Back pain is a widespread and painful issue amongst humans all over the world. However, did you know that back pain is quite prevalent in dogs as well? A leading cause of canine back pain is Intervertebral Disc Disease, or “IVDD”. With cases ranging from mild to severe, canine IVDD is a livable, completely treatable disease. In this article, we will discuss everything from how to prevent IVDD to the causes and holistic treatment options.
What is Intervertebral Disc Disease or IVDD in Dogs?
Most common amongst smaller dogs, Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) affects the discs between the vertebrae of the spinal cord. IVDD is characterized by the deterioration, displacement, bulging, or herniation of intervertebral discs. This trauma puts pressure on the nerves running through the spinal cord, causing nerve damage, pain, and in severe cases, even paralysis.
Made up of 27 vertebrae ranging from the neck to the lower lumbar region, the canine spine is a vital and intricate element of canine physiology. Between most of these 27 vertebrae is a soft cushion known as an “intervertebral disc”. Occasionally, these delicate discs turn unhealthy and blood supply to the disk reduces drastically. Once this happens, the disc is unable to repair itself and starts degenerating. This process is medically referred to as intervertebral disc disease.
Slipped Disc vs Ruptured Disc
In the medical field, even doctors disagree on the differences between certain types of back ailments. That is to say, slipped discs and ruptured discs are both different ways of referring to a herniated disc. The intervertebral discs between vertebrae are made up of a jelly-like center with a firmer cartilage surrounding it. When the center of the disk begins to bulge or break through the cartilage, a herniated disc is the result. Intervertebral disc disease in dogs goes hand in hand with ruptured, or herniated disks.
Breeds Prone to IVDD
Like most diseases, certain breeds are more prone to being diagnosed with canine IVDD than others. As previously stated, smaller dogs are statistically more likely to develop symptoms of IVDD. Furthermore, Dachshunds, Corgis, Bulldogs, Pekingese, Miniature Poodles, and Beagles have the highest rate of IVDD cases among smaller dogs. Conversely, IVDD is not entirely uncommon in bigger dogs. German Shepards, Dobermans, and Labradors lead the pack in larger breeds diagnosed with IVDD.
Regarding dogs of all sizes, IVDD does not typically show up in canines until they are between ages 8-10. Furthermore, obese dogs are especially prone to encountering IVDD due to the added stress on their bodies.
IVDD in Dogs Symptoms
Naturally, dogs cannot physically tell you when they are experiencing back pain. However, they can use body language to convey their discomfort. Signs and symptoms of canine IVDD to look out for include:
- Noticeably reduced mobility
- Excessive anxiety
- Hunched back
- Muscle spasms in back or neck
- Shaking or Trembling
- Dragging legs when walking
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Sensitivity to touch and movement
- Reduced appetite
- Less interest in the usual activity like walks
- General weakness
- Difficulty moving head and neck
Clearly, there are an overwhelming amount of possible symptoms associated with IVDD. If and when your dog starts to display any number of the above symptoms, we advise visiting your vet immediately. Early diagnosis is the key to the shortest road to recovery.
Grading Scale of IVDD in Dogs
As previously stated, IVDD can vary widely in terms of severity. So much so, there is a grading scale based on symptoms and pain level.
- Grade 1: Only Pain – dogs in grade one of IVDD will display an unwillingness to jump as they normally would. They are still able to walk normally, though they likely exhibit signs of pain. Shivering, muscle spasms, tense abdomen, and crying are typical grade 1 symptoms.
- Grade 2: Ambulatory Paraparesis – Paraparesis is a weakness in the hind limbs due to a neurological issue (like IVDD). Dogs in stage two can often still walk but are weak and wobbly and often stumble over their hind legs.
- Grade 3: Non-Ambulatory Paraparesis – Dogs in Grade three of IVDD are not strong enough to support their own weight and walk. They can, however, still move their legs and wag their tails.
- Grade 4: Paraplegia – Sadly, at this point, dogs cannot voluntary move their rear legs.
- Grade 5: Paralyzation – At this point, dogs can no longer feel their rear legs, in addition to not being able to move them.
It is important to always monitor your dog’s behavior and mannerisms. In the case of IVDD, these symptoms can vary from gradual to sudden. Symptoms are often more apparent after your dog has been highly active, or when and if they experience physical trauma or an unexpected injury.
IVDD in Dogs Causes
Clearly, the severity of IVDD symptoms can vary dramatically. In order to best treat any disease, it is always best to know what causes it in the first place. It is important to note, IVDD is not caused by sudden trauma like you may think. Instead, Intervertebral Disc Disease is a degenerative process. However, certain high-impact events may, in fact, aggravate the tender spine of a dog suffering from IVDD. That is to say, playing fetch, jumping, or injuries from any type of accident can, and will, rupture a disc that has been weakened by IVDD. Furthermore, in order to truly understand the root cause of IVDD, we first need to break it down into two types.
Type 1 IVDD
More common in smaller breeds, Type 1 IVDD generally affects the neck region of the spine. The outer layers of the disk calcify (harden), making them more amenable to breakage. High impact events like jumping or landing can cause the calcified discs to burst, causing immense pressure on the spinal cord.
