Signs or symptoms of IVDD

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a painful condition that can cause weak, wobbly legs and difficulty walking. Dogs with severe IVDD may be unable to move their legs at all (paralysis) and may lose control of bladder and bowel function.

The sudden-onset form of the condition is seen most often in certain breeds including miniature and standard dachshunds, beagles, French bulldogs, cavalier King Charles spaniels and cocker spaniels. Onset of clinical signs or symptoms can vary: Some dogs show mild signs which never progress, some dogs are found collapsed on the floor with no previous known problem while, in others, signs progress over hours or days.


Difficulty walking, jumping up or standing upright on their hind legs
Crying or flinching when touched
Trembling, shaking and/or panting
Arched back
Crying or yelping when picked up
Refusal to go down a small step or kerb
Change of mood or temperament
‘Swollen’ or hard abdomen
Reduced appetite
Unable to do a full body shake

Some of the signs listed above are 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. For tips on how to keep your dog safe in this situation, click here

Above: Sybil trembling and hunched with a painful back. Thanks to M.Lucas for sharing this video.

In short-legged breeds such as dachshunds, any difficulty walking tends to be confined to the hind legs only. Your dog may walk with a staggering gait rather like a drunken sailor, and he may cross his hind 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.

If disc herniation occurs in the neck instead of the back, the dog may have neck pain and, in more severe cases, may have difficulty using all four limbs. 

Above: Standing posture often seen in IVDD-affected dogs. Thanks to Claire Murphy for this picture of her dog Jakes.

Above: Ernie demonstrating quite a wobbly (ataxic) walk. Thanks to E.Brechin for sharing this video.

Above: Reg dragging his hindquarters along. The video shows him at 11 days after spinal surgery. Thanks to D. Ashby for sending in this video.

Dogs with worse clinical signs (symptoms) tend to be less likely to make a full recovery. Some vets find it useful to use a clinical grading scale such as the one shown below. For more information on the clinical grading scale, click here


Diagnostic imaging: MRI and other tools

If your dog is a dachshund (or another dog breed very prone to IVDD) then, just by examining them and checking their history, your vet might have enough information to be almost certain that the problem is caused by IVDD. In many cases, no further diagnostic tests are needed.

However, if your dog has spinal surgery, imaging would be needed first both to confirm the diagnosis and to check exactly which disc or discs have herniated.

The problem often doesn’t show up on X-rays. Even if it does show up, a surgeon would still ask for advanced imaging to be done to confirm the problem before an operation. It’s therefore generally not helpful to X-ray the dog’s spine if they are showing typical signs of IVDD. The results are very unlikely to change how the dog is treated. 

Advanced imaging techniques: Dogs usually have either an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan to assess the spine just before surgery. This can confirm the diagnosis of IVDD and is very useful for surgical planning. NB: The scan locates the spinal problem very precisely but it does not always give reliable information about the dog’s chances of recovery with or without surgeryPenning et al 2006. For this, the dog’s clinical examination findings (or clinical IVDD grade) are more useful. 

In dachshunds showing signs typical of IVDD, the MRI scan is mainly used just before spinal surgery, not as a screening tool.

An MRI or CT scan can of course be offered to any dog, but these techniques require a general anaesthetic (or heavy sedative), are expensive, and tend to be available only in referral hospitals. Therefore, in breeds such as the dachshund, spinal scans are mainly used just before spinal surgery, not as a more general screening tool. 

In some dog breeds (e.g. boxers and German shepherds) presenting with certain clinical signs, advanced imaging (e.g. MRI scan) may be a good idea early in the course of the disease to help rule out spinal tumours, infection and other conditions. However, dachshunds have an extremely high risk of IVDD, and other spinal conditions that could be confused with this are very unusual in this breed. Unless opting for spinal surgery, it’s therefore usually appropriate for the vet to start treating dachshunds based on results of the clinical examination. Keep in touch with your vet, and return for a recheck if needed. 

We occasionally come across owners who have paid for an MRI scan but no treatment, and are wondering why the scan has not cured their dog. The MRI scan is very useful for diagnosis, but it is not itself a treatment. To help your dog get better, look into the options of surgical and non-surgical treatment. There’s some information on decision-making here

Penning, V., Platt, S. R., Dennis, R., Cappello, R., & Adams, V. (2006). Association of spinal cord compression seen on magnetic resonance imaging with clinical outcome in 67 dogs with thoracolumbar intervertebral disc extrusion. Journal of small animal practice47(11), 644-650. The degree of spinal cord compression documented with magnetic resonance imaging in dogs with thoracolumbar Hansen type 1 intervertebral disc disease was not associated with the severity of neurological signs and was not a prognostic indicator in this study.

Further information to help your dog during IVDD recovery

This website contains plenty of information about caring for a dog with back or neck issues. Try going to IVDD and clicking on links on that page to start exploring this free resource.

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.

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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