Your IVDD Questions Answered By a Veterinary Expert

IVDD questions answered

This article is written by Dr. Terry Fossum, DVM. Dr. Fossum is a board certified veterinary surgeon with 35 years of experience as a clinical surgeon, researcher, academic administrator, and entrepreneur.

Dr. Fossum answers the most commonly asked questions about IVDD. To better help pet parents understand their dog’s IVDD diagnosis and prepare for their dog’s recovery. So, your pet has just been diagnosed with IVDD? What does that mean and what’s next?

IVDD Question #1: What is IVDD?

IVDD is an abbreviation for intervertebral disc disease. A spinal disc is composed of two parts: a firmer outer shell called the annulus fibrosus and a gelatinous center, referred to as the nucleus pulposus. If either of these structures degenerate they can herniate into the spinal canal causing pressure and pain and even paralysis. The severity of your pet’s clinical signs depend in part on how much material extrudes into the canal and the force of the extrusion.

Herniation of the gelatinous portion of the disc (nucleus pulposus) typically occurs in small-breed dogs, particularly the chondrodystrophic breeds (e.g., dachshund, beagle, basset hound, shih tzu, Pekingese, Lhasa apso). The dachshund is by far the most commonly affected breed. The peak age in small breed dogs is 3-6 years. Herniation of the annulus fibrosus typically occurs in nonchondrodystrophic, larger breed dogs (mixed breed dogs, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Doberman pinschers, and Rottweilers). These dogs are generally over the age of 5 when they show clinical signs of disc disease. 

IVDD Question #2: How is IVDD Treated?

The term IVDD doesn’t denote the site of the lesion. Discs may protrude in the neck (cervical disc disease) or further down the spine (thoracolumbar disc disease). When the disc protrusion is in the neck primary complaints are neck pain and abnormal ambulation with all four limbs (tetraparesis, tetraplegia). Depending on the site of the herniation, affected dogs may have an arched back with a  “nose-down” posture. With thoracolumbar disc disease, historical complaints are usually related to pain or varying degrees of pelvic limb weakness or paralysis. 

While IVDD is generally not a “preventable” disease it can sometimes be treated medically, avoiding the need for surgery. Dogs with herniations in the neck region may be treated successfully nonsurgically if they exhibit mild to no neurologic deficits (i.e., mainly neck pain) and have not had repeated episodes of pain. Dogs with thoracolumbar disc disease may be treated medically if their neurologic signs are mild and do not worsen suddenly or over time.

IVDD Question#3: What Can You Expect for IVDD Recovery and Care?

If your dog shows signs consistent with mild disc disease the following will likely be recommended by your veterinarian:

  1. Strict cage confinement for 2 to 4 weeks, with or without anti-inflammatory medication. 

NOTE: The cage or crate should be of such a size that your dog can change positions but cannot walk around or jump

  1. Restrict activity to short walks to urinate/defecate, at which times you can assess your pet’s progress.
  2. Do not give anti-inflammatory drugs to your dog without concurrently confining him/her because these drugs alleviate pain and may increase your dog’s activity level which may put more pressure on the abnormal disc causing more disc material to herniate.
  3. Depending on the severity of your dog’s signs, your veterinarian may prescribe pain killers. Again, cage confinement is important.
  4. Manage your pet’s diet so that they do not gain weight (or if need be, they lose weight) 
  5. Depending on severity, your veterinarian may recommend physical rehabilitation for your pet

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