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Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) In Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

IVDD in Dogs

If you notice your dog limping or having trouble walking, you may be concerned your dog has IVDD. It’s the most common cause of spinal cord issues in dogs, but what is IVDD, and what are the signs to look for? 

IVDD, or intervertebral disc disease, is a degenerative disease of the spine that affects dogs of all ages. This disease causes pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility in the spine. In some cases, it can lead to paralysis. 

Early detection and proper treatment are essential to preventing further damage and ensuring your dog receives the best care possible. Treatment options include medication, physical therapy, rehabilitation and surgery. 

IVDD surgery is one of the more specialist surgeries for dogs, so it requires referral to a specialist clinic. 

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

What Is IVDD in Dogs?

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) occurs when one or more of the soft cartilage discs between vertebrae become damaged or degenerate over time. As the discs deteriorate, the spinal cord becomes pinched, and pressure builds up within the spine. This causes nerve damage and pain.

Intervertebral discs are located between each vertebra in your dog’s spine. They act like cushions between the bones, allowing your dog to bend and twist without causing pain. However, sometimes the discs become damaged due to trauma or age. 

IVDD occurs in all parts of the spine, but 65% occurs in the dog’s mid back area and 18% in the neck region. 

IVDD is one of the most common causes of spinal cord injury in dogs. This causes a loss of sensation and movement in the legs and sometimes even paralysis or death if left untreated. Fortunately, early detection and proper treatment are possible.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, make sure you see a veterinary specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

What Causes IVDD in Dogs?

IVDD is caused by degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs. These changes include thinning of the cartilage and loss of fluid from the disc. There are many things that can trigger IVDD, including injury, age, genetics, and obesity. 

While it is most common in older dogs, it can occur at any age. In fact, some breeds are more likely to develop IVDD than others. IVDD is specifically caused by the hardening of the cushioning discs between the spinal column’s vertebrae, which serve as the shock absorbers. 

Depending on the severity, they may harden so much that they can no longer properly function as a cushion for the spinal vertebrae. This hardening may also cause the discs to protrude and press onto the spinal cord, damaging the nerve impulses and leading to impaired bowel and bladder control.

Another cause of IVDD is injury. During strenuous physical activities, a bad landing may cause a cushioning disc to burst open or rupture, consequently pressing into the nerves that go through the spinal cord. This is often very painful for the dog and causes nerve damage or the possibility of paralysis.

Which Breeds Are Most Likely to Get IVDD?

Specific breeds have a higher likelihood of getting IVDD because of Chondrodystrophy, a skeletal disorder that affects the development of their cartilage. In these breeds, the disease typically develops from the ages of three to six. 

Breeds that are Chondrodystrophic, and more susceptible to IVDD, are:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Bulldogs
  • Corgis
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Pekingese
  • Poodles
  • Shih Tzus
  • Chihuahuas
  • Jack Russel Terrier
  • Bichon Frisé
  • Maltese

Of these breeds, Dachshunds are the most common breed to develop the disease, making up 45 to 70% of IVDD cases. They are also prone to other conditions like and is more common in hip dysplasia which can present with similar symptoms. Non Chondrodystrophic breeds that are also prone to IVDD include Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds.

Regardless of breed, overweight dogs also tend to get IVDD. Male and female dogs have similar likelihoods of getting the disease and isn’t more common in either sex. However, it is rarely diagnosed in larger dog breeds (relative to smaller breeds) and is also commonly diagnosed in mixed breeds. Regardless of sex and breed, IVDD almost never occurs in dogs under the age of two.

What Are the Symptoms of IVDD in Dogs?

Symptoms of intervertebral disc diseases include back pain, stiffness, lameness, decreased mobility, difficulty walking, and even paralysis.

Dogs suffering from IVDD are commonly diagnosed based on symptoms such as neck stiffness, difficulty moving around, and loss of appetite. However, many dogs do not show signs of discomfort until the later stages of the disease.

