IVDD in Dogs: Causes to Prevention

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IVDD in dogs (intervertebral disc disease) has a range of symptoms, from fairly mild to very serious. On one end of the spectrum is mild pain, with paralysis on the other end, and most dogs with the diagnosis falling somewhere in between.

Causes of IVDD

IVDD is a disease that effects the spinal cord over time, but it might not be apparent until there is a trigger. Unfortunately, a dog who appears to be completely healthy one day may take a fall or jump in such a way that a disc becomes ruptured. IVDD is a degenerative (gradual) process, but a jump or fall can damage a disc that has already been weakened by IVDD and bring on an acute phase of the disease.

back brace for ivddThe disease is caused when the cushioning discs (which function like shock absorbers) between the vertebrae of the spinal column begin to harden. Eventually, they may harden to the point that they can no longer adequately cushion the spinal vertebrae.

Consequently, a forceful jump or bad landing can cause a disc (or discs) to burst and press into the nerves running through the spinal cord. This can be painful and cause nerve damage and/or eventual paralysis.

Alternatively, the hardening of the discs can eventually cause them to bulge and compress the spinal cord. This can damage the nerve impulses such that bladder and bowel control can be impaired, in addition to potentially causing paralysis.

Checklist of IVDD Symptoms

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Symptoms can emerge gradually or be intermittent or sudden. While any dog breed can experience IVDD, some breeds are more prone to the disease. Early intervention is crucial in order to minimize the possibility of permanent nerve damage. Here are some common symptoms of IVDD:

Which Breeds Are Most Susceptible?

Certain breeds are more likely to get IVDD due to a disorder of their cartilage formation called chondrodystrophic. The disease generally occurs in these breeds at age 3 to 6 years old. Typical breeds of this type include:

Nonchondrodystrophic breeds that are often affected by IVDD include:

Overweight dogs in any breed are more likely to get IVDD.

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Diagnosis and Treatment of IVDD

treatment-of-ivddA veterinary examination will generally include a neurological exam, X-rays, and/or special imaging (myelogram, CT scan, MRI) to locate the source of spinal injury. If the diagnosis reveals mild to moderate injury, treatment may include the administration of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain, with confined rest required for four to six weeks or so.

In more severe cases, surgery may be advised to open up the space around the spinal cord. Surgery has a better chance of being successful if the dog has not lost the ability to walk and if surgery is done very soon after diagnosis (within 24 hours). If a dog has already lost the ability to walk before surgery, the prognosis is not optimal.

Post-surgical physical rehabilitation is often recommended for muscle strengthening. If a surgery is not successful, a dog wheelchair is often recommended, which can give the dog a healthy, active life despite the disease.

Prevention

There are some easy and practical things a pet owner can do to minimize the risk of IVDD for their pets:

  • Keep your dog’s weight down to reduce neck and back stress, especially for breeds predisposed to the disease.
  • Use a harness when going on walks to reduce neck stress that can occur if using a neck leash.
  • Minimize jumping on/off furniture by providing ramps or steps.
  • Finally, consider a back brace to minimize risk.

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14 thoughts on “IVDD in Dogs: Causes to Prevention

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  5. After my dog was whimpering I took her to the vet – after xrays they gave me paperwork to read up on about degenerative disc disease and gave me gabapentin for pain . Is there anything I should be doing for further treatment so I can help her ?

    1. Hi Roseann,

      Work with your Vet to develop a treatment plan for your dog, and take the time to research IVDD. There is a lot of information available and it can really help you to ask the right questions when you’re speaking with your Vet. Many dogs with IVDD benefit from wearing a back brace and will use a wheelchair to help them get around. If you have any questions, please call us at 888-253-0777

  6. My dog has the same thing. My dog vet told us that is going to take some time for him to he has to stay in his create all day
    if he doesnt get better soon we will have to put him down. He is drag his feet when he is outside to go to the bathroom ,he is drink and eating just fine

    1. Hi Madison,

      It sounds like your dog still has a lot of life left in him, there are options available beyond euthanasia. I’ve heard countless stories of dog’s with IVDD who have gone on the live to happy, active lives with the help of a dog wheelchair or back brace. If you have any questions about the different options available, give us a call at 888-253-0777 we’re happy to help you.

  7. My 7 yr old chihuahua was diagnosed two weeks ago. Episodes started 7 months ago. (But misdiagnosed until now). Episodes ever 2-6 weeks. Cervical. Only symptom is left front lameness that can last anywhere from 1-24 hrs.
    Is it too late for this to heal correctly with activity restriction? We’ve been fairly strict but she moved wrong this morning and is now having an episode.

    1. I would recommend speaking with an animal rehab facility, for them to assess your dog’s condition. Depending on the severity of your dog’s case it’s possible your dog can strengthen their front leg and work to improve the overall function. Most likely, your therapist will create a treatment plan to build up your dog’s strength through a series of exercises, or even hydrotherapy and may recommend using rehab tools like the Front No-Knuckling Training Sock.

  8. Hi need advice my dog all of a sudden started limping on her left leg and now every time she stand or trys to walk she wobbles and falls I phoned vet pdsa and they said dogs leg wasn’t an emergency but I think it was so I took to emergency vet some where else they gave her the once over and said she is paralized gave medication and said I needed to go back to own vets PDSA and get tests done took my shih tzu there and they just read what the other vet had put and said they can’t help our fur baby as we need a £5000 to see a norolagist specialist .our dog is eatiñg and drinks and goes to toilet fine but we have to support her back legs with a scarf and it support her when walking her legs are in sink when she walk and walks fine vets said if there is no improvement in two weeks on medication then we will have to put her to sleep. Just wondering if anyone has had this problem with there dog and can you get a payment plan for costs of treatment for test to be done scans ext we don’t want to loose our baby she is alright in herself its just her legs that are making her poorly she is still wagging her tall and moving her head fine and we have seen her stretch her back legs out shortly if she was totally parolized she could do this because she would feel her legs I’m so confused and need as much advice as possible vet at pdsa didn’t want to know didn’t even check her over like first vet did I don’t want to loose my little dog she means everything to me and my daughter and we haven’t stopped cryingp pdsa won’t help because I’m on benefits and said its going to cost £5000 to see a mariology specialist but me and my daughter are willing to do a payment plan if we can need advice please

    1. Hi Tracey,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. This is very common, as long as your dog is is otherwise healthy there is no reason why she can’t go on to live a long and happy life. If she is getting around well with you supporting her back legs, then it sounds like she’d do very well in a wheelchair. If you need any advice, please call us at 888-253-0777, we’re happy to answer any of your questions.

  9. My shih tzu has been to the vet three times in the last week due to having a hunched back, keeping his head down, and having many episodes of yelping from the pain he is in. They have done bloodwork and xrays but haven’t been able to give me a definitive answer. We are giving him the medications they have provided to us but they are not working well enough. He continues to have pain in the afternoon/evening right before he is due for his next round of pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Is there anyone who can give me some actual useful information as to what is wrong with him. We are out of pocket $600 and don’t have a definitive answer as to what is wrong with him. I am thinking of getting him some type of strong hip and joint supplements but don’t know how effective that will be. Any useful information as to what is wrong will help.

    Thanks

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