Neck and Back Pain in Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 2, 2008

Unfortunately, your dog can not tell you where it hurts, and it can be difficult to determine the exact location when your dog has been injured and is in obvious pain. Your veterinarian may even have trouble determining the location. And because there are a number of causes for neck and back pain, zeroing in on the underlying cause may take some time.

Symptoms and Types

  • Change in posture
  • Abnormal spine alignment (i.e., back is curved upward)
  • Visible trauma to areas around the spine (e.g., bruises, discoloration)
  • Stiff neck
  • Unable or unwilling to turn or raise its head
  • Yelps or moans when its neck or back is touched
  • Yelps or moans when it moves its spine, or refuses to move at all
  • Lethargy, weakness
  • Fever
  • Wobbly, lack of coordination, inability to walk properly (ataxia)
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)



  • Diseases of the muscles surrounding the spine:
    • Soft tissue injuries
    • Bite wounds
    • Inflammation
    • Infection 
  • Disc disorders:
    • Degenerative discs
    • Infection of the discs
    • Instability of parts of the spine 
  • Trauma to the spine:
    • Fracture
    • Dislocation
    • Cancer
    • Vertebra
    • Roots of nerves
    • Tissues around the spine
    • Membrane disorders in the brain and spine
    • Kidney disease


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history of symptoms and any possible incidents that might have led to this condition. You will need to provide as much detail as possible regarding your dog's health history, the onset of the symptoms and what type of symptoms have been representing, and what might have been the cause of the injury. The doctor will perform baseline blood tests, including a chemical blood profile and a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and a spinal fluid analysis. Other diagnostic tests that may be used for conclusively identifying the origin of the back pain are computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and X-ray imaging of the abdominal and spinal areas. Other essential tests include a neurological exam, and a myelogram, whereby a radiopaque agent is injected into the subarachnoid space in the spine so that the spine and nerves of the spine are more clearly visible on an X-ray image.


Because the causes for neck and back pain are so varied, the treatment is determined according to the nature of the disease and degree in which the spine's tissues are involved. Depending on the veterinarian's plan, your pet may need to be hospitalized. Treatments can often call for dog pain medication, surgery, or both.

Some possible treatments include anti-inflammatory agents, such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, and chemotherapy. Surgery, however, is required in the case of spinal trauma, paralysis, disc or vertebrae infection, and/or cancer located near the spinal cord.

Living and Management

Your pet will require plenty of home care. Make certain you follow the veterinarian's instructions as to medications and follow-up evaluations. Keep track of changes, watch for signs of improvement, and report them to the veterinarian. Avoid moving your pet and don’t let them exercise until it is approved by the veterinarian. Some animals recover well from neck and back pain; however, it’s a condition that can be very serious, even life-threatening.

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