Anyone who has experienced a bad back or has herniated a disc can certainly appreciate the pain and discomfort associated with these problems. Unfortunately back and disc problems can also affect our four legged friends. Most pet parents are aware of the disc problems common to the short-legged long backed dogs like dachshunds, Lhasa Apsos, some terriers, but may be less aware of the cervical, or neck, lesions, or the lumbo-sacral, or lower back problems which can affect most dogs-even the large breeds, and, occasionally, even some cats.
And, like with us, back and disc diseases in our pets are extremely painful and debilitating. In some cases, especially in those short legged, long back doxie type dogs, a ruptured disc can lead to complete, and potentially permanent paralysis. There are essentially two types of disc ruptures that we see, the type 2 disc is one which ruptures up towards the spinal canal putting pressure on the annulus, a protective band which sits on the floor of the canal protecting the spinal cord. This rupture causes a bulge which places increased pressure on the spinal cord leading to the pain and neurologic deficits. The less common, but more serious type 1, or explosive, disc is where the ruptured disc shoots up right through the annulus and possibly into the spinal cord itself. These usually cause complete paralysis and even a loss of pain and sensation, and require immediate attention.
Regardless of the exact location of the lesion, the typical presentation is that of an unwillingness to move, sluggish attitude, and a dog which might cry out in pain when moving in certain positions or when touched. Some dogs may uncharacteristically even try to bite! Dogs with neck lesions may continually stand with their necks down towards the ground, and those with lower back problems may show a hesitancy to jump into the car, onto their favorite chair, or onto your lap. And, as I mentioned, those with severe disc ruptures may present with complete paralysis.
If your pet starts to exhibit any of these behavioral or painful symptoms or appears not to be able to move or walk, he or she needs to be seen by your veterinarian as soon as possible-in some cases hours can mean the difference between regaining strength and mobility, and never walking again!
Diagnosis entails a thorough, hands-on physical exam trying to identify specific areas of pain and neurologic deficits, x-rays, and possibly even an MRI or a ct scan and/or a myelogram. In dogs which present with pain and paresis, where movement and reflexes are compromised, but not completely absent, medical treatment with strict cage confinement, anti-inflammatory drugs, and pain medications may be the treatment of choice to start. In those with complete paralysis, with or without deep pain response, immediate surgery may be the best option. This is why it is so important to see your veterinarian immediately. Sometimes, if intense pain continues even after conservative therapy, surgery may be needed to stabilize an unstable area or to open a window in the spinal canal to allow for more space for the spinal cord.
Of course, as with many diseases, whenever possible, prevention is better than treatment. It is critical, especially with the short legged, long- backed at risk breeds, to keep these dogs lean and well muscled, starting when they are young. Obesity is definitely a predisposing factor with disc disease. Genetics also may play a role, especially with Doberman pinschers and cervical vertebral instability problems, so if purchasing a pure breed, try to get as much information about the parents as possible.