Spondylosis in Dogs

Spondylosis is a disease of the spine that occurs when bony spur or osteophytes form on the outer edge of the spinal bones. Many dogs are asymptomatic but if the degeneration touches the nerves in that spinal region, then the dog may experience varying ranges of pain.

But pain is not the only reason to be concerned about Spondylosis: the condition can affect the mobility of the dog especially when the bony spurs connect the vertebrae of the spinal column. So, let’s examine the causes, symptoms, and prognosis of this disease in depth.

What is Spondylosis?

Disabled dog runs in wheelchair

Spondylosis, also known as Spondylosis deformans. It is a degenerative joint disease that causes degenerative disks to form bone spurs between the vertebrae of the spine. This inhibits the flexibility and range of motion for the dog, and it can also be extremely painful.

Some people like to think of Spondylosis as ‘arthritis of the spine.’ However, unlike arthritis, Spondylosis does not feature inflammation: just the abnormal bone growth in the spine.

It is more common in older dogs around or after ten years of age. At this age, the bones and joints of the dog have endured repeated stress which may cause them to degenerate and become unstable. Once this degeneration and instability occur, the dog’s body may create the bony spurs as a way of regaining some of the stability in those areas.

The problem is that these bones are abnormally formed and not part of the usual anatomy of the spinal column. For instance, some of these bones may attach or insert themselves into the bones of the neck region, and this causes neck pain.

Larger breeds of dogs are said to be more predisposed to developing Spondylosis and experts note that Boxers are particularly susceptible as compared to other dog breeds. Nevertheless, any dog breed can develop Spondylosis.

Causes of Canine Spondylosis

1. Old Age: Spondylosis in Senior Pets

Dog back brace for arthritis back pain

As previously mentioned, Spondylosis is an age-related disease. Like all bones, the spine degenerates as the dog ages because of the natural wear and stress from a lifetime of motion. The body tries to compensate for this damage to the spine by forming those bony spurs.

Older age is also associated with other spine diseases for instance intervertebral disc disease and other spinal disorders: all of which may cause a greater risk of Spondylosis.

Some believe that any dog that lives long enough will develop Spondylosis because the deterioration of the bones of the spinal column is inevitable by old age. Whatever the case, it is important to ensure that your dog ages well by providing sufficient nutrition and regular, healthy exercising.

2. Injury

A traumatic injury to the spinal column or the joints may be another cause of Spondylosis in dogs.

The injury damages the spine and, again, the body may form the bony spurs as a way to compensate for the damage.

3. Hereditary Predisposition

Some researchers mention that the genetic make-up of a dog may make him or her more prone to Spondylosis.

In this case, they say that some breeds are more likely to be carrying the genetic marker for Spondylosis. Some of these breeds are German Shepherds and Boxers, or breeds with a long back such as Dachshunds.

4. Body Weight

The body weight of a dog may influence the emergence and progression of most degenerative joint diseases including Spondylosis. This is simply because a bigger body will have more pressure being applied to the affected area, which worsens it.

Hence, weight management is often mentioned as a prevention or pain management measure for these diseases.

Signs and Symptoms of Spondylosis

Spondylosis presents with the following symptoms;

  • Stiffness
  • An uncomfortable gait or walk
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Lameness
  • Persistent back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Dog does not want back or spinal column to be touched
  • Limbs become numb or weak
  • Lack of coordination in movement

Is My Dog’s Spondylosis Painful?

Yes, spondylosis is painful. This pain comes about for different reasons. It may be that the bony spurs touch the nerves of the spinal region, the natural wear and tear of the bones are itself painful, or the bony spurs actually cause extra wear and tear when they touch the vertebrae and/or the bones of the neck.

Therefore, pain management is an important factor in getting your dog through Spondylosis.

Treatment for Spondylosis

back brace for ivdd

Also, the vet can conduct x-rays of the dog’s chest and abdomen region. In many cases, Spondylosis has been diagnosed accidentally as vets conduct x-rays for other health issues. Lastly, vets may rule our other conditions by using an MRI. CT scan, and a myelogram.

At the end of this process, you and your vet should be in a better position to come up with an ideal treatment plan for your dog’s Spondylosis. Generally, most of the cases are asymptomatic and for these dogs, no medication is necessary. Canine back support or back brace may be worn to alleviate pressure and reduce spinal pain.

In dogs that have minor symptoms, pain meds are usually recommended by the vet while for severe symptoms, pain meds, as well as surgery, may be considered.

1. Exercise and Physical Therapy

Corgi Receives Rehab Therapy

This treatment option can help the dog to regain a bit of mobility if the exercise or physical therapy is controlled.

Generally, light walking or swimming may be a non-obtrusive exercising regimen but it’s still wise to get a nod from your vet – to avoid exercising that causes further strain on the spinal column.

Exercising also helps in weight management, and as we know now, excessive weight is a burden on a dog dealing with Spondylosis.

2. Spondylosis Surgery

This surgery typically involves the removal of bony spurs that are infringing on the nervous system of the dog by damaging the tissues and nerves.

3. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a natural pain reliever with a lot of benefits to a dog with Spondylosis.

For instance, massage helps to improve joint flexibility, reduce stiffness, regain strength to the spinal column and can help to improve the posture and gait of the dog.

In short, it is a legitimate pain management option that you may consider in order to relieve your dog of some of the stress even as you calm and relax him or her. An overall good time!

4. Acupuncture

This is an alternative treatment option that works in some cases and some vets may recommend acupuncture for pain relief.

Important: Regular follow-up visits will ensure that the vet keeps an eye on the treatment plan’s effectiveness. The goal will usually be to remove the symptoms entirely or to prevent them from getting worse.

What is the Prognosis? – How long Do Dogs with Spondylosis Live?

