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Understanding Progressive Diseases of the Spine in Dogs



As dog owners, our fur babies' health and well-being are paramount. One area of canine health that often goes overlooked is spinal health. Progressive spine diseases can significantly impact a dog's quality of life. Understanding these diseases can help us care for our furry friends better.

The Anatomy of the Canine Spine

Just like humans, a dog's spine is made up of small bones called vertebrae, interconnected by intervertebral discs. These structures play a crucial role in mobility, stability, and nervous communication.

Common Progressive Spinal Diseases in Dogs

Several diseases can affect a dog's spine.


  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD): IVDD is one of the most frequently seen spinal issues. It is a condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae either rupture (herniate) or protrude into the spinal cord space. These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, and when they herniate, they cause severe pain and inflammation. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and paralysis in more severe cases. Certain breeds, such as Dachshunds, Beagles, and Bulldogs, are more predisposed to IVDD due to their long spinal structure.

  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): DM is a slowly progressing spinal cord disorder similar to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) in humans. The disease begins with the loss of coordination in the hind limbs and eventually goes to paralysis. The affected dogs do not feel pain, distinguishing DM from other conditions such as IVDD. While it can occur in any breed, it is more common in German Shepherds, Boxers, and Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

  • Spondylosis Deformans: This condition is a degenerative type of osteoarthritis seen in the spine, typically in older dogs. Characteristics are the formation of bone spurs along the edges of the spinal bones. These bone spurs can bridge from one vertebra to another, decreasing the spine's flexibility. Dogs with this condition may not show symptoms unless the bone spurs put pressure on the spine's nerves, causing pain and discomfort.

  • Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or Wobbler Syndrome: CSM is a cervical spine disease (at the neck) commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs. CSM results in compression of the spinal cord and the nerve roots, leading to neurological conditions and neck pain. The term "wobbler" originates from the characteristic wobbly gait seen in dogs with CSM. Affected dogs may have difficulty walking or walk with their neck in a downward position. Breeds commonly affected include Dobermans and Great Danes.

Each of these diseases represents a serious condition that can significantly impact a dog's quality of life. Recognizing the signs and seeking timely veterinary intervention can help manage these conditions effectively.

How Vets Diagnose Spinal Diseases

Diagnosing spinal diseases in dogs involves a comprehensive approach. Here's a step-by-step process of how it typically unfolds:

  • Medical History: The first step in the diagnosis is obtaining a detailed medical history. The vet will ask questions about the dog's overall health, onset of symptoms, any injury or trauma, and if the dog has been showing signs of pain, difficulty walking, or changes in behaviour. This helps the vet to assess the possible causes and determine which tests may be needed.


  • Physical Examination: A physical examination can provide a lot of information about a dog's health status. The vet will observe the dog's walk, posture, and movements to detect abnormalities. They will also palpate (feel) the spine for any signs of pain, swelling, or deformity. Additionally, they will assess the dog's reflexes and pain response, which can help identify any neurological issues.


  • Neurological Examination: If the vet suspects a spinal disease, they will conduct a neurological examination - testing the dog's reflexes, muscle strength, and response to certain stimuli to identify the location of the disease along the spinal cord.


  • Diagnostic Imaging: Diagnostic imaging tools such as X-rays, CT scans (Computed Tomography), or MRI scans (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can provide detailed images of the dog's spine. Scans help identify abnormalities such as herniated discs, bone spurs, or tumours. In some cases, a myelogram is used (which involves injecting a material into the spinal column to highlight the spinal cord and nerves on X-rays.


  • Laboratory Tests: Blood tests and urinalysis are done to rule out any other underlying diseases. Occasionally, a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is conducted. CSF involves taking a sample of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord for laboratory analysis. It can help diagnose infections or inflammation in the central nervous system.

Managing a Dog's Life Post-Diagnosis

Managing a Dog's Life Post-Diagnosis

Spinal disease is distressing for both the pet and the owner. But with appropriate management and care, many dogs can still lead comfortable and fulfilling lives. Here's a look at the various aspects involved in managing a dog's life post-diagnosis:

  • Regular Veterinary Care: Regular check-ups with the vet are essential. The vet will monitor the progression of the disease and adjust treatment plans as necessary. Regular vet visits are also an opportunity to discuss concerns or questions about your dog's health and care.


  • Pain Management: Managing pain is a critical aspect of care for dogs with spinal diseases. Discuss medications to control pain and inflammation, physical therapy, or alternative therapies such as acupuncture with your vet.

  • Physical Rehabilitation: Depending on the progression of the disease, physical therapy or rehabilitation may be beneficial. PT involves exercises to help maintain muscle strength and mobility, hydrotherapy (exercise in water), or therapeutic massage.

  • Diet and Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for dogs with spinal issues. Excess weight can put more pressure on the spine and exacerbate symptoms. A balanced, nutritious diet can also support overall health and well-being.

  • Mobility Assistance: As the disease progresses, some dogs may require assistance with mobility. There are various aids available, such as harnesses, slings, or even dog wheelchairs that can help your dog move around more comfortably.

  • Comfortable Living Environment: Make sure your dog's living environment is comfortable and safe. This might involve providing orthopedic beds, placing rugs on slippery floors, or using ramps to help your dog navigate stairs.

Conclusion - Progressive Diseases of The Spine in Dogs

Caring for a dog with a progressive spinal disease can indeed be challenging. However, understanding the condition and its implications is pivotal in ensuring your canine companion lives a fulfilling life, despite the diagnosis. Regular vet check-ups, pain management, and providing a comfortable living environment are crucial aspects of their care regime.

Providing emotional support and plenty of love is always vital. This diagnosis can be confusing and stressful for a dog, and maintaining a positive, loving environment can make a significant difference in their overall well-being.

If you have questions or concerns, don't hesitate to contact our veterinary professionals – we are there to help you and your four-legged family member. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure your dog's highest possible quality of life, providing them with the same unconditional love and loyalty they offer us.

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