Type 2 IVDD
Conversely, Type 2 IVDD occurs more gradually, with the discs becoming hardened over a long period of time. Eventually, the exterior layer of the discs breaks down, causing the inner layer to bulge and put pressure on the spinal cord. When this happens, the nerves within the spinal cord are unable to transmit their signals properly. Therefore, the limbs, and the bladder, for example, lose control of there regular functions. This is why the loss of bladder and/or bowel control is a common symptom of IVDD.
Finally, type 2 IVDD often has less severe signs and symptoms than type 1.
Diagnosing IVDD in Dogs
First of all, it is important to note that despite some scary symptoms, IVDD is completely treatable in dogs. However, the timing of any diagnosis is key to the shortest road to recovery. If you have even the slightest idea that your dog may be suffering from IVDD, take them to the vet immediately. Note any and all symptoms, and be sure your vet has your dog’s unique and thorough medical history.
Your trusted and well-trained vet will run a series of physical tests to determine what part of the spine is affected. These tests are important because several other diseases share similar symptoms of IVDD. For example, malformations, meningitis, spinal tumors, and infections have sometimes been diagnosed when IVDD was originally thought to be the culprit. An accurate diagnosis is vital in determining the appropriate and most effective treatment plan.
Admittedly, diagnosing IVDD can be a lengthy process paired with numerous tests and likely a visit to several specialists. However, when treated early, the vast majority of dogs diagnosed made a full recovery.
IVDD in Dogs: Holistic Treatment Options
First of all – pause here and take a deep breath. Take your time, we’ll wait.
…and we’re back! The purpose of this article is not to scare you into thinking your dog has a grim fate. Instead, we are here to present to you a thorough journey through the symptoms and treatment of IVDD. Fortunately, we have arrived at the good part. The “here is what you can do to make your dog feel better” part.
As you now know, the severity of IVDD can vary wildly. Once you have gotten the proper diagnosis from your vet, they will happily present you with the best treatment plan for your dog. Unfortunately, there are a number of severe cases where prescription medication and/or inevitable surgical treatment may be your best course of action. However, often times, dogs simply are experiencing mild cases of IVDD. With the approval of your vet, it is then that we advise a more holistic approach to healing their ailing back.
Known for healing and treating inflammation, acupuncture can be a highly effective tool in treating your dogs IVDD. Acupuncture improves circulation by stimulating damaged muscles and nerves. Regarding the treatment of IVDD specifically, needles are placed between the shoulder at the top of the spine, and just above the pelvis. Furthermore, it is vital that only licensed veterinarians with experience in canine acupuncture should perform this procedure. Research is still surfacing regarding the long-term benefits of acupuncture for IVDD treatment, but studies so far are promising.
On the other hand, there is a more recent approach to IVDD treatment that is making waves. Electro-acupuncture (EAP) uses a machine to send tiny electrical pulses into the muscles with small needles. Studies show that EAP is a more effective treatment than IVDD surgery.
Dogs with mild cases of IVDD are wonderful candidates for physical therapy. Often times, you can even do the exercises in the comfort of your own home! Before starting any physical therapy regimes, be sure to consult your vet about what exercises are best suited for your dog’s condition. Your vet may even recommend a canine physical therapist or rehab facility that could work wonders for your dog. Finally, there are different types of therapy your dog can undergo to treat IVDD. Your vet can confirm which method is best suited for your dog’s unique needs.
Dogs, like humans, can benefit immensely from water therapy. While some dogs favor water more than others, the weightlessness of their bodies in the water will feel so much better on their ailing joints. Hold your dog by the belly or chest and allow them to (naturally) kick and rotate their hind legs. The lack of pressure on their joints, paired with the ease of motion, will help naturally lubricate the affected areas. Finally, this should go without saying, but never leave your dog alone in any body of water, be it a bathtub or a lake.
Hopefully, we all have experienced the magical wonders that accompany a good massage and/or spa day. Funny enough, our beloved canine companions can benefit from massage as well. IVDD typically causes the muscles surrounding the spinal cord to spasm and weaken. A well-executed massage can help reduce spasms and ease discomfort. Considering the delicacy of the spine in dogs suffering from IVDD, it is perhaps best to seek the trained hand of an animal massage therapist. They will know how to properly avoid any herniated discs and prevent any risk of making the issue any worse.
For those of you who keep track of the latest and greatest news coming from the holistic health world, you have more than likely heard of CBD Oil. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD oil has proven benefits for both humans and canines alike. Regarding dogs, CBD benefits include:
- Calming anxiety
- Reducing and preventing seizures and epileptic incidents
- Reducing pain, especially nerve-related pain
- Easing inflammation
- Lubricating ailing joints
- Protects arteries and blood vessels
- Fighting and preventing cancer
- Promoting overall homeostasis within the body
…and much more. Clearly, CBD Oil has an impressive array of benefits. In terms of IVDD, CBD oil can calm the pain of symptoms, as well as help prevent the issue from ever arising! I’m sure by now you are ready to hop on the CBD train. However, it is important to note that not all CBD oils are created equally. We recommend Honest Paws because they are all-natural, organic, lab-tested, non-GMO products made specifically with dogs in mind.
A common tool in holistic pet owners approach to wellness, turmeric is known to work wonders in dogs dealing with joint pain. Turmeric has been proven to reduce inflammation, which is known to be the primary culprit behind bothersome joint pain. Better yet, turmeric is really good for overall heart and brain health.
It is important to note that the body does not absorb turmeric by itself very well. Therefore, pet owners have taken to making what is commonly referred to as “golden paste”. With simple ingredients including coconut oil and black pepper, golden paste is surprisingly easy to make. Reputable holistic pet wellness company Honest Paws has a wonderful recipe paired with everything you need to know about turmeric for dogs.
Naturally, before introducing any new herbs or supplements into your dog’s diet be sure to consult your vet. Turmeric has been known to react poorly with certain medications. However, in the right circumstances, it has been proven to work wonders in dogs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A popular supplement amongst humans, omega-3 fish oils can also offer impressive benefits for our canine companions. Like turmeric, omega-3’s improve and support joint, heart, and brain health. Furthermore, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the harsh effects of arthritis in dogs.
There are a number of fatty acid supplements on the market, but often times it is best to reap the benefits straight from the source: diet. Finding the right balance of fats, proteins, and vitamins is vital to your dog’s overall health and wellness.
Additionally, phytoplankton is an impressive antioxidant that also contains essential fatty acids. Incorporating herbs and nutrients that pack such a profound punch is a wonderful way to make sure your dog is getting a well-balanced diet.
Slings and Harnesses
Dog wheelchairs are becoming more and more common, and let’s be honest, dogs wearing them are downright adorable. In addition to wheelchairs, there are several mobility aids that can help ease your dogs back pain. The wiggleless back brace is a popular choice among dog owners, as well as various types of slings. This simple addition, paired with the right holistic supplement(s), can help your dog regain an important sense of independence.
How to Prevent Back Pain and IVDD in Dogs
Naturally, aging is an inevitable part of life. When it comes to canine IVDD, the aging process plays an unavoidable part in disc degeneration. However, there are ways you can help fight against back problems in your dog.
Canines are an incredibly active species that need daily exercise. Just like with humans, exercise helps make the body stronger and more resilient. Conversely, too much exercise can cause more harm than good. Therefore, like all things in life, it is important to find the right balance and practice moderation.
Playing fetch, regular walks, and perhaps light jogging are all great ways to keep your dog appropriately active. Jumping on and off especially high objects should always be avoided due to the immense impact landing puts on the spine. For smaller dogs, it is a good idea to invest in a ramp to help them get on and off beds or couches. Naturally adventurous creatures, most dogs will want to take the leap. It is your job to train them to respect their delicate spines and learn to use the ramp.
As previously stated, IVDD is more common in overweight canines. Therefore, keeping your beloved dog at a consistent, healthy weight is imperative to their overall well being. According to Pet MD, more obese pets than ever are sluggishly making their way into veterinarian’s offices everywhere. Obesity in dogs is clearly an epidemic that should not be taken lightly. Side effects of canine obesity include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Liver problems (disease or dysfunction)
- Reduced immune system efficiency
- Increased risk of cancer (growth of malignant tumors)
- Difficulty breathing
- …and more!
Clearly, obesity in dogs is no laughing matter. In order to combat weight issues in your dog, it is vital your dog exercises and eats a balanced diet. A healthy dog starts from the outside in, so let’s discuss diet.
When it comes to finding the best balance of nutrients for your dog’s unique dietary needs, the options can be overwhelming. Proteins, fats, vitamins, fatty acids, vegetables, all need to find their way into your dog’s diet in just the right balance. We recommend a raw foods diet, as it promotes fresher, cleaner ingredients into your dog’s diet. Isn’t it alarming how most dog food brands in your local grocery store have a shelf life of two years? Food just shouldn’t be edible for that long! With the growing popularity of a raw canine diet, the pre-made options are endless.
Furthermore, particularly devoted puppy parents may opt to try their hand at homemade raw dog food. As you may suspect, this takes a little more time, money, and patience. However, the benefits to your dog’s health are worth it.
Harness > Collar
Finally, dog owners everywhere are turning to harnesses over collars. Traditionally utilized for tiny dogs with delicate bodies, harnesses really should be used on dogs of all shapes and sizes. Harnesses release the neck and spine of unnecessary pressure when attached to a leash. Dogs are curious and sometimes flighty on walks causing them to jerk the leash unexpectedly. When attached to a collar, this causes immense strain on the head and neck. Conversely, harnesses release this strain by dispersing the energy over the body.
IVDD in Dogs: Parting Words
Naturally, we all want our dogs to live long, healthy, happy lives. While aging is inevitable, there are ways we can help our dog’s age gracefully. In the case of intervertebral disc disease, while the symptoms can be excruciating, and early diagnosis can, and often does, lead to a full recovery. With the help of regular exercise, a balanced diet, and holistic supplements, pet parents everywhere are enjoying the love of their healthy dogs.