IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease), also referred to as a herniated disc, essentially refers to the degeneration of one or more intervertebral discs. These discs may become displaced, deteriorate, rupture or protrude due to a number of factors. IVDD is one of the most common neurological disorders found in dogs.
Intervertebral Disc Disease is most commonly found in the following breeds:
Symptoms of IVDD vary; however, affected dogs may experience neck pain, neck stiffness, back pain, an arched back, sensitivity to touch or movement, improper urination, lameness, dragging of the hind legs, weakness, reluctance to climb stairs, lack of coordination and/or paralysis.
In Type I IVDD, calcification occurs in the outer layer damaging the disc and allowing it to break down. Strenuous activity, such as jumping, causes the disc to burst and the ‘gel’ found in the disc to press against the spinal cord. In Type II IVDD, the discs become hardened and break down and bulge out which results in compression against the spinal cord.
Once the nerves of the spinal cord become compressed, the nerve impulses sent to the bladder and limbs may not be able to be transmitted resulting in lack of bladder and/or bowel control and paralysis.
In order to prevent progressive damage, IVDD must be treated immediately. Your veterinarian may complete a neurological exam to identify where the spinal cord is injured.
X-rays are often not the chosen method of diagnosis as the spinal cord does not appear on an x-ray. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a type of sonogram to identify the affected area. A myelogram is often the preferred method of diagnosis. In a myelogram, a dye is placed into the spine which surrounds the spinal cord for better view. An MRI or CT scan may also be the chosen method to determine if IVDD has occurred.
Treatment ranges case-by-case dependent upon severity. If your case is not severe, the veterinarian may prescribe steroids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the swelling and reduce the pain your dog is experiencing. If this method is chosen, your dog may be on a very low activity routine to prevent further damage for approximately 4-6 weeks.
If a dog is severely affected, paralyzed or incontinent, medication alone may not be sufficient in eliminating the problem. Emergency surgery may be recommended in this case. In the surgery, several vertebrae will be removed. Following surgery, your dog may not fully recover but he is likely to experience significantly less pain.
Dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease may also often experience muscle spasms in their back. Medications such as diazepam or methocarbamol maybe recommended to relax the muscles. Your veterinarian is also likely to recommend a special diet for your dog to maintain his weight. Keeping your dog at a normal weight can help reduce the stress on the back. Ramps and steps to prevent jumping may also be recommended.