Although surgery is not the only option for dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), for many pets with this condition it can be the best option. Our Delaware County veterinarians share more about this procedure and how it can restore mobility in dogs with IVDD.
Your Dog's Intervertebral Discs
The intervertebral disc is a gelatinous inner substance surrounded by a ring of fibrous tissue. Intervertebral discs give the spine flexibility and help to cushion the load to the spine whenever your dog is doing movements such as running or jumping.
IVDD in Dogs
Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) can also be described as a ruptured, slipped, bulging or herniated disk that can occur in your dog's neck or back. This condition is often seen in Dachshunds, Beagles, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, and Basset Hounds but may occur in dogs of any size or breed.
Signs of IVDD in Dogs
The symptoms of IVDD in dogs will vary depending on the location of the damaged disc, but common signs include one or more of the following:
- Head held low
- Arched back
- Shivering and yelping
- Reluctance to move
- Unable to walk or stand normally
- Loss of feeling in some or all feet
- Limp tail
Causes of IVDD in Dogs
Intervertebral Disc Disease is an age-related, gradual degenerative process that affects the spinal cord of the dog over a period of time, often undetected.
IVDD occurs when the shock-absorbing discs between your dog's vertebrae gradually begin to harden until they are unable to cushion the vertebrae properly. The hardened discs will typically go on to bulge and compress the spinal cord, often damaging the dog's nerve impulses such as those that control bladder and bowel control. In other cases, a simple jump or poor landing can lead one or more of the hardened discs to burst and press into the nerves of the dog's spinal cord causing pain, possible nerve damage, or even paralysis.
Non-Surgical Treatment for Dogs With IVDD
If your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD but is still able to walk non-surgical treatments may be able to help your dog recover from IVDD. That said, if your dog has a severe case of IVDD and has lost their ability to walk, urgent emergency treatment is required.
Non-surgical treatment for IVDD is also called conservative treatment or management. The goals of non-surgical treatment are to help relieve pain and discomfort, to get your dog standing and walking again, and to help restore lost bladder and bowel control. Non-Surgical treatments for IVDD in dogs include:
- Strict Crate-Rest - If you are trying to reduce your dog's IVDD symptoms without surgery, adequate rest is going to be essential and is going to require patience! Your dog will need to be strictly confined to a small room or crate for at least 4 weeks in order to give their body sufficient time to try and mend the damage.
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications - Non-surgical treatment of IVDD in dogs will likely include steroid and anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce pain and swelling. These medications are used in conjunction with restricted activity and crate-rest.
- Dietary Care - Your vet will carefully calculate the precise number of calories required by your pet in order to manage weight and help to prevent added pressure on their spine.
- Physical Rehabilitation (Physical Therapy) - A rehabilitation practitioner will assess your dog's current condition and recommend a treatment plan which will include a combination of at-home treatments and professional treatment. Rehab can work wonders for pets suffering from mild-moderate cases of IVDD, as well as those recovering from surgery.
IVDD Surgery for Dogs
Surgery is considered the best and in some cases the only, treatment for severe cases of IVDD in dogs. The goal of IVDD surgery is to remove the diseased intervertebral disk material in order to relieve the pressure on your dog's spinal cord, restore normal blood flow, and prevent disc problems in the future. In order to achieve this goal, a combination of surgeries may be used to treat dogs with IVDD.
Which surgeries are used to treat your dog's IVDD will largely depend upon the location of the diseased disc. There are a number of different IVDD surgeries including hemilaminectomy, laminectomy, fenestration, and ventral slot. In some cases, a vertebral stabilization (fusion) procedure may also be recommended, especially in large breed dogs. The price of your dog's IVDD surgery depends on multiple factors including your dog's general health, age, and weight, as well as where on your dog the injury. The only way to get an accurate estimate regarding the cost of IVDD surgery for your dog is to speak to your veterinary professional.
Success Rates For Dog IVDD Surgery
Surgery is typically very successful in the majority of cases. Outcomes are most successful in dogs that have not lost their ability to walk. In dogs that have had ongoing symptoms of IVDD atrophy of the spinal cord can occur and lead to less successful outcomes.
If IVDD surgery is not successful in returning your pet to normal mobility, a dog wheelchair can help your pup to enjoy a happy and active life while living with Intervertebral Disc Disease. Recovery from IVDD surgery requires 6 - 8 weeks of restricted activity combined with appropriate medications to help with pain management and swelling. Your vet may also recommend physical rehabilitation (physical therapy for dogs) to help your pet recover.
Considering End-Of-Life Options
Distraught dog owners ask us if they should consider euthanasia if their dog has severe IVDD. This can be a difficult thing to consider, but your vet will be sure to explain the treatment options that are available and the likely outcome for each. Caring for a dog that is recovering from IVDD can be time-consuming and costly whether you opt for surgical or non-surgical treatment.
Every pet is different and your dog's prognosis will depend on a number of factors including your dog's age, the severity of the spinal injury, where on the spine the injury is located, and the length of time between symptoms appearing and treatment. Your vet will carefully and compassionately explain your dog's likelihood of recovery so that you are able to make an informed treatment decision. If you are considering euthanasia for your dog following an IVDD diagnosis, speak to your vet openly and honestly, they have been trained to help you make the best decision for you and your pet.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.