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Dog discopathy: how to treat it and how much it costs to have a discopathy surgery on a dog?

Dog discopathy

Dogs and cats, i.e. the most common companion animals we have, require a daily, systematic dose of physical effort to stay healthy and in the best possible condition, most often in the form of various walks, runs or play.

It is the willingness to move that is one of the basic signs of a pet's health and vitality and any deviations from the norm are very quickly noticed by the owner, because a healthy dog ​​is an active dog.

If the animal is lazy, reluctantly moving, showing no joy on a walk, or even avoiding leaving the house, as a rule, the caregiver should consider whether everything is fine with his health.

Movement, which is an essential sign of health, also prevents obesity and is essential in nature to obtain food.

Remember that your dog or cat are carnivores, and therefore are predators.

So no one is surprised by the normal anxiety of a dog owner, who suddenly, for an incomprehensible reason, cannot get up from his lair, let alone move or move from place to place.

It is then that we can most often hear about the fact that "the dog is paralyzed " or that he has "paresis ".

Panicked owners go to the veterinary office for professional help as soon as possible, the more so that most often "it does not pass by itself" and no improvement can be seen.

So is there this mysterious paralysis, what causes it and how to help your dog?

I will try to explain it to you in the article below. You will also learn what are the treatment methods, what rehabilitation looks like and how much it costs surgery for discopathy in a dog.

  • How a dog's spine is built?
  • What is dog discopathy?
  • Which dogs are most at risk of discopathy?
  • The course of discopathy
  • Symptoms of discopathy in a dog
  • Diagnosis of discopathy in dogs
  • Treatment of discopathy in dogs
    • Conservative treatment of canine discopathy
    • Surgery for discopathy in a dog
  • Convalescence after surgery
  • Can discopathy be prevented?

How a dog's spine is built?

In order to understand what paralysis is, it is worth knowing what is a consequence and what it results from, so we need to know a little about the structure of the dog's spine.

The proper functioning of the dog's locomotor system and its proper movement depend, among other things, on its proper functioning.

The dog's spine, like other mammals, is segmented and consists of vertebrae forming individual parts, grouped into sections and called:

  • cervical,
  • thoracic segment,
  • lumbar region,
  • cross section,
  • caudal segment.

Each episode has a specific number of vertebrae specific to the species:

  • cervical it contains 7 vertebrae, including the apical and rotary vertebrae,
  • thoracic segment contains 13 vertebrae,
  • episode lumbar contains 7 vertebrae,
  • episode cross contains 3 vertebrae,
  • episode caudal contains 20-23 vertebrae.

In every circle, regardless of the episode it comes from, we distinguish it shaft with his head and caudally directed fossa of the vertebra, and in addition arch with spinous processes, transverse, articular cranial and articular and caudal.

Below is a diagram of the dog's skeletal system with marked sections of the spine: A - cervical vertebrae (7 vertebrae), B - thoracic vertebrae (13 vertebrae), C - lumbar vertebrae (7 vertebrae), D - sacral vertebrae (3 circles), E - tail vertebrae (20 -23 vertebrae).

Dog skeleton | source: wikipedia

The individual vertebrae that make up the spine are not tightly and permanently connected with each other.

This ensures the mobility of the vertebrae, because you must remember that the spine is not a long, stiff and stable set of bones, but they are movably connected to each other, which ensures efficient movement of the animals.

So there are between the circles shields called disks, intervertebral discs with part of them - the outer layer called fibrous ring and the inner one called nucleus pulposus.

The fibrous ring surrounding the nucleus pulposus is made of collagen and ecastin fibers.

The nucleus pulposus (nucleus pulposus), i.e. a dense, jelly-like filling of the intervertebral disc, allows it to function hydraulically and deform with the movement of the spine.

The intervertebral disc therefore performs functions spine damper, ensuring its proper mobility and the state in which two adjacent vertebrae do not rub against each other.

Diagram of the structure of the intervertebral disc:

Diagram of the structure of the intervertebral disc | source: wikipedia

We should also remember that the spine is a bone tube in which the spinal cord runs.

Now that we know what a dog's spine looks like, it's time to find out what it is discopathy

What is dog discopathy?

Discopathy is a disease of the spine that causes neurological symptoms, is a consequence of prolapse, displacement or degeneration of intervertebral discs as a result of disc degeneration and causes pressure on the spinal cord and its roots.

The consequence of discopathy may be paralysis, that is, the inability to move the pectoral or pelvic limbs and other symptoms resulting from it.

In the video below you can see dog showing signs of discopathy

Dachshund walking after IVDD treatment
Watch this video on YouTube

Changes resulting from pressure on the spinal cord depend to a large extent on the rate of pressure increase.

And so the pressure developing very quickly will result in severe changes, and the slowly growing pressure for a long time will be at the beginning compensated by the body and the symptoms will also appear slowly.

Which dogs are most at risk of discopathy?

The cause of the disease is not fully known, but discs are naturally aging and damaged.

So the disease can really be concerned every dog, regardless of sex or age, although it is much more common in dogs of small breeds.

What breeds of dogs are most likely to suffer from discopathy?

