I wanted to share some information with you about Intervertebral Disk Disease in dogs. The disease can occur in cats, but it is more common in dogs. I recently attended a lecture on this topic and wanted to summarize some key points for you. First, this disease is most common in dog breeds that have long backs. Namely, Daschshunds but also Beagles, Corgis, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and others. These breeds have a genetic predisposition to developing disk herniation, but it can also occur after trauma such as a car accident. Disk herniation is literally movement of the intervertebral disk into the space normally occupied by the spinal cord. The disk normally serves as a cushion between the vertebrae, but it can move upwards and impinge on the spinal cord with this disease. When the disk herniates in the mid to lower back it can cause paralysis and/or the inability to properly urinate and defecate. If the disk herniates in the neck, it can cause neck pain, lameness in a front leg, or even paralysis of all four limbs. The herniation can occur suddenly, or can happen slowly over a long period of time. Definitive diagnosis frequently requires specialized imaging.
The key point to remember is that if your dog is experiencing neck or back pain, this can be a significant medical problem. Furthermore, if your pet is losing the ability to move his or her legs or is paralyzed, this is a medical emergency. This condition is one of the few that I have experienced dogs’ vocalizing in pain. Besides vocalization, dogs will demonstrate pain when certain spots on the back or neck are touched, they sometimes cannot feel sensations such as pinching of the toes, and they can experience wobbling of the limbs, crossing the feet, or the inability to stand. With paralysis comes the question of whether or not to move forward with back surgery. This can be an expensive proposition and the cost alone is frequently the determining factor in the pet’s treatment. If you are worried about this disease or suspect that your dog may be predisposed, please consider purchasing a pet insurance policy. I have met many beloved family pets who’s treatment decision would have been different if an insurance policy had been in place. Keep in mind that your vet will work with any pet insurance company you choose. Please ask your vet if you would like to learn more.
Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care (WCVC)