Herniated Disc in Dogs

Just like us humans, dogs can also get a herniated disc. Most of the time this occurs very suddenly. Read here how to recognize a herniated disc in your dog and what to do if the dog has a herniated disc.

Herniated discs are less common in dogs than humans, but herniated discs are one of the most common neurological diseases in dogs. A herniated disc is a disease of the spine where parts of the disc protrude into the spinal canal or spinal nerve canal.

This is how a herniated disc occurs in dogs

The intervertebral discs act as buffers between the bony vertebrae of the spine. They consist of a ring of connective tissue and a gelatinous core. As sturdy, elastic cushions, they cushion shocks. But they also help the mobility of the spine.

Basically, there are two different types of herniated disc:

1. The ring of connective tissue tears and the gelatinous core presses on the spinal cord.

  • occurs suddenly
  • often visible swelling
  • very painful

2. The ring of connective tissue loses its strength and the gelatinous core pushes it toward the spinal cord.

  • occurs suddenly
  • often visible swelling
  • very painful

The pressure on the spinal cord causes the symptoms of the herniated disc. If the spinal cord is injured, depending on the location and severity of the injury, important bodily functions are disrupted. In the worst case, complete paralysis occurs.

Symptoms: The 5 degrees of a herniated disc in dogs

Herniated discs in dogs are divided into five grades. Depending on the severity of the disease, different symptoms appear.

1st degree herniated disc

  • Dog is overly sensitive to touching the spine
  • Back may be painfully hunched
  • Back muscles are tense and hard
  • Dog moves unwillingly, but still quite normal
  • Second degree disc herniation

Second degree disc herniation

  • Movements appear stiff, exaggerated and “angular”
  • dog can still walk
  • Third degree herniated disc

Third degree herniated disc

  • Dog can only stay upright with lateral support

Grade 4 disc herniation

  • Paralysis of the muscles behind the site of the herniated disc
  • hind legs are usually paralyzed
  • The function of the sphincter muscles of the bladder and intestines can be disturbed

Grade 5 disc herniation

  • Perception of pain fails
  • Dog can’t move anymore

Chances of recovery from herniated discs in dogs

The severity of the symptoms is decisive for the dog’s chances of recovery:

The vet can still get a first and second degree herniated disc under control without an operation. To do this, he prescribes strict cage rest for up to two weeks for the dog. The cage rest is the crucial measure in the treatment. Failure to do so could make the incident worse. After resting in the cage, the dog must not jump or climb stairs under any circumstances. That means short walks on a leash and physical therapy exercises.
Dogs with a third and fourth degree herniated disc will need surgery.
With a fifth-degree herniated disc, the dog’s chances are slim. Even with immediate surgery, many remain paralyzed and require lifelong care by their owners unless they choose to be euthanized.

These dogs are particularly affected by disc problems

Dogs with short legs and a long back can have disc problems as young as one year old. Therefore, the herniated disc in dogs is often referred to as “dachshund paralysis”. Although other dog breeds can also suffer from a herniated disc, dachshunds are at particularly high risk of this back problem. Like the Pekingese or French bulldog, for example, they belong to the breeds whose physique is the result of a deliberate developmental disorder of the skeleton.

Dogs of other breeds are generally only at risk of suffering from a herniated disc from the age of five.

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