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What is Intervertebral disc disease? Prevention and hydrotherapy treatment.

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

What is Intervertebral disc disease?

This is a disease that is caused by a rupturing or hernia in a vertebral disc. Vertebral discs separate each of the vertebrae in an animal and provide a shock-absorbing effect. They help vertebrae not grind together when an animal moves. When these discs get affected, the bones come into direct contact and crush each other. There is then extensive inflammation and strong pain. What Causes Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)? There are many causes of IVDD but the most common are old age and injuries. A simple jump and landing in the wrong position can damage the intervertebral disc and compress one of the spinal nerves.

Prevention of Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) How can you prevent IVDD?

Prevention is a bit difficult, as this is a disease that comes in a dog’s genes and develops with old age. However, there are some things you can do to help keep it away as long as possible or lower the symptoms when they happen. To start, try keeping your dog as healthy as possible. Try getting a veterinarian nutritionist that will write you up a perfect nutrition plan for your dog to have all of the nutrients they need to live and grow. Make exercise a must for your dog. Get him/her used to run around outside, playing fetch, or even supporting you at your own fitness routine.

Don’t let the exercise routine wear out! As they get older, make sure you keep implementing cardio in your pup’s daily routine. All of this will improve your dog’s wellbeing and lower the probability of them developing IVDD. The healthier your dog is, the harder it will be for these genes to actually produce the proteins that can cause IVDD. Even if they do present it in a later stage in life, if they are used to fit life, the symptoms won’t be as severe as they would if exercise wasn’t a part of the routine!

Signs and Symptoms of Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).

How can I tell my dog has Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)? There are many signs that can mean there is something wrong with your dog’s spine, so keep an eye out! Many of these are signs similar to other diseases, so remember, a disease cannot be diagnosed with only symptoms. Blood tests and other lab tests must be done in order to have a correct diagnosis.

Some symptoms you might recognize are your dog showing back pain, showing something hurts when picking up, this might include weeping or crying. They might also be less energetic, depressed, shiver, or have a loss of movement in a certain part of the body.

Some signs of IVDD include:

  • Unwillingness to jump

  • Pain and weakness in rear legs (lameness)

  • Anxious behavior

  • Muscle spasms over back or neck

  • Hunched back or neck with tense muscles

  • Reduced appetite and activity level

  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control (urinary and fecal incontinence, respectively)

  • Neck pain and stiffness (reluctance to move the neck and head)

  • Lowered head stance

  • Back pain and stiffness

  • Yelping unexpectedly when touched or moving

  • Abdominal tenderness or tenseness

  • Sensitivity to touch and movement

  • Dragging one or more legs when walking

  • Stilted or tentative gait

  • Tremors, trembling, shaking

  • Lack of coordination (“ataxia”)

  • Abnormal reflexes

  • Collapse

  • Paralysis in one or more limbs

Diagnosis of Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).

How is Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) diagnosed?

IVDD diagnosis consists of a couple of tests that need to be done by veterinarians. One of the most basic tests is an x-ray of the spine, where they’ll be able to observe the deterioration of the intervertebral discs. When you visit your vet, they will most likely test your dog with basic neurological exam methods. Some of these might include folding a paw frontwards to see if they fix their position or lifting up their back legs to make them walk on their front legs. All of these are routine exams when a neurological exam is done. Another test that might be run is myelography, which is when they inject a contrast medium inside the spinal cord and are put in a CT to search for abnormalities.

Breeds at Risk of Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).

There are some breeds that are more prone to IVDD; those with legs a bit shorter than usual and longer backs. This puts more weight on the vertebrae.

These breeds are

  • dachshund,

  • Bassett hound,

  • Corgi,

  • Cocker spaniel,

  • Pekingese,

  • Bulldog,

  • Poodle,

  • Beagle.

The prognosis for dogs with IVDD.

The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease. This depends on the state the patient was in when the symptoms began to show. Dogs with paralysis have a good chance of recovering after surgery.

What treatment is available for Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)?

This depends on if your dog still has the ability to walk or not after being diagnosed with the condition. Non-surgical treatment includes re-training regarding bowel and bladder control and teaching them to stand and walk again. This also goes along with antiinflammatory meds, a change in diet, and lots of rest. There are also options for physiotherapy that will help muscle tone and precision. Surgical options are used in cases where dogs have a more severe form of the disease, and can no longer walk. The intervertebral disc that is no longer functioning, but only causing pain must be removed. This will help relieve the pressure and thus, restore normal blood flow around the area.

The kind of surgery depends on your veterinarian and the severity of the disease. The risks of this surgery are low. Valium, the liquid that is injected into the spinal cord to put your dog in the CT scan can cause small or short moments of seizure, but only while the effect passes, and your dog will be completely safe in the veterinarian’s office. They will keep a close eye on your dog’s vital signs while they wake up from the anesthesia. Your dog might have to stay a couple of nights for observation in the hospital just to make sure everything went right.

How can hydrotherapy help your Dog with IVDD?

Hydrotherapy is a form of therapy used to restore muscle function fully or partially after surgery or trauma. It can be used to treat multiple conditions, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and intervertebral disc disease.

This option is great because experts use warm water that helps stimulate circulation, thus bringing more blood to the affected area and this brings many nutrients and factors that help heal the body part. Gentle massages are another technique used in the water to help stimulate the muscles and prepare them to tone up. Water helps body movement after surgery as the body does not have to lift the same weight it usually would. It is a great way for your pup to get used to moving their body again.

What can I do if my dog does not walk again?

Sadly, there are cases that cannot be solved, and walking can’t be restored. Thanks to biomedical inventions, there is now certainly an option for these pups as well! There are wheelchairs you can get for your dog. Visit your veterinarian if this is the option you have chosen to go with after other efforts. They will help you find the best option to help your pup be as comfortable as they can!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read Hydrotherapy and How Pulse Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF) can Help your Dog

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With a range of services to meet the needs of all small animals, you would not be in a better place. Fill in the contact form to get started.


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