Dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Beagle on couch

A herniated disc in the spine is referred to as intervertebral disc disease. Any dog can get IVDD, which is often referred to as a "slipped disc," just like people can. Dogs that have this illness may experience severe discomfort and perhaps paralysis. Although there is no way to prevent it, you can lessen the risk and know how to care for your injured dog. It may be caused by a spinal injury or another problem.

What Is Intervertebral Disc Disease?

The spinal cord of a dog develops intervertebral disc disease as it ages. Discs divide the vertebrae, the bones of the spine. The discs between the vertebrae serve as cushions, absorbing trauma and safeguarding the spinal cord.

The spinal cord may be harmed if one of these discs is inflamed, displaced, enlarged, stiffened, or ruptures. Consider the disc to be a jelly donut (but with harder materials). It might become damaged and the jelly could leak out. The debris within a ruptured disc may compress the spinal cord, resulting in excruciating back pain and strange nerve conduction. To enhance stability, the nearby muscles could tense up.

The type of neurological issues caused will depend on the location in the back where the spinal cord is injured. IVDD can occur in the neck (cervical), upper back, mid-back, lumbar area, and tail.

Symptoms of IVDD in Dogs

IVDD can cause a variety of symptoms, including mild to severe discomfort and partial or total paralysis. The precise location of the disc herniation or rupture will determine the signs.

IVDD may be a persistent problem that becomes worse over time. Alternately, it may be a serious issue that needs urgent attention. You should seek out an emergency veterinarian right away if your dog is suddenly dragging a limb or unable to walk properly. Rapid treatment of acute IVDD is necessary to prevent lifelong paralysis of all four limbs.


  • Lameness or drunken gait (ataxia)
  • Stepping on the wrong side of the paw
  • Dragging one or more limbs
  • Tucked abdomen/hunched back
  • Lowered head and/or difficulty turning the head
  • Inability to move or stand
  • Trembling
  • Sensitive to touch/painful in back
  • Incontinence

Lameness or Drunken Gait (Ataxia)

Ataxia is a relatively benign ailment if it affects your dog. Exaggerated and crossed-legged walking will be apparent. However, if the lasts for a few weeks, it can mean that the illness is quickly getting worse.

Stepping on the Wrong Side of Paws

Because of the spinal compression, your dog may attempt to walk on the opposite side of its feet, which means that its feet are turned around. Typically, the back limbs will be affected first.

Dragging Limbs

The dog may seem perfectly functional in the front limbs but be unsteady in the rear limbs if the damaged disc(s) are in the lower back/lumbar area. The dog can eventually begin to drag its hind limbs.

Tucked Abdomen/Hunched Back

A constricted belly, a bent back, and unsteady gait are three signs that typically indicate IVDD in dogs. (A tight stomach and a hunched back alone might indicate gastrointestinal or abdominal distress in the dog.)

Lowered Head and/or Difficulty Turning the Head

Your dog may develop cervical IVDD if the afflicted disc or discs are in the neck. Initial symptoms of cervical IVDD may be limited to discomfort and difficulty moving the head and neck. Or, as a means of obtaining some relaxation, your dog can keep its head down.

Inability to Move or Stand

The inability to move indicates a serious ailment and most likely a cervical issue. All four legs are impacted when a neck-region disc ruptures. However, it is a sign that your dog still has sensation if it can feel the agony of a firm squeeze to the toes and responds accordingly with a yelp or attempt to bite. There may be paralysis and no pain perception in the dog's limbs if a strong pinch causes no reaction or only a minor twitch.


When a dog trembles or shakes, it is a good indication that it is in pain due to IVDD.

Sensitive to Touch/Painful Back

A dog with IVDD will have increased sensitivity when its back is touched, even gently.


Inability to control urination and/or defecation may mean that your dog is suffering from a disc problem in the lower back region.

Causes of IVDD

IVDD frequently runs in families. Small to medium-sized dogs with short limbs and lengthened backs, such dachshunds, shih tzus, Pekingese, Lhasa apsos, and beagles, are most likely to get it. Any breed can be impacted, although tiny dog breeds appear to have a little tendency.

