Your dog may have been diagnosed with ‘IVDD’ if they have back or neck pain with or without difficulty walking. Severely-affected dogs may be unable to walk at all. Treatment is surgical or non-surgical.
Above: Difficulty walking due to IVDD. Walter is crossing his hind legs over as he steps. (Thanks to Rachel Williams for this photo)
Just like people, dogs have discs between the bony vertebrae of their spine. Disc herniation or IVDH (Intervertebral Disc Herniation) involves part of the disc moving away from its correct position. This can be a:
- disc ‘extrusion’ (sometimes also called Hanson Type 1 herniation). This is sometimes thought of as a ‘slipped disc’, but that is misleading, The disc itself doesn’t move. Instead, think of it as a ‘ruptured disc’. The centre of the disc explodes outwards through the disc’s outer fibres. Disc debris then presses against the spinal cord or nerve roots. Pain and other signs start quite suddenly.
- disc ‘protrusion’, in which the centre of the disc shifts outward more gradually, causing the outer layer of the disc to bulge slightly.
Extrusion and protrusion can cause the disc to put pressure onto the spinal cord and nearby nerve roots. This causes the neurological signs (e.g. weak or paralysed legs, changes in skin sensation) and contributes to the pain. In severe cases of extrusion, the centre of the disc may explode out and hit the spinal cord so suddenly that this section of the cord is left concussed (damaged after being knocked), contused (bruised), or oedematous (US=edematous, meaning swollen with fluid).
Above: an MRI scan of a dog’s spine. The spinal cord is the long structure marked by an asterisk. The disc extrusion is marked by a white arrowhead. In this case the disc extrusion is squashing or compressing the spinal cord. Many thanks to Canada West Veterinary Specialists for the use of this image.
Some breeds of dog are ‘chondrodystrophic’, e.g. the dachshund, beagle, Pekingese, French bulldog, miniature schnauzer and cavalier King Charles spaniel. This means that their cartilage develops differently to that of other dogs. In these chondrodystrophic dogs, discs degenerate while the dog is still young, i.e. the centres of the discs harden and may calcify. This hardening of the discs doesn’t itself cause the dog any pain or clinical signs but can eventually cause the disc to herniate. These breeds of dog have increased chances of getting disc extrusion, though protrusion may also occur.
Breeds of dog that are not chondrodystrophic tend to get a disc protrusion (Hanson Type 2 herniation) rather than disc extrusion (Hanson Type 1 herniation). These dogs, e.g. Labradors and German Shepherd dogs, tend to get the problem later in life once discs have degenerated over some years.
Signs of IVDD
IVDD is a painful condition. Dogs with a mild (grade 1) version of the condition are able to walk normally, but may show one or more signs of pain as listed below.
SIGNS OF PAIN REPORTED IN IVDD-AFFECTED DACHSHUNDS
Reluctance to walk, jump up or stand upright on hind legs
Crying or flinching when touched
Trembling, shaking and/or panting
Crying or yelping when picked up
Refusal to go down a small step or kerb
Change of mood or temperament
‘Swollen’or hard abdomen
Unable to do a full body shake
Some of the signs listed above can be easily confused with those caused by a gastric upset, cystitis, pancreatitis or other problems. It’s important that your vet checks your dog carefully as these dogs can be tricky to diagnose correctly. Dogs with a gastric upset certainly won’t want to be sent to a neurologist for spinal imaging. However, to be on the safe side, if there is a possibility of pain being due to IVDD then it is sensible to avoid running and jumping until your vet gives you the all-clear.
In addition to signs of pain, more severely-affected dogs also have difficulty walking. It is most common for only the rear end of the dog to be affected in short-legged breeds such as dachshunds, i.e. the front legs work normally but the hind legs are weak or paralysed. Your dog may walk with a staggering gait rather like a drunk person, and they may cross their paws over or place them upside-down at times. Some dogs are unable to walk at all, but may try to pull themselves along with the front legs while dragging the rear end along behind.
Above: This video shows Sybil when she had a painful back. Thanks to M.Lucas for sharing this video.
Above: Ernie with quite a wobbly (ataxic) walk. Thanks to E.Brechin for sharing this video.
Further information to help your dog during IVDD recovery
For a complete and practical guide to home care, we recommend The IVDD Handbook. This is a comprehensive home care guide for dogs with IVDD (disc extrusion or ‘slipped disc’). It’s also suitable for those with certain other back or neck problems including FCE and traumatic disc. Use this book in conjunction with talking to your own vet. It contains:
- clear practical guidelines for each stage of recovery
- illustrated how-to guides for everything from sling-walking to home exercises
- notes on when to contact your vet
- an illustrated guide to understanding your dog’s surgical report
- advice on keeping your recovering dog happy and content
- a section on maintaining your own wellbeing while caring for your own dog
- example daily routines suitable for dogs at each stage of recovery
- hundreds of colour photos showing what to look for and how to help your dog
- an index, glossary and colour-coded chapter to help you find information fast.
How to get your copy
Click here to buy or look inside The IVDD Handbook.
Order the book to be delivered to you from the US if you live in Australia, New Zealand or Singapore. For further details, click here.
Links to the book on this page are provided as part of the Amazon Associates program. Buying the book after clicking on one of these links will earn the author a small commission, thus contributing to the ongoing running of this website.
Booking an appointment
For bespoke supervision of your own dog’s recovery, you are welcome to contact me to arrange a video consultation appointment. To book an appointment, use the contact form here or email me at [email protected]. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Please note that these contact details are for appointments only. I offer home visit appointments, when appropriate, for dogs and cats living near me in North Herts, UK. Video consultations are available for both local and distant patients.