If left untreated, it can cause paralysis in the hind legs. Early intervention is important to prevent future damage to the spine, as IVDD can lead to spinal cord compression. Spinal cord compression is a medical emergency.

IVDD is classified based on the type of disc herniation. Below are the classifications:

  1. Hansen type-I Disc Disease – Also known as Nucleus Pulposus Degeneration and Extrusion. This is particularly common amongst smaller dog breeds that are two years old and above. Clinical signs are generally acute but can still vary, and directly affect the veterinarian’s prognosis. Type-I is usually characterised as a ‘herniation’ or ‘extrusion’ of the intervertebral disc’s inner contents. The structure of the intervertebral disc is often compared to a ‘jam doughnut’.

    A normal, disease-free disc is squidgy and compressible, which allows the flexing, extension, and twisting of the vertebral column. In discs affected by IVDD the Nucleus Pulposus (usually referred to as the ‘jam’) turns hard and becomes incompressible, which causes intolerable pain on the disc during normal movements (particularly twisting motions), and eventually causes a tear or rupture in the ‘doughnut’ and causing the ‘jam’ to burst or ooze out. Clinical signs vary from pain all the way to paralysis

  1. Hansen type-II Disc Disease – Also known as Annulus Fibrosis Degeneration and Protrusion. It is similar to disc disease in humans and develops in non-Chondrodystrophic dogs. Rather than the extrusion of the disc’s centre, a protrusion of the annulus (the outer portion of the disc) occurs. In some cases, the annulus is torn and fragments are extruded onto the spinal canal, consequently compressing the spinal cord.

    Clinical signs are similar to Hansen type-I. Dogs will usually manifest acute symptoms, but in some cases, they develop progressively and aggressively. Dogs whose symptoms rapidly progress will develop a reluctance to do physical activities such as exercising and basic movements such as jumping or climbing stairs. These dogs may also seem very stiff or develop a hunched back.

  1. Hansen type-III Disc Disease – Also known as Acute Non-Compressive/ High-Velocity Low Volume Disc Disease. This is characterised by an almost immediate manifestation of IVDD, usually from physical trauma or heavy exercise, causing the explosion of a normal nucleus from the instantaneous rupture in the annulus. Unlike the previous classifications, An ongoing compression does not occur from the injury to the spinal cord.

    Clinical signs include pain, difficulty walking, poor control over the movement of the hind limbs, and paralysis. In very severe cases, the dog may develop Myelomalacia, which is the softening and death of the spinal cord.

Your veterinarian needs to know about your dog’s history of IVDD. They may recommend imaging tests such as x-rays and MRI scans.

What Are the Stages of IVDD in Dogs? 

Below is a table showing the Clinical Grading Scale for Thoracolumbar Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).

GRADEDESCRIPTION% OF DOGS THAT RECOVER WITHOUT SURGERY% OF DOGS THAT RECOVER WITH SURGERY
1Painful, but able to walk normally or almost normally70-100%About 95%
2Able to walk. The walk is wobbly or ataxic (“drunken sailor” type walking)55-100%About 95%
3aUnable to walk or stand unassisted. Can bear weight on affected legs, even if the body is supported.55-80%80-90%
Recovery times vary. Dogs typically walk within 1-3 weeks, though some take two months or more
3bCannot make any deliberate movements with the affected legs55-80%80-90%
Recovery times vary. Dogs typically walk within 1-3 weeks, though some take two months or more
4aCannot make any deliberate movements with the affected legs40-50%80-90%
Recovery times vary. Dogs typically walk within 1-3 weeks, though some take two months or more
4bCannot make any deliberate movements with the affected legs plus no superficial pain in toes of affected legs40-50%80-90%
Recovery times vary. Dogs typically walk within 1-3 weeks, though some take two months or more
5Cannot make any deliberate movements with the affected legs plus no deep pain in toes of affected legsOnly up to about 30% of these dogs walk again without surgery.About 50-60%
Recovery can take up to 9 months or more, though most “successful” dogs walk within 6-12 weeks
Dogs of all grades (1-5) are painful around the affected area of their spine

How Is IVDD Diagnosed in Dogs?

