Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common neurologic condition in pets that can cause extreme pain and mobility issues without timely, appropriate, treatment and management. Any pet can develop IVDD, although the condition occurs more often in dogs than cats, and in certain breeds. Learn more about this painful condition from our team at Wales Animal clinic

What is intervertebral disc disease in pets?

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)—sometimes referred to as a ruptured, slipped, bulging, or herniated disc—is a degenerative spinal condition that occurs when the discs that act as cushions between the spinal column vertebrae (i.e., bones) bulge or burst into the space around the spinal cord. The disc material then presses on the spinal cord, causing pain, nerve damage, and in severe cases, paralysis.

Which pets are most at risk for IVDD?

While pets of any age or breed can develop IVDD from activity or daily wear and tear that results in a herniated disc, the condition occurs most commonly in older dogs and dogs genetically predisposed because of their short legs and long backs. The breeds at highest IVDD risk include:

  • Dachshund
  • Shih tzu
  • Lhasa apso
  • Beagle
  • French bulldog
  • Cocker spaniel
  • Chihuahua
  • Poodle
  • Welsh corgi
  • Doberman pinscher
  • Labrador retriever
  • German shepherd dog

What are IVDD signs in pets?

IVDD signs vary depending on disease progression and severity, and may include:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Wobbly gait (i.e., ataxia) 
  • Foot dragging
  • Weakness
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Hunched back or tensed muscles in the neck
  • Reduced appetite and activity

Depending on the rupture location, weakness or paralysis may occur in the back half of the body, or involve all four legs. In some instances, one side of your pet’s body may be more severely affected. If your pet is experiencing IVDD signs, contact our Wales Animal Clinic right away for diagnostic testing and appropriate treatment. 

How is IVVD diagnosed in pets?

To confirm an IVDD diagnosis, your veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical examination to pinpoint the pain location along the spine. A definitive IVDD diagnosis is usually achieved with advanced imaging of the spine, although additional screenings and blood work may also be required to identify abnormalities and eliminate other causes of pain. Imaging will include:

  • Radiographs — Radiographs can identify evidence of disc degeneration or calcification, and other bone lesions such as cancers or infections. However, because the spinal cord does not appear on X-rays, radiographs cannot definitively diagnose IVDD. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — An MRI can best diagnose IVDD, because the image provides details of all the spinal structures and identifies the degree of spinal cord compression and the side affected. 

How is IVDD treated in pets?

Once your pet is diagnosed with IVDD, your veterinarian will determine the appropriate treatment options, depending on the IVDD stage. 

  • Stage one —Pets with stage one IVDD have neck or back pain at the rupture site, but no neurologic deficits.
  • Stage two — Pets can walk, but are uncoordinated and knuckle over when they walk. 
  • Stage three — Pets can move their limbs, but cannot stand or walk.
  • Stage four — Pets cannot move their limbs, but have deep pain perception.
  • Stage five — Pets cannot move their limbs, and have no deep pain perception.

The two main IVDD treatment options are:

  • Conservative treatment approach — Treatment for pets in IVDD stages one and two is aimed at managing pain and reducing inflammation. These pets need strict crate rest for up to six weeks for a successful recovery. 
  • Surgical treatment approach — Pets in later IVDD stages, or who do not respond to a conservative treatment approach, may require surgical correction to remove disc material and alleviate compression. Most pets require hospitalization for three to seven days post-surgery, and recovery typically takes three to six weeks, during which strict crate rest is essential. Physical rehabilitation, including range of motion and balance exercises, and underwater treadmill therapy, can aid post-surgical recovery. 

What is the prognosis for a pet with IVDD?

The prognosis depends on your pet’s IVDD stage at the time of diagnosis. With timely and appropriate treatment, many pets with IVDD will recover completely, although recurrence is common, and lifestyle modification, including the following, is recommended:

  • No jumping — Prevent your pet from jumping up or down from furniture.
  • Not much playing — Avoid certain vigorous play and high-impact activities.
  • No putting on weight — Maintain your pet’s healthy body weight.

IVDD is a serious, but manageable, condition, and affected pets can recover and enjoy a long, happy life with timely treatment and lifestyle modifications. So, contact Wales Animal Clinic and schedule an appointment as soon as possible if your pet shows any signs of back pain.