Options for IVDD-affected dogs

“Especially for dachshunds and their friends” (other breeds very welcome)

If your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) then you may be wondering what to do next. There are surgical and non-surgical treatment options available. The first thing to do is to see your vet who can assess your dog, discuss options with you, give advice and start treatment or arrange referral.

As a dog owner, it’s important not to panic if your dog is suddenly affected by IVDD. Do listen to options offered by your vet, and take care to weigh up all the options before making a decision to go for surgery or anything else. Information on this page is designed to help owners understand available options.

Above: Many dachshunds return to a happy and active lifestyle after treatment

For information on how IVDD is diagnosed, including clinical signs (symptoms) and further imaging, click here.

Is spinal surgery necessary?

When considering whether or not to send your dog for spinal surgery, several factors need to be taken into account. These include how severely your dog is affected, other problems that your dog may have, your available budget, and time/ability to care for the dog during recovery. 

Dogs that are affected very badly by IVDD are less likely to make a full recovery. Severity of the disease is worked out from the results of the vet’s clinical examination, and a grading system is sometimes used for this.

Above: Clinical grading scheme chart for dogs with IVDD  (this is for back problems, not for neck problems). For a closer look at the chart, please click here. This will open up a larger, printable version in a new window. 


Dogs with IVDD in their back can be grouped into three main categories, each with a different prognosis:

a) Mildly-affected dogs who can walk a reasonable distance without falling over (grade 1-2; yellow on the chart above). For dogs that are able to walk, non-surgical treatment is usually a sensible option to start with. This is true even if the dog is quite ataxic (wobbly) when walking. If not referred for surgery, your dog should receive good-quality non-surgical treatment and should be checked regularly by the vet. If your IVDD dog can walk, click here for more information and advice. 

b) A middle group of dogs who are more severely-affected and cannot walk unaided (grades 3-4; blue on the chart above). If your dog cannot walk, an operation might improve their chance of recovery. To have an operation, your vet would need to refer your dog to a neurologist. Spinal surgery is very expensive and is therefore not an option for many dog owners.  Non-surgical treatment can also be tried for these dogs, starting either on an in-patient or outpatient basis. Whether or not your dog has an operation, you’ll need to learn some special skills to help them through recovery, e.g. sling-walking and, in a few cases, bladder expression. Click here for more information and advice about this middle group of dogs. 

c) The most severely affected dogs (grade 5; pink on the chart above). These dogs cannot walk or make any deliberate movements of their affected legs, and they also no longer have pain sensation in their toes. For those who pursue treatment, an operation plus dedicated home aftercare will offer the best chance of recovery. Aftercare is likely to include lots of cleaning and TLC, sling-walking and, in many cases, expressing the dog’s bladder regularly. Even with surgery, we must warn you that a few of these worse-affected dogs deteriorate badly during the first few days. Some others seem to do okay at first but end up being managed as permanently disabled because they fail to walk again. With good home care, some dogs go on to live a happy life in wheels even if treatment fails. However, if there is no realistic treatment or means of care available, then euthanasia may unfortunately be the only kind option. Click here for more information about treatment and care of severely affected (grade 5) dogs. 

Above: Bella recovered well from very severe (grade 5) IVDD. Treatment was spinal surgery followed by dedicated home care, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. During recovery, she walked with support from a hindquarter sling as shown here. 

Before committing to surgery, there are a few points to bear in mind from the start:

  • Whether or not your dog has an operation, they will need dedicated home care during recovery.
  • Signs of IVDD may recur after treatment.
  • Full recovery is not guaranteed with any type of treatment, especially for dogs with severe IVDD. 

Having said all this, many dogs do make a fantastic recovery from this disease so don’t be disheartened.

Watch out for deteriorating dogs:  Some dogs start off with a milder grade of IVDD which gets worse over the first few hours to days. Therefore it’s important to keep a close eye on your dog and to return to the vet for regular rechecks in the early stages. Use a large cage or indoor pen to restrict your dog whenever they are not either in your arms or on a lead. We occasionally hear of dogs who start off mildly affected, but who then suddenly lose the ability to walk just after jumping off a sofa or chasing across a room. On the other hand, most cases of deterioration are nobody’s fault. It’s just that the disc has herniated over hours to days rather than all at once. 

Important: If your dog seems to be getting worse and worse, ask to speak to your vet immediately. There’s a possibility that urgent referral may be required. 


Above: If your dog starts showing signs of IVDD, confine them to a pen or other safe space. Running or jumping may cause signs to get much worse in a few cases. Photo: Walter owned by Rachel Williams

Other options beyond surgical and non-surgical treatment

Spinal surgery is expensive and therefore not an option for every dog and owner. Non-surgical treatment is another option for most dogs but, if this is also out of the question, or if this fails, then what other options are available? If you find yourself in this situation and your dog is badly affected, then it is worthwhile discussing the option of euthanasia with your vet. Think it through carefully and don’t be rushed into a decision to put your dog to sleep. There’s further guidance regarding decision-making for euthanasia here.

Another option may be to try managing your dog as permanently disabled. For example, some dachshunds go on to to live a happy life using wheels to get about. If considering managing your dog as permanently disabled, click here for more information. 

Further information to help your dog during IVDD recovery

The IVDD Handbook 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.

The above link should redirect you to your country’s Amazon site.

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. 


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