Diagnosis of IVDD in dogs is usually based on physical examination and radiographs, including x-rays or MRI scans. Early diagnosis is essential to achieve good outcomes.

Your vet will perform a thorough examination and diagnosis, looking for signs of pain, stiffness, loss of mobility, and muscle atrophy. They will look closely at your dog’s neck, shoulders, hips, and hind legs. 

Diagnostic imaging studies like X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, blood work and urinalysis, are used to help identify a potential diagnosis. Physical exams including gait analysis, palpation of joints, neurological testing, and radiography of the spine may also be performed. 

Your vet will recommend one or more treatment options based on what is discovered during the evaluation process. Surgery for severe IVDD is most successful if carried out within 24 hours of symptom onset, so it’s important to make a vet appointment ASAP for any symptoms. 

What Is the Treatment for IVDD in Dogs?

IVDD in dogs is treatable but requires prompt treatment such as surgery, medication, rehabilitation, and lifestyle changes. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of symptoms and the underlying cause. Your vet will recommend a course of treatment before deciding whether surgery is necessary. 

Non-Surgical Treatments for IVDD

If you notice signs of intervertebral disc disease early enough, it is possible to treat it successfully without resorting to invasive surgeries such as spinal fusion. This minimises the risk of complications and improves recovery times.

The first course of treatment is typically rest or exercise limitation, along with a course of steroids to see if it improves the dog’s condition. 

Crate Rest – This is essential for those trying to relieve their dog of its IVDD symptoms without undergoing surgery. The dog must be confined strictly within a small crate or room for at least four weeks. This allows the dog’s body to recover and repair the damage. This treatment method requires enormous patience and may not work for everybody, so it’s best to follow your vet’s advice regarding crate rest.

Diet & Weight Loss – This will require a visit to your veterinarian as they will calculate the amount of calories your dog needs to maintain a certain weight and prevent added pressure to its spine. The calculation is precise and should be complemented with a stringent feeding routine.

Physical Therapy – Vets will often recommend a physical therapist if you are opting for a non-surgical approach to your dog’s IVDD. The physical therapist will recommend a treatment plan that will often include a combination of home and professional treatments. Rehabilitation is an effective treatment method for dogs suffering from mild to moderate cases of IVDD, including those currently recovering post surgery.

Medication – Medications can help manage pain and inflammation from IVDD. For example, anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce swelling around the affected area. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are commonly prescribed. Pain relievers can provide short-term relief. 

There are many different kinds of steroid and anti-inflammatory medications available, each with its specific benefits and risks. Some vets prefer one over another, depending on the dog’s overall health. Others use multiple forms of treatment.

Braces – A back brace can also be useful to support a dog’s IVDD recovery by helping to limit movement & stabilise the spine. 

IVDD Surgery for Dogs

IVDD surgeries include hemilaminectomy, laminectomy, fenestration, ventral slot or vertebral stabilisation (fusion). IVDD surgery aims to remove damaged disc material, helping to reduce spinal cord pressure, restore blood flow and prevent future complications.

Surgery is considered the best option for dogs that don’t respond to conservative treatments. Your veterinarian will determine whether or how much surgery is necessary based on diagnostic tests and examination findings. 

A surgical procedure called fenestration may help reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Fenestration involves opening up the space where the disc once sat to allow fluid to drain out of the area. This allows the body to heal faster and reduces the chances of further deterioration.

Fenestration is done to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and reduce inflammation. While fenestration does not cure IVDD, it can help ease symptoms and improve mobility. Your veterinarian will discuss all options including fenestration with you before making any decision about treatment.

