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