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Intervertebral Disc Disease

What is intervertebral disc disease?

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition where the cushioning discs in your pet’s spine either rupture or burst into the spinal cord space, pressing on the nerves and causing severe pain and inflammation. When this happens, the disc is unable to support the weight on your pet’s spine or act as an effective shock absorber.

What are the symptoms?

Intervertebral disc disease is the most common spinal disease in dogs, but is also occasionally seen in cats. Chondrodystrophic dog breeds (characterised by their short limbs) such as Dachshunds, Beagles, Basset Hounds and Pugs are predisposed to IVDD.

Common intervertebral disc disease symptoms include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Back pain
  • Shivering
  • Unwillingness to jump
  • Pain and weakness in rear legs (lameness)
  • Crying when picked up
  • Anxious behaviour
  • Hunched back or neck
  • Reduced appetite and activity level
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Inability to walk
  • Paralysis

The diagnosis

If your vet suspects your pet might be suffering from intervertebral disc disease, they might order advanced diagnostic imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan. MRI and CT scans are often necessary before surgical correction, as they allow specialists to locate the source of the injury.

How do we treat intervertebral disc disease in dogs?

The treatment your pet requires will depend on the severity of the damage to their spinal cord. Often, your dog’s condition can be managed without surgery through conservative treatment. However, in cases of paralysis, surgery is often required.

Conservative management: Conservative management of your pet’s IVDD usually involves steroids and anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling of the cord, helping to manage your pet’s pain. Your pet will also be required to rest, which means they may need to be confined to a cage for up to six weeks.

Surgical treatment: Sometimes, disc problems in dogs require surgical correction. In these cases, emergency surgery may be needed to open up the space in their spine, which is achieved by removing a portion of the bony vertebrae over the spinal cord (laminectomy).

Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation is often recommended for dogs with IVDD, either as part of conservative care or after their surgery. This rehabilitation involves physiotherapy and sometimes hydrotherapy, aimed at reducing inflammation, managing their pain and improving their core strength.

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