IVDD is the degeneration and protrusion or extrusion of disc material into the vertebral canal, causing compression and damage to the spinal cord, leading to a variety of clinical signs ranging from pain to paralysis. Sometimes, mild compression of the spinal cord due to IVDD can lead to vague clinical signs in your dog, such as decrease in appetite, unwillingness to jump on/off furniture or climb the stairs, inability to settle and sleep comfortably. A lot of owners also mistake back pain with abdominal discomfort as well as many of dogs walk around with a hunched posture, looking as if the abdomen is uncomfortable.
Although Dachshunds are commonly affected by IVDD, other chondrodystrophic breeds (breeds with long backs and short legs) such as Beagles, Pekingese, Basset hounds are also predisposed to IVDD. Uncommonly, non-chondrodystrophic breeds like German shepherds and Labradors have been diagnosed with IVDD as well.
When you suspect your dog might be suffering from IVDD, a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian is essential. When the site of disc extrusion or protrusion is palpated on the physical exam, pain is usually elicited. Neurologic deficits are also usually noted on the physical exam. Additional diagnostics such as spinal x-rays, MRI/CT, or myelogram might be recommended to confirm diagnosis and treatment planning.
In general, when treating IVDD, two main options are available: conservative medical management and surgery. Whether medical management or surgery is more appropriate for your dog affected by IVDD would depend on the severity of the neurologic deficits. For dogs with rapid decline in neurologic status (for example, your dog is walking this morning and when you returned home at night, she is dragging her hind limbs behind her), surgery is usually recommended. However, it should be noted that if the ability to feel deep pain in a dog affected by IVDD is gone, the prognosis for return of motor function is very poor even after surgery. On the other hand, if the ability to feel deep pain is still present when surgery is performed by a skilled surgeon or neurologist, the prognosis for the return of full motor function is good. It is important to know that the recovery period post-surgery can be fairly long, ranging from a few days to a few weeks before your dog can fully recover.
In terms of conservative medical management, strict cage rest for four to six weeks is usually recommended. During this time, you must monitor for any worsening of neurologic signs. Other adjunct therapy can include pain medications, steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and muscle relaxants. Acupuncture has also been widely used in dogs affected by IVDD, either as part of therapy post-surgery or as part of pain management during conservative medical management.
Please consult your family veterinarian if you are concerned that your dog might be suffering from IVDD.
AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, surgery, emergency and critical care, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and blood bank services for pets. They are located in Longmont at 104 S. Main St. For more information, go to www.AspenMeadowVet.com.