Disk Disease in Dogs — Back Talk

Otto in his Doggles — getting ready for laser therapy.

Otto is a 5 year old Dachshund who three weeks ago became unable to walk; his parents took him to their veterinarian who sent him to a specialist for surgery. Otto had back surgery and he still is not walking but seems very happy. His parents brought him to ARCC — Animal Rehab & Conditioning Center for help with his rehabilitation. Otto is the typical dog seen for back problems — long bodied.

Intervertebral Disk Disease or IVDD is a common problem seen in pets.  In human terminology we call it a “blown disk” and it is a major cause of pain in humans and animals alike.  A blown disk can cause pain, ataxia (staggering), paresis and even paralysis.

Your dog’s spine is a lot like your spine.  There are hollow bead-like bones with a string (spinal cord) inside.  Between these beads is a tough fibrous material that acts as a shock absorber – this is the disk.  The disks run from the base of the skull to the tail.

There are two types of disk disease called Hansen Type I and Hansen Type II.

Type I is a sudden explosion of material from inside the disk outwards while Type II is a slow, progressive protrusion of disk material outwards.  Clinical signs are usually more severe with Type I and less severe with Type II.

When the disk ruptures it presses on the spinal cord and/or nerves causing pain and neurologic deficits such as ataxia, paresis, and paralysis.

Dachshund, Bulldog, Pekingese, and Cockers are more prone to Type I disk disease while Type II is more common in old, large breed dogs.

This disk can be damaged anywhere from the neck to the tail.

The spine is segmented into three major groups:

  1. Cervical
  2. Thoracic
  3. Lumbar

Cervical disk disease is usually seen in small middle age to older pets and is most commonly Type I in origin.  The most common breeds for this type of IVDD are:  Beagles, Dachshunds, Pekingese, and Poodles.  The most common site is at cervical vertebrae C2-C3.

The most common signs of cervical disk disease are neck pain, decreased movement in the neck, carrying the head down, vocalizing, spasms, and decreased jumping, stairs or even looking upwards.

Cervical disk disease can cause lameness in one or both front limbs and severe cases can lead to paralysis of all four limbs.

Thoracic disk disease is usually seen in young adults to middle aged pets with Type I being common in small dogs and Type II seen in larger dogs.  The breeds most seen for this type of disk disease include Dachshunds, Cockers, Beagles and Bassets.  The most common site is at thoracic vertebra T12-T13 and lumbar vertebra L1-L2 (where ribs end and lower back begins).

The most common signs of thoracic disk disease are ataxia (staggering) in the rear limbs, arched back, and complete paralysis.  It can affect one side more pronounced than the other.

Neurologic signs and presence of pain perception determines the prognosis and if surgery needs to be pursued.

Lumbar disk disease is commonly seen together with thoracic but we can see lower disk disease of the lumbar that is solitary in origin.

The most common signs seen with lumbar disk disease depends on whether it is the upper part of the lower back or the lower part of the back and the division is seen about midways.

We can see ataxia in the rear limbs along with other neurologic problems but the main issue with lumbar disk disease is the possibility of decreased bladder sphincter tone.

Diagnoses of all types of disk disease include an examination, neurologic exam, and radiographs, which can be non-diagnostic.  Radiographs may be non-diagnostic if the disk is newly herniated because it will not be calcified enough to be seen.  If the radiographs are non-diagnostic, myelograms, CT or MRI may be needed.

Treatment can consist of either medical or surgical options depending on the severity of the lesions and signs.

Non-surgical treatment consists of strict confinement with NSAIDs or steroids being administered along with possible muscle relaxants.  The strict confinement is usually for at least two to three weeks.  Disk pain and signs may reoccur if not treated surgically.

Surgical treatment consists of removing the disk material along with opening the vertebral space.

Physical therapy is recommended for both medically managed and surgically managed pets.  If the pet has neurologic issues, physical therapy is especially recommended.  Physical therapy is usually provided for a minimum of three weeks but may need more time depending upon recovery.

Otto was given balance and strengthening exercises for the next couple of weeks and then will be re-evaluated; hopefully, he will begin to walk but if not, we will get him a chair and pimp his ride!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *