Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease is a common age-related disease of the intervertebral structures. The intervertebral disc system is comprises shock-absorbing elastic structures of discs and rings between the vertebrae of the spine. Aging of theses structures diminishes their elasticity and functionality. Wear and tear leads to structural changes and bone modulation. The disc herniates (moves out of place) pushing against the spinal cord resulting in nerve damage. The disc extrusion can be sudden (usually in long-torso breeds such as dachshund, beagle, and Pekingese) or gradual and progressive (usually in large breeds).

The main signs of the disease are severe back pain and a problem walking. Dogs are reluctant to jump or go up and down stairs. They display a tendancy to assume a "tense" position. Severe cases present neurologic problems such as instable ambulation and hind limb paralysis. Usually there is no history of trauma, but exercise and jumping may precede the episode.

The initial diagnosis is based on clinical signs, history, breed and age. Definitive diagnosis require imaging (x-rays/ with contrast study, MRI)

Mild to moderate cases are treated with anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, pain medication and confinement for several weeks. Severe cases require surgery.

Episodes of disc herniation may be a chronic problem. Some may worsen despite treatment, especially in dogs that are not properly confined. Disc disease may be catastrophic and cause permanent paralysis. Recovery and healing depend on the neurologic damage and the ability of the spine to recover from the trauma. This is also true in cases that are treated surgically.

Early intervention is critical and every dog with back pain should be brought to the veterinarian without delay.

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