What you need to know about disc disease
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a relatively common problem in dogs and rarely seen in cats. The intervertebral discs consist of a gelatinous substance surrounded by a thick outer layer, and they act as shock absorbers, providing flexibility to the spine.
There are two major types of IVDD:
Type I: characterised by disc herniation of the inner material of the disc. There is a sudden onset of symptoms and can occur in dogs (and sometimes cats) of any age. Type I IVDD is seen most commonly in short-legged breeds such as the Dachshund, Basset hound and Corgi but can also occur in larger breeds of dog, such as Dobermans
Type II: the discs become hardened over a long period and eventually break down, bulge out, and compress the spinal cord. Clinical symptoms are less severe, and it is more common in older and large breed dogs.
Signs to watch out for:
– Abnormal walking and a reluctance to jump
– Pain and weakness in hind legs (lameness)
– Crying out in pain, a hunched back or neck with tense muscles
– Reduced appetite and activity levels
– Loss of bladder and/or bowel control or unwillingness to stand or squat to toilet
Diagnosis: a neurological exam will help identify where in the spinal cord the injury is located. X-rays may show an abnormal area in the spine and further imaging such as a myelogram, MRI or CT may be necessary to identify the exact location of the disc herniation.
Treatment: options for treatment of disc disease depend on the type of disc herniation, the severity of symptoms, as well as breed and age of the patient. Some pets can be managed conservatively with pain relief and strict rest. Most patients need to have the disc material removed surgically.
Prevention of disc disease: in dog breeds that are predisposed to IVDD, keeping them lean can help reduce their risk. Jumping should be limited, and steps or ramps provided to help allow pets to get on and off furniture more safely.
If your pet is showing any of the above symptoms, you should seek veterinary attention urgently. The earlier there is a diagnosis of IVDD, the better the prognosis. Remember that we are always here to answer any questions you might have about your pet.