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IVDD Surgery in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

IVDD Surgery in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

IVDD is a degenerative disease that can impact your dog's spinal cord and causes a variety of painful mobility issues. Today our Plains vets explain the causes and treatments for IVDD in dogs.

Intervertebral Disk Disease - IVDD

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) in dogs is a painful condition that can also be described as a ruptured, slipped, bulging, or herniated disk. This condition is most commonly seen in breeds with longer spines such as beagles, dachshunds, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, basset hounds, or American cocker spaniels, but can still occur in dogs of any breed.

This condition will likely require surgery to be repaired 

Causes of IVDD in Dogs

IVDD is an age-related, gradual degenerative process that affects the spinal cord of the dog over time, often undetected. Even with yearly wellness exams, your vet may not detect any signs of IVDD until your dog's hardened disk or disks become ruptured and painful symptoms become apparent. If your dog has IVDD something as simple as an everyday jump up onto the sofa could damage a disk that has been weakened by the condition and trigger acute and painful symptoms.

IVDD occurs when the shock-absorbing disks between your dog's vertebrae gradually begin to harden until they are unable to cushion the vertebrae properly. The hardened disks will typically go on to bulge and compress the spinal cord, often damaging the dog's nerve impulses such as those that control bladder and bowel control. In other cases, a simple jump or poor landing can lead one or more of the hardened disks to burst and press into the nerves of the dog's spinal cord causing pain, possible nerve damage, or even paralysis.

Symptoms of IVDD in Dogs

IVDD can develop in any of the disks in your dog's spine and symptoms of this condition will depend upon which part of the spine is affected, and how severe the damage is. Symptoms of IVDD can come on gradually but are equally likely to appear suddenly. If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms seek veterinary care as soon as possible. IVDD can be very painful for dogs and early treatment is essential for preventing the condition from becoming more severe or causing irreversible damage to your dog's spine.

Signs Your Dog May Have Cervical IVDD - Neck

Cervical IVDD occurs in the disks of the dog's neck. If you may notice one or more of the following symptoms, which can affect the whole body and range from mild to very severe contact your vet for immediate advice, or visit your closest animal emergency hospital for veterinary care:

  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of all 4 paws
  • Inability to support own weight
  • Inability to stand
  • Inability to feel all 4 feet and legs
  • Head held low
  • Arching back
  • Shivering or crying
  • Reluctance to move
  • Unsteadiness in all 4 legs

Signs Your Dog May Have Thoracolumbar IVDD - Middle Back

Dogs with Thoracolumbar IVDD have a damaged disk causing issues in their back region and may display one or more of the following symptoms. Symptoms of Thoracolumbar IVDD mainly affect the mid to back portion of the dog's body and can range from mild to very severe:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Tense belly
  • Weakness in hind legs
  • Crossing back legs when walking
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of back paws, or dragging rear legs
  • Inability to support their own weight
  • Unable to move or feel back legs

Signs Your Dog May Have Lumbosacral IVDD - Lower Back

If your dog is suffering from lumbosacral IVDD the problematic disk or disks are located in your dog's lower back region. Symptoms of lumbosacral IVDD typically affect the very back of the dog's body and may range from mild to very severe:

  • Limp tail
  • Pain and/or difficulty jumping
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Dilated anus

Diagnosing Dogs with IVDD

Immediate veterinary care is required if your dog begins showing any of the above symptoms. Tests for diagnosing IVDD in dogs typically include standard X-rays, a neurological exam, and/or MRI to help locate the disk or disks causing your dog's symptoms.

Treatment for IVDD in Dogs

Treatment for IVDD needs to begin as early as possible to achieve the best possible treatment outcomes. That's why we recommend taking your dog to the vet for a full examination if you spot signs of IVDD in your dog. Delays in treatment could lead to irreversible damage.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications For IVDD in Dogs

It is common for dog owners to inquire whether their dog can recover from IVDD without surgery. If your dog is diagnosed early with a mild to moderate IVDD injury, your vet may try treatment with steroid and anti-inflammatory medications (to help reduce pain and swelling), combined with strict crate rest for approximately 4 - 8 weeks.

Surgery to Treat Dogs with IVDD

Surgery is typically recommended for dogs suffering from IVDD where rest and medication are not sufficient to reduce pain and other symptoms. During surgery, your dog's veterinary surgeon will remove the hardened disk material which is pressing on your dog's spinal cord and causing the IVDD symptoms.

Surgery outcomes are most successful in dogs that have not lost their ability to walk. If your dog's surgery is not successful in returning your pet to normal mobility, a dog wheelchair can help your canine companion to enjoy a happy and active life while living with IVDD.

Recovery from IVDD surgery requires 6 - 8 weeks of restricted activity. Running, climbing stairs, playing with other dogs, or jumping on furniture need to be prevented to avoid further damage as your dog's spine heals.

Physical Rehabilitation for Dogs

Following surgery, your veterinarian may also recommend physical rehabilitation (physical therapy) for your dog to work on muscle strengthening and to help get your pet moving comfortably again.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your canine companion has been diagnosed with IVDD and requires surgery or advanced care, speak to your primary care vet about a referral to the Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital. Contact our Plains vets for more information.

From Happy Pet Owners

  • Dr. Runde, the Internal Medicine doctor and the staff are amazing! They are both caring and professional. My dog has liver disease and I couldn't have made a better decision for his ongoing care. I would definitely recommend Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital!
    Kim P.

(570) 208-8844