IVDD may result after an injury. Genetically predisposed dogs are more prone to get IVDD after suffering an accident, such as a tumble. Just by jumping "the wrong way," some dogs with the underlying condition might cause an acute disc herniation or rupture.

Diagnosing IVDD in Dogs

It is crucial to take your dog to the doctor as soon as possible if it exhibits any IVDD symptoms. Your veterinarian will start by taking a complete medical history and inquiring about your lifestyle, previous medical conditions, and present symptoms. Your veterinarian will then do a thorough physical examination.

This procedure will include a neurological examination. The veterinarian will examine the animal's motor skills, reflexes, reaction to manipulation of the limbs and feet, and ability to stand and plant the feet correctly. Depending on the severity of the dog's symptoms, the veterinarian will also see the dog walk (or attempt to walk).


If IVDD is suspected, the next step is to determine the severity.

Treatment for mild IVDD:

  • If the signs are mild and the dog has not lost motor function, then the vet may initially treat with anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxants, and rest.
  • It is essential that your dog rests for the time the vet recommends. This means staying in a crate or small room, no walks, no running, and absolutely no jumping.
  • Short leash walks are allowed only for urination and defecation. This gives the area a chance to heal.
  • Follow-up exams can help determine if this is acute or chronic IVDD.

Treatment for advanced IVDD:

  • If the dog's motor function is seriously impaired, then advanced diagnostics will be recommended. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary neurologist or veterinary surgeon for this step.
  • A spinal MRI (if available) will be done while your dog is under anesthesia.
  • Some vets will instead perform a myelogram (radioopaque dye is injected into the area around the spinal cord and radiographs (X-rays) are taken to locate the site of the disc rupture.
  • MRI and radiographs can rule out other issues like tumors and . A CSF tap will likely be done as well to collect cerebrospinal fluid and test for inflammation.

Surgery can be required if the testing indicates IVDD. Since your dog will already be unconscious throughout the tests and diagnosis, this is frequently stated up front. Fortunately, diagnostic imaging can pinpoint the precise location of the disc damage. The veterinarian will then be able to perform the necessary surgery with precision.

In order to access the vertebrae, surgeons doing spinal surgery must cut through skin and muscle. The disc material that is crushing the spinal cord is then removed by the surgeon after drilling through the bone. Typically, the operation takes one to three hours.

Typically, patients stay in the hospital for three to seven days while the veterinarian keeps an eye on their rehabilitation. While some canines improve right away, others take longer.

Prognosis for Dogs With IVDD

Even while the majority of dogs heal well after surgery, some may still have some residual disability. Only a small percentage of dogs lose the ability to use their limbs again. The severity of the illness and the particular dog will determine the prognosis. In many cases, pain after surgery is not as bad as it was beforehand. Veterinarians, however, will manage surgical pain with a variety of painkillers.

After two weeks, the back sutures can be taken out, at which point many dogs can walk, if somewhat stumbling. Similar to those recovering from spinal surgery, a full recovery may take many months. For many patients, doing physical therapy at home or at a facility run by professionals helps speed up the process.

Another operation can be required if pain and immobility come back. Consult your veterinarian if your dog is hesitant to move or exercise, to lie down or get up, or if it shows pain when being picked up or leaping from a sofa. An IVDD back brace may be advised by your veterinarian to provide ease and stabilize your dog's back. A dog who is unable to feel pain in its legs, however, might never be able to walk again.

How to Prevent IVDD

IVDD is not entirely preventable. However, there are ways to minimize risk in predisposed dogs:

  • Being can contribute to IVDD, so keep your dog's weight under control.
  • Try to limit the ways your dog can get injured by jumping up and down off of furniture or stairs by using made for dogs.
  • Use of a can reduce the likelihood of IVDD in the neck.
  • Most importantly, make sure your dog sees the vet for . Your vet may be able to detect small changes that indicate IVDD before it gets serious. This can allow your dog to get early treatment, preventing the pain and immobility caused by IDVV later on.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.


"Degenerative Diseases Of The Spinal Column And CordVeterinary Manual", "Intervertebral Disc DiseaseAmerican College Of Veterinary Surgeons" ;