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What is IVDD?
IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease), also referred to as a herniated disc, essentially refers to the degeneration of one or more intervertebral discs. These discs may become displaced, deteriorate, rupture or protrude due to a number of factors. IVDD is one of the most common neurological disorders found in dogs.
Breeds Most Prone to Developing IVDD
Intervertebral Disc Disease is most commonly found in the following breeds:
Symptoms of IVDD
Symptoms of IVDD vary; however, affected dogs may experience neck pain, neck stiffness, back pain, an arched back, sensitivity to touch or movement, improper urination, lameness, dragging of the hind legs, weakness, reluctance to climb stairs, lack of coordination and/or paralysis.
Causes of IVDD
In Type I IVDD, calcification occurs in the outer layer damaging the disc and allowing it to break down. Strenuous activity, such as jumping, causes the disc to burst and the ‘gel’ found in the disc to press against the spinal cord. In Type II IVDD, the discs become hardened and break down and bulge out which results in compression against the spinal cord.
Once the nerves of the spinal cord become compressed, the nerve impulses sent to the bladder and limbs may not be able to be transmitted resulting in lack of bladder and/or bowel control and paralysis.
Treating Intervertebral Disc Disease
In order to prevent progressive damage, IVDD must be treated immediately. Your veterinarian will complete a neurological exams to identify where the spinal cord is injured. X-rays are often not the chosen method of diagnosis as the spinal cord does not appear on an x-ray. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a type of sonogram to identify the affected area. A myelogram is often the preferred method of diagnosis. In a myelogram, a dye is placed into the spine which surrounds the spinal cord for better view. An MRI or CT scan may also be the chosen method to determine if IVDD has occurred.
Treatment ranges case-by-case dependent upon severity. If your case is not severe, the veterinarian will prescribe steroids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the swelling and reduce the pain your dog is experiencing. If this method is chosen, your dog must be on a very low activity routine to prevent further damage for approximately 4-6 weeks.
If a dog is severely affected, paralyzed or incontinent, medication alone will not be sufficient in eliminating the problem. Emergency surgery may be recommended in this case. In the surgery, several vertebrae will be removed. Following surgery, your dog may not fully recover but he is likely to experience significantly less pain.
Dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease also often experience muscle spasms in their back.Medications such as diazepam or methocarbamol maybe recommended to relax the muscles.
Your veterinarian is also likely to recommend a special diet for your dog to maintain his weight. Keeping your dog at a normal weight will reduce the stress on the back. Ramps and steps to prevent jumping are also recommended.
Amber L. Drake, a Professional Canine Behaviorist and Adjunct Professor of Biological Science, has extensive experience in the Animal Science Field. She has worked with dogs professionally for over ten years. Her clients range from private pet parents to large canine rescue organizations. In addition to accepting clients on a regular basis, Drake serves as an Adjunct Professor at Jamestown Community College and Kaplan University. Drake has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), Educational Specialist Post-Masters, Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework at Cornell University for Pre-Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, Biochemistry at UC Berkeley, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and a number of Continuing Education courses to remain up-to-date in her field.