injuries in dogs. I wanted to know if there was anything we as pet parents could do to eliminate or reduce the risks of back injuries in our dogs. And, if a back injury happens, or our dog is diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), what, if anything can we do to help our dogs.

Spinal Issues, Diseases and Injuries in Dogs

Multiple dog breeds exist out there and more & more we are seeing mixed breed dogs. While we feel that with mixed breed dogs we see certain conditions less often (obviously heritable traits), there are some diseases that just don’t care who, or what, you are. One of the most devastating problems I’ve seen with dogs over the years are injuries of the back.

 

Spinal Issues, Diseases and Injuries in Dogs

Graphic from Doghealth.com

While there are many conditions that can affect the back or necks of dogs, other than minor soreness the most common back issue veterinarians deal with is intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). IVDD does tend to affect small breed dogs but can affect any dog. Primarily it’s our shorter legged, long backed friends – dachshunds, shih tzus, basset hounds, Welsh corgis, and lhasa apsos – are some of the most common ones. Mostly this disease comes about from the spongy disc material getting squeezed out from between the bones of the spine and it pushes on the spinal cord. Other issues that we may see causing similar signs can include spinal cord or bone cancer, infection, and trauma.

Spinal Issues, Diseases and Injuries in Dogs

Radiograph from: cavalierhealth.org

Unfortunately, a lot of the time these dogs are seen as an emergency and are carried in for being unable to walk or dragging their back end. Yes, this is an emergency. Failure to address it promptly could result in permanent paralysis. Medical management or surgery may be recommended depending on what is found during exam and diagnostic tests such as a myelogram. Sadly, there are no guarantees when it comes to any treatment and there can be an immense financial and emotional cost. The post-operative time is very tentative and after the initial recovery will include physical therapy.

Many of these dogs are euthanized due to their potential quality of life issues. On the flip side, a lot of these dogs can still live a decent quality of life though it may require a cart/wheelchair. Supportive care that might be needed for their life can include wound management (on the tops of their feet if they are dragged) or helping to manage the bladder. Depending on where the disc problem is, the bladder may need to be expressed because they can’t empty it on their own or your dog could experience signs of incontinence.

Wouldn’t it just be easier and better to prevent this problem all together? No, I don’t have a secret trick but here’s some tips to lower your dog’s risk.

  • First & foremost, I must stress the importance of being at healthy weight. The bigger these dogs are, the worse it is for their back. Their long backs and short legs just can’t handle it.
  • Secondly, we need to realize that different dogs have different activity levels. Really hyperactive or aggressive jumping can put extra or jarring forces on their backs. If they are genetically predisposed to “slipping a disc,” then keep in mind that daring feats of acrobatics are not in their best interest. This doesn’t mean they can’t play or have fun, we just have to be careful. Know your limits, play within it….just like the lottery.
  • Lastly, if the problem happens to be in the neck region, a harness should be used instead of a collar.

When it comes down to it, back injuries can be one of the most emotionally devastating problems with our pets. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to try and lower the risk. And if it does happen, it doesn’t always mean that it’s the end of the line. With enough diligent care and attention, many of these dogs can still have a decent quality of life.

Just ask Baxter!

Spinal Issues, Diseases and Injuries in Dogs

Baxter from Sheba’s Haven Resuce

 

A big thank you to Dr. Ryan Llera for providing this important information to pet owners.

Back Issues, Diseases and Injuries in Dogs

Dr. Ryan Lllera

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Kingston, Ontario.   Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with 3 cats, 2 dogs, 2 horses, and a rabbit. Ryan is also a regular guest writer for the Ontario SPCA blog. You can find more of his writing at www.drryanllera.com or see what else he is up to on Facebook & Instagram

 

 

Do you have experience with a canine back injury?

Please feel free to share your story below so that others may learn or not feel so alone.

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Author: Kelly Harding & Edie The Pug

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28 Comments

  1. I had no idea so much can be done to help animals with spinal injuries. I like the sensible advice about keeping a healthy weight, it applies to us humans as well.

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    • There is so much to be said for keeping our pets at a healthy weight. I have said over and over again that a pets weight affects so many aspects of their life and health.

