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Dogs can suffer from neck and back problems just like people! What you need to know about spinal diseases...

Dogs can suffer from neck and back problems just like people!

The formal name for degenerative disorder of the disks in the spinal column is intervertebral disk disease. The spinal column is made up of the backbones, the spine and their supporting structures. The backbones are called vertebrae and they function to shield the delicate spine encased within. The spinal column also provides body support and flexibility.

In between each vertebra, a flexible intervertebral disk acts to cushion the bones during movement. Sometimes these disks become damaged and this results in swelling. Because the spinal column is enclosed, the bulging disks put pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves as they leave the cord. Sometimes the disks rupture and this can put major pressure on the spinal cord case and nerve roots, leading to significant nervous dysfunction.

Pain is a very significant sign of spinal disk disease and is associated with stiffness, lameness, toe knuckling over, paralysis and even the loss of pain sensation depending on which part of the spine is affected.

Sudden or acute disk protrusion is called Hansen Type I herniation; if the condition is chronic it is termed Hansen Type II. Type I extrusion is most frequently seen in smaller dogs such as dachshunds, beagles, poodles and cocker spaniels, while Type II is more common in the larger breed dogs like Dobermans.

Cervical (neck) intervertebral disk disease

If a disk or disks become affected in the neck region, a typical sign is severe pain as the neck is moved. The dog may resist any turning, raising or lowering of the head, have muscle spasms and front leg function deficits, or sometimes all legs may show deficits.

Pain may result in whining or yelping, especially when the neck is lifted, or when the dog experiences a sudden head movement.

Thoracolumbar (lower back) intervertebral disk disease

This is the most common location for intervertebral disk disease. Owners often note a hunched posture, reluctance or inability to climb stairs or jump, and rear leg lameness or paralysis. Dogs with short leg and long back conformations are at increased risk for disk disease of the lower back because of increased pressure on the spinal column. Overweight and obese dogs are especially likely to experience this problem since they have an increased load on the spine from carrying those extra pounds—obesity strains the back support structures.

Sometimes, if the disk problem is severe, a dog may become paralyzed and have trouble urinating and passing bowel movements.

Any sign of back pain or neck pain should be taken seriously, and requires immediate veterinary attention. If treated early, permanent loss of function can be prevented in many cases. In order to localize the problem, X-rays, and other imaging studies may be recommended. Myelography is a diagnostic procedure that uses dye injected into the spinal column to visualize pressure points and is an important tool for precise understanding of the problem. If Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is available, it is an excellent but costly visualization tool.

Treatments for spinal disk disease range from rest and medication to surgical intervention, the latter used to relieve pressure. The exact therapeutic plan depends on the severity of the problem. If the affected pet is overweight, a weight loss program will be instituted. Kennel rest is an important part of therapy, and for some dogs, permanent restrictions in activity should be put in place to help prevent recurrences.

A grading system is used for disk disease in the lower back to help owners understand chances of recovery. Grade 1 dogs are painful, but all function is normal. Grade 2 dogs have mild limb deficits, Grade 3 dogs have moderate limb deficits and Grade 4 dogs have lost limb movement (paresis) but have intact deep limb pain sensation. Grade 5 dogs have lost deep pain sensation and have total limb paralysis.

If a dog has lost deep pain sensation in the legs and is unable to move the limbs, the prognosis is poor but many dogs with moderate loss of function (up to Grade 4) can regain use of the limbs and get relief from pain if prompt therapy is instituted. Even some Grade 5 dogs can recover much of their normal function but only if very prompt intervention occurs.

It is important not to delay treatment for spinal disk disease! Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog exhibits any signs of back or neck pain or has any difficulty moving.

Reprinted with permission from

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