How Much Does IVDD Surgery Cost in Australia?

IVDD surgery requires referral to a specialist clinic, so the cost can range up to $10,000. Factors which affect the cost of IVDD surgery include your region, the dog’s age, and the extent of the problem. Prices depend on the number of discs involved, the complexity of the case, and the surgical practice itself.

What Is the Success Rate of IVDD Surgery? 

Most dogs recover fully after surgery, but prognosis depends on what stage of IVDD your dog is suffering from. For IVDD grades 1-4, dogs have a 90% chance of recovery, but for severe or grade 5 IVDD, this reduces to a 50% to 60% recovery rate if operated on immediately. 

If surgery isn’t successful, dogs may gain more mobility using a wheelchair. If you think your dog needs IVDD surgery, talk to your veterinarian about your options. They can review your pet’s medical history and perform diagnostic tests to determine if a specific course of action makes sense.

Can a Dog Recover From IVDD?

Surgery is usually required to treat IVDD because it cannot be treated without invasive procedures. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine found that dogs undergoing IVDD surgery had better long-term clinical outcomes than those receiving conservative treatments alone.

Can a Dog Recover From IVDD Without Surgery?

A dog can recover from IVDD without surgery, but it will require a long, strict recovery plan. Depending on the severity of your dog’s IVDD, your vet may recommend a non-surgical process moving forward.

Surgery is often recommended for IVDD, but some owners are concerned about the risks associated with surgery, including anaesthesia, infection, blood loss, and potential side effects. Others worry about the cost of surgery and recovery.

If you decide to go ahead with surgery, make sure you discuss your options with your local veterinary surgeon

How Can IVDD Be Prevented in Dogs? 

A dog owner can do several things to prevent or minimise the risk of IVDD for their best friend. All these revolve around taking extra preventive measures for the dog’s physical activities. 

Below are the most common preventionary methods:

  1. Let your dog wear a harness during walks to reduce the stress on its neck when using a neck leash. A good harness is one that equally distributes weight across the torso and away from the neck area.
  2. High-risk dog breeds (Chondrodystrophic) such as Daschunds should be supported when being picked up. When picking up long-bodied dogs, remember to do so only when your arm is supporting the entirety of their body from below. Avoid picking these dog breeds up from their front legs or with their body dangling, as it puts stress on their back.
  3. Make sure they maintain a healthy weight to prevent neck and back stress, especially for Chondrodystrophic breeds.
  4. Consider using a back brace for your dog.
  5. Minimise jumping activities like jumping onto furniture or climbing stairs unnecessarily.

Related Questions 

How Can You Prevent IVDD in Dachshunds? 

Controlling your pet Dachshund’s physical activity is arguably the best way to prevent IVDD, as this makes sure that they don’t engage in anything that would put undue pressure and stress on their neck and back. 

This includes running too fast, jumping excessively, and anything that puts particularly excessive force onto its spine.

What Is the Life Expectancy of a Dog With IVDD?

A dog with a mild to moderate case of IVDD can actually live up to its natural life expectancy, provided that it is being given constant and special care, and its physical activities monitored and controlled. 

A dog with an IVDD can live as long as one that does not have the disease so long as further degeneration of the disease is prevented or mitigated.

Should I Consider Euthanasia for My Dog With IVDD?

If your dog is affected by a severe case of IVDD, is in excruciating pain, whose quality of life is terrible and veterinarians have found no appropriate, effective treatments available, then euthanasia can be considered. 

However, keep in mind that IVDD does not automatically mean that your dog is hopeless and should be euthanised. It should only be a last resort and never belong in a list of options from the get go.

Disclaimer:

This article is published in good faith, for general informational and educational purposes only. Paws and More Vet Centre does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. This article should not be used as a substitute for veterinary advice, including for diagnosis or treatment of a pet’s medical condition. Always consult a veterinary professional before making decisions on your pet’s health. 

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