Symptoms of Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Intervertebral Disk Disease

How IVDD Affects Dogs

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) can cause a number of symptoms in domestic dogs, ranging from signs of mild pain to partial or complete paralysis. Most cases fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The signs of IVDD can mimic those of acutely ruptured disks such as from trauma or otherwise, but the causes are very different. IVDD occurs more commonly in certain breeds but can occur in any breed or mix of breeds and in dogs of any age or gender. IVDD can lead to permanent nerve damage, making timely recognition and intervention extremely important.

Symptoms of IVDD

The observable signs of intervertebral disk disease can be quite variable. Owners of affected dogs may notice one or more of the following symptoms, which can be sudden, intermittent or gradual in onset:

  • Neck pain and stiffness (reluctance to move the neck and head)
  • Lowered head stance
  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Yelping unexpectedly when touched or moving
  • Abdominal tenderness or tenseness
  • Arched back (hunched posture, called “thoracolumbar kyphosis”)
  • Sensitivity to touch (possible aggression)
  • Sensitivity to movement
  • Impaired, incomplete or inappropriate urination
  • Lameness
  • Dragging one or more legs when walking
  • “Toeing over” or “knuckling over” when walking or standing
  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Stilted gait; tentative gait
  • Reluctance to rise
  • Tremors, trembling, shaking
  • Lack of coordination (“ataxia”)
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Collapse
  • Paralysis in one or more limbs

Owners often notice similar signs after their dog has engaged in strenuous physical activity or experienced acute physical trauma. An acutely ruptured disk can be caused in an otherwise normal dog by jumping off high places, jumping out of a car or off the bed of a pick-up truck, playing a rousing game of fetch or Frisbee or leaping out of an owner’s arms, among other activities. A healthy dog can also suffer acute-onset of disk damage when it has been hit by a car, attacked by another animal or experienced some other form of trauma. This type of acute traumatic injury is not the same as IVDD, although the symptoms can be very similar. IVDD involves a degenerative process and does not result merely from sudden trauma, although sudden trauma can cause rupture or herniation of an intervertebral disk in a dog whose disks already are weakened by IVDD.

Dogs At Increased Risk

Intervertebral disk disease occurs primarily in middle-aged chondrodystrophic breeds (3 to 6 years). When it occurs in nonchondrodystrophic breeds, they typically are older (8 to 10 years). “Chondrodystrophy” is a disorder of cartilage formation. “Cartilage” is a specialized, tough, gristly type of connective tissue that essentially provides a model for bone development and growth. In chondodystrophic breeds such as Dachshunds, Bulldogs and Bassett Hounds, chondrodystrophy is seen as characteristic angular limb deformities and abnormally short legs otherwise known as hereditary dwarfism. Other chondrodystrophic breeds include Beagles, Corgis, Cocker Spaniels, Pekingese, Shih-Tzus and Poodles. Nonchondrodystrophic breeds that are commonly affected by IVDD include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers. Obese dogs of predisposed breeds are especially likely to suffer from IVDD.

Disorders Similar to Intervertebral Disk Disease

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