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  2. Great informational article. Pinning on my “Bark About” board & Tweeting!

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    • Thank you for sharing our post!

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  3. Good information. My Victor is incredibly active and has had a back injury, likely from jumping. He runs like crazy but I if I have him on leash, I use a harness rather than pull on his neck. He’s in good shape though.

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    • I hope Victor’s back injury was not too serious and I’m happy to hear you use a harness on him.

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  4. Thank you for an informative post. I’m beginning to watch my mom’s dog closer as he ages. He is a shih tzu mix.

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  5. This is such great information! I’m always worried about a back issue with my dogs, it’s all too common & so scary.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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  6. Theo has short legs and relatively long back, I’m starting to use a harness with him as a precaution. Fortunately he is no longer seriously overweight and he’s not particularly acrobatic.

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    • I’m happy to hear Theo is no longer seriously overweight as obesity can be a factor and I hope he enjoys using a harness and finds it more comfortable.

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  7. My friend has a small mix breed dog who is about to get a wheel chair after an IVDD diagnosis. Like you mention, she rushed her dog to the emergency room one day when he was struggling to walk. I so appreciate your tips for reducing the risk of spinal injuries.

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    • I wish all the best to your friend and her dog! Thank you for sharing.

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  8. What an informative post on such an important issue for so many dog parents out there! During my time as a veterinary assistant I saw a few cases like this and a few more of injuries that causes paralysis. It can be a really tough adjustment for the dog and their owners. One vet I assisted semi regularly performed acupuncture with some success in a few of those patients! Weight was always the very first thing we’d talk about to clients with dogs who are predisposed to back injuries. Great post!

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    • This is just another reason/benefit of maintaining a healthy weight in a dog. I can only imagine that it would be quite an adjustment to the pet and pet owner learning to deal with a dog with back issues/paralysis. I don’t know much about acupuncture, but I must look into it! Thank you for your comment.

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  9. I dread Kilo the Pug hurting his legs or hips or back as he is a jumper. I have several friends with dachshunds that have all had back issues. These issues can be painful, debilitating and even crippling. Luckily they have all been able to treat or cope with the issues. Thanks for sharing the info.

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    • It’s a concern for me as well with Miss Edie. I see many pugs with back issues and this is one of the reasons I asked Dr.Llera to write about this topic. Let’s hope Kilo never has to experience such an issue with his back, legs, or hips.

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    • I’m so happy to hear Mr. N is doing well again! You must have been so worried about him. All the best of continued health to Mr. N.

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  10. Poor sweet Baxter! My daughter has a dachshund so I will let her know of this condition and what to look out for. I pray this never happens to her Link but at least she will be informed. Thank you for writing about this!

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    • I hope your daughter never has to experience back issues with her dachshund Link. But knowing about the condition and what to look out for is a great start to help prevention.

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  11. We just went through this, so it’s interesting for me to read this post now. My dog Jack (around 4 years old) became paralysed suddenly on August 22. In a matter of hours his back legs stopped working. After an MRI the neurologist found a disc had exploded and he had surgery. After 3 weeks he moved one leg a little bit and now, 2 1/2 months later is walking without help and can even run off leash short periods of time. Unfortunately it’s one of those things that can happen again. We were told he was in the “worst” category, but luckily the surgery was a success.

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    • I’m sorry to hear about this happening to Jack, it must have been a scary and worrisome time for you! It’s encouraging to hear that Jack is progressing and able to walk and run again even if it’s only for short periods of time. All the best to you and wishing Jack continued health.

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  12. Thank you and Dr. Llera for sharing information about this.

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  13. This is a great post with lots of detailed information. Thanks for sharing!

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  14. What a great article. My dog has back issues to do a skull malformation, affecting his spinal fluid. It’s a learning process and does limit our activities. Thanks again for this informative article. Oh, harness all the way for dogs. 🙂

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  15. We have Shih Tzu’s and are very focused on proper weight and correct carrying of the pups. Lifting dogs requires supporting them fully – and this is something that can, over time, cause issues. We love your post and will share it with our readers – responsible pet parenting is super important!

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    • Thank you for sharing this post! Proper weight and correctly carrying/lifting a dog is so important.

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