Intervertebral disk disease or IVDD in dogs is a disease that occurs due to the hardening of the disks between the vertebrae of the spinal cord. These disks work as shock absorbers interlaced between each vertebra.
If they begin to harden, their shock absorbing function decreases causing pain, weakness or limit range of motion. Eventually, they may harden to a point where they will bulge and compress on the spinal cord, causing even more pain or disrupt nerve function to the bladder and bowel or worse cause paralysis. IVDD when it occurs happen slowly and may take a long time to become noticeable.
Symptoms of IVDD typically do not manifest immediately and may vary. This is why it is hard to check for symptoms of IVDD as they may occur intermittently, gradually, or just suddenly appear. Below are the most common symptoms.
- Difficulty in moving head and neck due to pain or stiffness
- Lowering head stance
- Sensitivity to touch
- Pain during movement
- Hunched or arched back
- Problems urinating
- Dragging of one or more limbs when walking
- Knuckling of paws when walking
- Overall weakness
- Trembling or shaking
- Lack of coordination
- Impaired reflexes
- Difficulty in standing
The most common cause of IVDD is age. Like most animals, a dog’s bones become less flexible and more susceptible to hardening of the disks as they grow older. Dogs that regularly perform highly strenuous and high impact activities could be at higher risk in manifesting the disease earlier. Constantly jumping from very high places could cause acute rupturing of disks.
Breeds at Higher Risk
There are breeds that are more susceptible to getting IVDD. This is mainly due to a cartilage formation disorder called Chondrodystrophy, common to some breeds. IVDD usually occurs in these breeds between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. The following are dog breeds most at risk for IVDD:
- Bassett Hound
- Cocker Spaniel
- Shih Tzu
Although not common, other dog breeds may also get the IVDD. If they do, it usually occurs between the ages of 8 and 10. These nonchondrodystrophic breed most susceptible to IVDD include:
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to check for IVDD, most veterinary examinations will order X-rays, neurological tests and special imaging tests such as a CT scan or MRI. For moderate cases of IVDD, treatment could include steroid treatment and anti-inflammatory medicines. Confined rest to up to six weeks may also be required.
Severe cases of IVDD may require surgery, but is sometimes not advisable for dogs that can no longer walk. In such cases, the use of a dog wheelchair is commonly recommended to give the dog a chance at a healthy and active life even with the disease.
Physical rehab is generally part of the treatment for both minor and severe cases.
Here are some tips to help prevent or at the very least minimize the risk of dogs getting IVDD:
- Maintain your dog’s weight. This can help reduce strain on their backs and necks.
- Use harnesses instead of neck leashes when walking your dogs. This will also help relieve neck stress.
- Avoid instances where your dog will need to jump down to a lower area such as ledges, tables or chairs.
- With the help of your veterinarian, you may also consider having your dog use a back brace for added support.