Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) is a condition which mainly affects breeds of dogs that are predisposed to disk degeneration. Trauma to intervertebral disks can occur in any dog but is seen most often in Dachshunds. Other breeds at risk include the Basset Hound, Pekingese, French bulldog, Beagle, Cocker Spaniel, Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso.
The onset of IVDD occurs when the intervertebral disks that sit between the vertebrae on a dog’s spine become damaged. These disks function to absorb shock and forces on the spine. When trauma occurs, they become less able to withstand forces placed on the spine during activities like jumping and running up stairs. Excessive force placed on the spine can cause the disks to expand and/or rupture, which can be extremely painful for the animal and can cause permanent damage to the spinal cord.
Signs that your dog is experiencing disk trauma may be an arching of the back due to the intense pain of a ruptured disk. If a disk in the neck is damaged, your dog may not want to turn his head and may even refuse to eat or drink. In some cases, dogs will shiver and walk stiffly. A severe rupturing of a disk can cause paralysis, and it is imperative that if your dog is experiencing this, you seek veterinary care immediately.
If your dog displays symptoms of IVDD, crate him to restrict his movement and prevent further injury while transporting him to your veterinarian. If for any reason you cannot get to a vet, continue to crate your dog and only take him out to go potty as needed. Keep in mind that his condition may worsen as time passes before he receives proper care, so it is best to act quickly.
Treatment for IVDD varies greatly and can involve anything from cage rest and medications to surgery. Recovery depends on the degree of injury and location. Most often if the dog’s legs are functioning after the injury, the chances that he will to return to normal are good.
If you own or plan to own one of the breeds of dogs that are prone to IVDD, there are a few things you can do to lower the risk. One is to buy a dog from a reputable breeder who owns dogs that do not exhibit signs of the disease. The second thing you can do is to keep your dog from becoming overweight. More weight leads to extra strain on the spine. Third, discourage bounding up the stairs and jumping on and off objects such as furniture. Finally, if you have to carry your dog, make sure to pick him up properly by placing one hand under his chest and the other under his rear.
Although symptoms typically arise between ages 3 and 6, IVDD can present itself at any time in a dog’s life. The best thing you can do is to try to prevent the onset of this painful and sometimes disabling disease and never hesitate to seek the advice and care of your veterinarian.