Q. My dachshund was diagnosed with a weak disc in her back. Is this a serious problem?

A. Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) can be a serious problem. Discs in dog backs are very similar in construction to those in people. Several breeds such as dachshunds, basset hounds and beagles are predisposed to this disease. Basset hounds and dachshunds have long bodies and short legs. This conformation creates additional pressure on their backs. The problem is compounded if your pet is overweight.

Too much stress on the back can cause a weak disc to bulge it is for this reason I do not recommend harnesses. ( No training school in the world uses harness) The bulging disc creates pressure on the spinal cord. Initial results are pain followed by weakness in the rear if the pressure is not relieved. In some cases, the affected disc will rupture, leaking a thick gelatinous material in the spinal canal. The result of disc rupture is rear-end paralysis in which your pet is dragging her rear legs. Often one side is affected more than the other.

This is a medical emergency requiring immediate examination by a veterinarian.

Initial signs of IVDD include tight abdominal muscles, refusal to walk up or down stairs and a slow walk. Some pets will actually cry out or whine. Have your pet examined as soon as possible if these early warning signs occur. Left untreated, a bulging disc can progress to a ruptured disc. Radiographs (x-rays) of the spine are usually recommended to identify any problem spots. Sometimes there is no conclusive evidence and pets are treated based on clinical signs and history. In the case of a ruptured disc, a dye is injected around the spinal cord followed by radiographs. This procedure is termed a myelogram that pinpoints the ruptured disc.

Therapy depends on the severity of presenting signs. Dogs that are in pain but can still walk are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and strict rest. Overweight pets are placed on a low-calorie diet. Paralyzed dogs require surgical intervention once the ruptured disc has been identified. Surgery involves opening up the affected area of the vertebral column and removing the disc material. The goal is to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal surgery is very delicate, and a successful outcome cannot be guaranteed. This is especially true if the patient has a lack of feeling (deep pain loss) in the rear legs. Surgical recovery depends on the amount of damage created by pressure on the spinal cord. Overall, many dogs will gradually recover in a few weeks to a month. Those that don’t show significant improvement in that time will most likely not walk again. Carts are available for these pets and many can have a decent quality of life if they can maintain bladder and bowel control.

If you own a breed predisposed to IVDD, remember to keep the weight off and include exercise such as walking as part of his/her daily routine.

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