Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Slipped Discs' in Dogs

The bones of the backbone that protect the spinal cord are called vertebrae. Discs between these vertebrae act as "shock absorbers". A disc is composed of a pulpy, jelly-like center surrounded by hard fibrous tissue.

Sudden trauma can result in injury to the disc causing it to bulge or even rupture. When this happens, the disc (or disc contents) is forced out of its normal position and pushes against the spinal cord causing pressure on the cord and nerves. This causes pain, weakness, incoordination, and possibly paralysis of the legs, bladder, and rectum. Other clinical signs are rigid or splinted abdomen, pain when picked up, reluctance to move or jump up, hunched posture, lowered head and neck, and loss of urine or bowel control. Signs may develop gradually or suddenly. Disc protrusion against the spinal cord can also result from a deterioration of the disc as the pet ages or arthritic changes within the bone itself.

Disc disease can occur anywhere along the spinal canal. "Pinched nerves" in the neck area are usually very painful and may cause front leg lameness. The pet often is presented with a reluctance to move the head up and down, usually keeping the head tucked low to the ground. Lesions further down the spinal column cause varying signs depending upon the particular nerves compressed by the involved disc. All four legs can be affected in severe cases.

Based upon the severity of clinical signs, your pet may respond to medical treatment alone or surgery may be required. Medical treatment involves strict cage rest, anti-inflammatory and pain medication and sometimes muscle relaxants. Surgery is performed to relieve pressure, provide stabilization, and to help prevent future episodes of pain. Pets with disc disease will usually have recurrent episodes, especially if the pet is overweight or does a lot of jumping. Diet modification is also highly recommended.

If your pet should start showing any of the above signs, IMMEDIATE treatment is crucial. If your usual vet is not open, take your pet to the nearest emergency clinic.

Diagnosis is usually based upon history, physical exam, x-rays and possibly myelography (injecting contrast medium into the intervertebral space, and then taking xrays). Predisposed breeds are Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, Pekignese, Welsh Corgis, German Shepherd Dogs and Beagles. However, any breed can be affected.


Depending upon the severity of disease, your pet may need to be hospitalized or can be treated at home. Complete recovery may take weeks to months.

Your pet needs to have STRICT CAGE REST for a number of weeks. This means that you need to keep your pet in a large cage or small bathroom. Carry your pet outside to use the bathroom. Absolutely no stairs or steps. Excessive movement can cause further injury to the spinal cord.

When picking your pet up, protect the back and try to keep it straight. Some pets may be so painful that they will need to be muzzled before you try to move them.

Make sure that your pet is able to urinate and that he can empty his bladder. Some pets may need help with this. DO NOT attempt to express your pet’s bladder without directions from your veterinarian. A urinary catheter may need to be inserted.

Recumbent pets will need to have a thick layer of blankets/padding to lay on. Try to alternate sides every 4-8 hours.

Give all oral medications as directed. It is very important that you do not combine anti-inflammatory medications unless directed to do so by your veterinarian.

We recommend putting your pet on a nutritional supplement to help prevent/delay arthritis build up.

Do not allow your pet to become overweight and try to discourage jumping.

Notify your veterinarian if your pets condition worsens or if you should have any questions or concerns.

This article was donated by the Claws & Paws Veterinary Hospital. For further information visit

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