Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs: Types, Signs, and Treatment
Thu, October 21, 2021

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs: Types, Signs, and Treatment


IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) is a common clinical disorder that is exhibited by pain, a partial loss of limb function, paralysis, and in some occasions, a loss of feeling in the hind limbs, explained ACVIM (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine), whose mission is to enhance animal and health by advancing veterinary internal medicine via training, education, and discovery. IVDD can occur in the cervical or neck area, the middle of the back (thoraco-lumbar region), or in the lower (lumbosacral) region of the back. IVDD is often prevalent in dwarf (chondrodystrophic) breeds like Dachshund, Shih Tzu, American Cocker Spaniel, and more. However, nonchondrodystrophic breeds like the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, etc. can also be affected. Cats can have IVDD too, but such cases are rare.

DachsLife 2015: Examining Lifestyle Associations With IVDD Risk Among Dachshunds (2016)

R.M.A Packer and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC conducted an online survey called “Dachs-Life 2015” from January to April 2015, revealing that the amount of exercise their dog received as a puppy (<12 months old) were “more than five minutes per month of age”  (44.6%) and “five minutes per month of age”  (17.1%). A smaller proportion of owners exercised their puppy for “less than 5 min per month of age” (9.5%) whereas 16.9% could not remember/didn’t know. The owners self-reported their dog’s activity, stating that the canines were “moderately active” (48.8%), “highly active” (28.3%), “mildly active” (20%), and “not at all active” (2.9%). Most canines were walked on a collar and lead (64.2%), but the owners also used a harness (28.7%).

Only 0.5% of owners used a combination of collar and harness or never used either (6.5%). Of the 2,031 Dachshund, 310 had an IVDD diagnosis from their veterinary surgeon, with 113 from their first opinion veterinary surgeon, 197 from their first opinion veterinary surgeon and referral to a neurologist. The dogs were categorized as “Cases.” 56 dogs were excluded due to the uncertainty of the diagnosis, with the remaining 1,665 classified as “Non-Cases.”  The overall prevalence of IVDD was 15.7%, with the highest rate seen in the SSH (Standard Smooth Hair) (24.4%) and the lowest in SWH (Standard Wire Haired) (7.1%).

Of the 310 cases diagnosed by the veterinarian, diagnostic processes included MRI (39%), plain radiography (38.1%), myelography (13.9%), and CT (13.2%). Regarding the clinical signs, at least in 88.1% of cases, the causal disc was thought to be in the thoracolumbar region. Meanwhile, 7.7% thought that the causal disc was in the cervical region or unknown to the owner (4.2%).  The onset of IVDD-related clinical signs was less than 24 hours (41.7%), 1-3 days (32.6%), and 4-7 days (8.8%). Some cases had a more chronic onset of over one week (8.1%) or more than a month (7.2%). The severity of the clinical signs varied between canines, as 5.6% experienced pain and discomfort but had no neurological deficits. Further, 25.2% of cases were ataxic upon presentation but able to walk but 69.3% were unable to walk upon presentation.

60.1% of cases were treated surgically while 39.9% were treated with cage rest and medication only. Among dogs that had radiographs as their only diagnostic imaging modality, most were treated with cage rest and medication only (80%). Of dogs that had advanced diagnostic imaging (CT and/or MRI), 16% were treated with cage rest and medication only. Dogs that exercised for less than 30 minutes a day were found to have an increased odds of having IVDD while those that exercised for over one hour a day were at a reduced odds of IVDD. Likewise, dogs that were highly active or moderately active were less at risk of having IVDD compared to those who were not at all active.



What Are the Types of IVDD?

Type I involves the extrusion of the disc, said Dr. Kari Foss, a veterinary neurologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, cited the University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign: College of Veterinary Medicine, a graduate school. Dogs with long backs and short legs are more likely to have Type I IVDD.

Dr. Foss added, “Type I IVDD occurs when the jelly-like nucleus of the disc extrudes through the fibrous outer layer of the disc and presses on the spinal cord.” Type II refers to the protrusion of the disc and is more common in larger breeds. The nucleus gradually degenerates and hardens, preventing it from functioning as a “shock absorber.” Type II occurs when the fibrous outer layer degenerates. The inner and outer parts of the disc protrude, compressing the spinal cord. Both Type I and Type II can cause the spinal cord to be compressed and can occur in any canine.



What Are the Signs of IVDD?

Signs depend on the location and the severity of your dog’s injury. For example, one red flag of IVDD is when your pet does not want to eat. Others include a tight and tense abdomen, crying or yelping when carried or moved, and not wanting to climb up or down the stairs or to jump or go on walks. An arched back, shaking or trembling, wobbly legs, or knuckling of the paws are also something you need to take note of. In severe cases, your dog will lose function and end up dragging its hind limbs. Dogs with IVDD in the neck often hold their head low when walking, have muscle spasms in the site, and cry out when moved.



How Is IVDD Treated?

Treatment depends on the severity of the IVDD. Medical management of this condition entails following a strict 4-week movement restrictions along with medication. This plan is recommended for canines having a first episode of back pain or mild signs.  Dr. Foss commented, “Basically the patient is on full cage rest, and only taken outside, on a leash, for elimination purposes.” Oral anti-inflammatory medications are given for pain control. The objective of the activity restrictions is to give the intervertebral disc time to heal.

Surgery is usually recommended for patients that can’t walk or if your dog has recurrent or persistent back pain. Surgery decompresses the spinal card by taking out the herniated disc material. After the procedure, your dog needs to be in a cage to rest for four to six weeks to prevent further injury.

Chondrodystrophic breeds like the Dachshund are likely to develop IVDD, though larger breeds like the German Shepherd can have this condition. Dogs with IVDD need to be confined in a cage to prevent injury, allowing the intervertebral disc to heal.