Thankfully, Spondylosis is not a fatal disease. For dogs that do not show symptoms, the dog may likely live out the entirety of his or her life with no issues.

For those that do show symptoms, a good treatment plan may help to provide a good quality of life even with Spondylosis. Granted, the dog may experience some challenges in movement because of the reduced range of motion that Spondylosis causes.

Your vet may probably provide a more informed prognosis of your dog based on his or her condition’s progression.

Final Thoughts

Spondylosis is a detrimental disease to the dog’s mobility because it reduces the range of motion, causes stiffness, a wobbly gait, and pain. Because of the limitations in mobility, Spondylosis tends to adversely affect the quality of life for the affected dogs.

Meanwhile, has no known cure. Treatment options focus on managing the symptoms and preventing pain as best as possible.

If spondylosis treatment options are monitored, there is no reason why your dog can’t live a good life. to ensure their effectiveness in stopping some of the more severe symptoms or preventing the worsening of the symptoms.

If there’s any silver lining to this nasty disease, it is that the treatment plan may be something that brings you and your furry companion closer together and one that makes you cherish your pooch even more. For instance, massage therapy can be one activity that both provides comfort to your dog and helps you to connect with your dog in a difficult time.

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4 Comments

  1. Always eager to lean more about spondylosis, a condition unknown to me at the start of my association with my late, great, geriatric, neglected Dutch Shepherd Jiri [Year-she, that’s Czech for George] who I adopted at 14 from the North American Dutch Shepherd Rescue [NADSR]. He was put down at 17 after he continued to practice the search & rescue skills he’d perfected while being a excellently well-trained kennel dog for a decade before he was neglected there for 4 years. When we were together he made over 100 TDI therapy visits to many venues. The dog of a lifetime.

    However, when I first met him in Virginia in 2013 I immediately noticed that when he ran his back legs swung together pendulum-style. Further, he never raised his tail. Occasionally the tip would move. NADSR did not acknowledge he was a “special needs” dog until after his death. Nor did the paperwork I received from the Virginia vet nor my own vet’s opinion ever suggest what his difficulty was or what could be done about it, if anything. I learned the true nature of his condition a month or two before he was put down in May, 2016, when his acupuncture vet requested x-rays which she said disclosed the worst case of spondylosis she’d ever seen. A year or so before this he’d been taking swimming therapy and massage, which gave temporary relief.

    When he was the “hot dog” of the kennel he did schutzhund bite work, agility, and drug nose work. His devoted assistant trainer of 8 years told me that he was the fastest dog she ever saw. Then he was neglected in the kennel for almost 4 years during which time he was very picky about his food, so he always weighted around 65 -72 lbs.

    Before this article what I’ve read about spondylosis has said that it caused the dog no pain. That you say isn’t true. Jiri had so many unusual habits that I’ve used a third generation animal communicator to discover what was going on. During one session he said “I hid a lot of my condition as part of my nature – all of us dogs do it – we can’t appear weak – it’s hardwired into us.” I regret being so ignorant and unaware of his condition. Now I’d recognize those symptoms in a heartbeat. In his last months we tried a Walking Wheels wheelchair which might have worked if we’d started it sooner.

    Given my experience with the rescue and several vets, I’m annoyed not to have been better served by people who ought to have known more than I. Perhaps the desire to get rid of an old dog superseded the need to be truthful.

    • Agree, this article was good yet it makes one sad so many dogs goes through a lot of pain without getting the proper aid in time. Then again most people do what they do for the money and not the heart. Sorry to hear about your loss, was your best friend straight legged or breed bent? Our first family dog only got to be 1 year, none knew his condition he was vet inspected and all. In hindsight he tumbled and avoided some crawling and neck moves from early start but we didn´t pick up on that. It wasn’t until we noticed he had trouble standing whilst leaving his mark we realized something was wrong. His health declined rapidly around age 1 so he had to be put down, according to the vet his hip dysplasia and spondylosis and further more was nothing to do about. Most of his siblings had to go earlier due spondylosis and other conditions. Strangely they all had been vet inspected. Now our second adoptive dog (from the same kennel) faces the same destiny. She slowly been getting worse and the local vet as usual… encourage the blue shoot instead of surgery. She’s not my dog on paper and I really don’t know if surgery could aid her, on the other hand I’m very suspicious about the kennel and the veterinarian clinic. She is scheduled to leave us next friday and I honestly don’t know how we will manage without her. She’s a lovely kind and fair dog yet very sensitive, just going to the clinic makes her worried so the vet will make an house call when it’s time. Still I wonder, could surgery help her? Would it be worth all the stress and risks? Wish God preform a miracle for her, been praying hard. Hope breeders stop going for the sloping back and that we let animals breed for life and not for looks. Hope more people learn about this condition and how important it is for the dog not to be pressured to preform. They should neither be cold or wet for long periods or walk in stairs, tug/drag alot or play hard. With the right food, care, massages and physical therapy our best friends could be aided. Maybe there even should be a mandatory dog course for all dog owners just so we could learn more. Sending peace and love to everyone.

  2. This is a great article for understanding Spondylosis. Our Akita is in pain and we took her to a Veterinarian who examined her doing a blood test and X-rays the diagnosis came to be spondylosis. She on pain medication she won’t walk at all just laying down since last Friday March 7. She is peeing and pooping while lying down. She is breaking our hearts such a pathetic site. Her appetite is good but quality of life is very sad. We are hoping one of these days she will want to stand up. Are we selfish to keep her this way or start thinking on putting her down.

    • Hi Violet, I’m so sorry to hear about your dog’s diagnosis. You’re asking a tough question, it’s important to look at your dog’s quality of life and what her prognosis is. I would recommend having a discussion with your veterinarian. Have you thought about using a wheelchair to help her stand and encourage her to walk?

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