Degenerative Disc Disease In Dogs Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

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Degenerative Disc Disease In Dogs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Intervertebral Disk Disease

The bones of the backbone that protect the spinal cord are called vertebrae. Soft cushions are located between these bones, which serve as �shock absorbers� protecting the very delicate nerves that lie within the spinal column. These cushions are called intervertebral disks.

The disk may be damaged from an injury, such as jumping off furniture or taking a fall, resulting in the condition called a “slipped disk”. In this condition, the disc has been forced out of its normal location and pushes against the spinal cord itself causing pressure on the nerves. Disc protrusion against the spinal cord can also result from a deterioration of the disc as your dog ages or as a result of arthritic changes within the bone itself. Pressure from the “slipped disk” results in pain, weakness, incoordination, and sometimes paralysis of the legs, bladder, and rectum.

Disk 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 dog 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 on the particular nerves compressed by the involved disc. All four legs can be affected in severe cases.

Symptoms Of Intervertebral Disk Disease:

Signs seen are related to where the lesion is located along the spinal column.

Signs may include:

  • reluctance to move the head up or down,
  • rear leg weakness,
  • rigid abdomen,
  • pain when picked up,
  • reluctance to move,
  • and/or loss of urine and bowel control.
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Signs may develop gradually or suddenly.

Diagnosis Of Intervertebral Disk Disease:

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and imaging studies, such as radiographs (x-rays), CAT scan and/or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Blood tests may be necessary to rule out other disease conditions which can cause similar symptoms and to make certain that your dog can safely take any medications prescribed to treat the condition.

Treatment of Intervertebral Disk Disease:

Early treatment increases the chances of recovery.

In mild cases, medications are given to decrease inflammation and swelling of the spinal cord and to control pain.

Medications commonly used are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as Rimadyl, Metacam, Etogesic and others.

Muscle relaxants, such as Robaxin, are also sometimes used.

Pain medications, such as Fentanyl, may be recommended as well.

Less commonly, steroids may be used to decrease inflammation in the spinal cord.

Most importantly, your dog must be kept quiet and confined for healing to take place. Excessive movement will cause further injury to the spinal cord, making signs worse.

While medical treatment may relieve pain and inflammation, surgery may be required in some cases to relieve severe pressure.

Surgery involves scraping out the diseased disk material to relieve the pressure and prevent future episodes of pain. Neck lesions usually require surgical intervention whereas lower spinal problems may or may not require surgery.

Complete recovery may take several weeks, or even months.

The problem tends to reoccur in other disk locations, especially if your dog continues to do a lot of jumping and is overweight.

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The following points are important in treating intervertebral disk disease:

  • Give all medications prescribed by your dog’s veterinarian as directed.
  • Confine your dog as much as possible to prevent excessive movement.
  • Keep weight down and discourage jumping to prevent recurrence.

Remember, once this problem has occurred, it can happen again. Keeping your dog�s weight down and discouraging jumping will help a great deal to prevent recurrence!

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