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If your dog has less spring in their step and seems to be dealing with back pain, it may be due to a condition called intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), commonly referred to as a herniated disc, or a slipped disc.
Unfortunately, this is a degenerative disease that can cause a host of problems for your dog and it can be costly to treat. Let’s walk through what IVDD is, what the risk factors are, and what pet parents’ treatment options may be.
IVDD affects the intervertebral discs that help protect the spinal cord.¹ These discs are made of flexible cartilage and sit between the bony vertebrae of the spinal column. Essentially, they allow your dog’s back to bend and twist comfortably and act as shock absorbers when your dog runs, jumps, and plays.
When a dog develops IVDD, their discs calcify and harden. When this happens, the discs could become displaced, deteriorate, rupture, or protrude.¹ Slipped discs in dogs can cause pain and could lead to paralysis without medical intervention.
There are two key types of IVDD, usually referred to as Hansen type I and Hansen type II.²
Hansen Type I tends to affect chondrodystrophic breeds (small dogs with long backs) including:²
With this type of IVDD, the disc can become damaged more easily and break down over time as it hardens and loses its flexibility. Strenuous activity, such as jumping, could cause the disc to burst and the “gel” found within the disc can press against the spinal cord.
With this type, the discs harden and break down more slowly. Over time, the thick fibers around the soft disc material collapse, resulting in compression against the spinal cord. This type is more common in larger dogs like:
Early signs of IVDD in dogs usually include:
As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms can show up, like:
Knowing the signs and symptoms of IVDD may be able to help you determine if your dog is developing the condition. Severe IVDD can impact a dog’s quality of life; however, there are options available to treat the disease and slow its progression, especially if you can catch it in the early stages.
Experts recommend that IVDD be treated as early as possible to avoid permanent damage and paralysis. Luckily, many vets are prepared and ready to help pets with IVDD. Here’s what typically occurs to diagnose IVDD in dogs and the typical treatment plan.
Your vet may take an X-ray to rule out other diseases that can affect your dog’s ability to walk such as bone cancer or hip dysplasia. If those results come back without indications of other disease, your vet will take steps to figure out what type of IVDD your dog may have and where the spinal cord is injured.
One test they may choose to use is a type of sonogram called a myelogram to identify the affected areas of the spinal cord.¹ A myelogram involves placing a dye onto the spine which surrounds the spinal cord to highlight the affected discs.
In addition, the vet may order an MRI or CT scan for a better understanding of which areas of the spine are affected.¹
Treatment for IVDD will depend on the severity of the disorder.² If the damage to their spine isn’t severe, your vet may prescribe steroids and anti-inflammatory medications.¹,² The goal of these medications is to reduce swelling and reduce pain. Also, IVDD can cause muscle spasms in a dog’s back, so your vet might prescribe medications such as diazepam or methocarbamol to relax the muscles.¹,²
Your vet will likely advise strict crate rest to manage the disorder along with these medications to make sure your pet’s spine can heal.
Sadly, not every dog is a good candidate for this treatment. Some dogs may need surgery to replace their discs and relieve the compression of their spine. The majority of dogs that undergo this surgery can fully recover with minimal complications.
However, dogs with very severe cases of IVDD are at risk of becoming paralyzed during the procedure.¹,² It’s recommended to discuss the pros and cons of surgery with your vet before pursuing this route.
Some cases of IVDD can be managed with lifestyle adjustments and physical therapy.² Pet parents may be advised to have their dogs do certain exercises to help them relax and help maintain a certain quality of life.
Your dog’s lifestyle may need to be adjusted to prevent further damage to their body. Expect to replace doggy dates at the park with light walks and shorter play sessions for roughly 4 – 6 weeks. Ramps and steps to get on and off furniture can also help prevent your pet from straining and hurting themselves.
The cost of treating IVDD depends on what sort of treatment your dog is getting. Like all veterinary care, the cost of care depends on where you live and the type of veterinary specialist.
The cost of IVDD surgery can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $4,000.² This cost range doesn’t include the cost of an X-ray, MRI, CT scan, or medications your vet may prescribe. Your vet may also charge you for bandages to cover your pet’s stitches, similar to bandages used for an injured paw.
Alternative methods of treatment like physical therapy, hydrotherapy, and laser therapy might also be recommended to help your dog regain their mobility and heal faster, but at an additional cost.
It should be noted that while IVDD can be treated, it can’t be cured. Pet parents could find themselves spending thousands of dollars as the disease progresses over time.
Managing a progressive disease like IVDD can be very stressful, but treatment is available to help your dog maintain a high-quality life. That’s why it could be helpful to have a dog insurance policy in your back pocket, especially if you own a breed of dog that’s prone to this disease.
A MetLife Pet policy may help offset the cost of treating IVDD so you can focus more on your furry friend rather than your wallet. Get a free quote, and learn more about how pet insurance works to see how MetLife Pet Insurance can help you take care of your beloved pet.
¹ “Disorders of the Spinal Column and Cord in Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Journal
² “What is IVDD in Dogs? Answers About Surgery, Cost & Recovery,” Broad Street Veterinary Hospital
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