And so in some breeds of dogs it is more common and they include:

  • dachshunds,
  • Pekingese,
  • beagle,
  • miniature poodles,
  • french bulldogs,
  • shih tzu,
  • lhasa apso,
  • welsh corgi.

This does not mean, of course, that large, molossic dogs do not suffer from discopathy, because how to forget even about doberman, boxers if german shepherd, in whom we can quite often encounter limb paralysis caused by prolapse of the nucleus pulposus.

A significant role in predisposing to the disease is played by all factors causing excessive load on the spine, with excessive body weight and obesity in the dog at the forefront.

An overfed, obese animal, in addition less mobile, is unfortunately much more likely to suffer from this disease due to a more stressed spine.

We should remember that an obese animal is more prone to a number of different, often serious health problems.

Since the disease results from the natural aging process of discs, it is obvious that it occurs in the group of elderly or prime animals, although there is no rule here.

Discopathy it also happens in relatively young dogs.

I myself remember a 4-year-old mongrel with huge changes in the spine and symptoms of discopathy, who was a patient of the clinic many times due to problems with walking.

The course of discopathy

Although discopathy, i.e. degeneration of the intervertebral discs and their pressure on the spinal cord, may occur in any part of the spine, it most often occurs in thoracic-lumbar region (84 - 86% cases, according to various literature data) and in cervical (about 14 - 16% cases).

Most often it concerns T11-L2 intervertebral space, C2-C3, C3-C4 and C7-T1 (the letters represent the spine, and the numbers indicate the number of the vertebrae from the head).

The most common division of the pulmonary nucleus prolapse is the one proposed by Hansen and includes the following types:

  1. According to Hansen, type I of nucleus pulmonary protrusion is characterized by disc chapping, which often undergoes an additional process calcification, as a result, the fibrous ring breaks and there is pressure on the spinal cord. This type of discopathy may be present in u young dogs up to 7 years of age.
  2. Hansen's Type II protrusion of the nucleus pulposus covers the situation when the nucleus pulposus becomes fibrosis and it becomes gel-like. This process is long-lasting and the fibrous ring does not break, but the fibrous ring bulging towards the spinal cord. There is pressure on the spinal cord and any related neurological symptoms. Pathology is generally concerned old dogs, and so 8-10 years old.

Generally, the nucleus pulposus, which moves towards the spinal cord, causes its compression, thus disrupting the transmission of impulses between the brain and peripheral nerves.

Pressure results in pain of varying severity and a whole range of neurological disorders depending on the place of pressure.

Disease symptoms will therefore depend on the places where the nucleus pulposus was damaged.

Symptoms of discopathy in a dog

Signs of discopathy in a dog

When the prolapse will take place in the thoracic-lumbar region, we notice in a dog:

  • reluctance to pick up on hands,
  • lack of appetite,
  • depression,
  • as non-specific symptoms - tucked tail,
  • obvious soreness when touching this area and whining,
  • reluctance to play, move, and climb stairs,
  • pain when dealing with physiological needs.

Occasionally it may occur paresis of the pelvic limbs if paralysis and complete them paralysis.

Then the animal may not feel any pain in these limbs (numbness), may not be able to move them, or may have problems dealing with.

When the changes concern cervical we will observe:

  • stiff neck,
  • head lowered low,
  • spasm of the muscles of the neck and nape,
  • lameness of the thoracic limbs,
  • non-specific symptoms in the form of lack of appetite, lethargy, drowsiness or reluctance to take hands.

Not in all cases we have full clinical symptoms right away.

Sometimes we observe slight limping or stumbling, difficulties with walking or maintaining balance, and only then the stiffness of the limbs and their complete paralysis

Discopathy in a pooch may cause severe pain symptoms, therefore it is extremely important to intervene as quickly as possible, preferably at the first symptoms.

If you see similar symptoms in your dog, don't wait for it to clear up, as only early intervention is most likely to recover fully.

Spinal cord paralysis is practically always bilateral due to the fact that damage affects both sides of the spinal cord, although symptoms may be asymmetrical and more expressed in one limb and less in the other.

Depending on the location of the spinal cord injury, our client may have paralysis affecting four limbs or only the pelvic limbs.

If the damage appears in the top of the spinal cord (counting from the head and brain), so in the episode C1-Th1 (cervical to the first thoracic vertebra) the disorder will be affected all four limbs, when it occurs in other episodes (below Th1), it will usually appear in pelvic limbs.

Depending on the degree of damage, we will have:

  • paraplegia, that is, bilateral paralysis of the pelvic limbs,
  • tetraplegia that is, complete paralysis of all limbs,
  • in lighter cases paraparesis - paresis of the pelvic limbs,
  • tetraparesis - paresis of all limbs.

So we see that the symptoms of the disease also vary in severity.

In some cases they grow slowly and take many days to develop, while in others they appear suddenly hour by hour due to the degree of pressure on the spinal cord.

Diagnosis of discopathy in dogs

As with any disease, it is also extremely important in the case of discopathy medical interview, that is, listening carefully to everything that the owner of the animal wants to convey.

Even potentially insignificant suggestions and observations may turn out to be extremely valuable diagnostically.

Must also be carried out neurological examination, which will determine the exact location of changes in the spinal cord.

Only then do we proceed to imaging tests, that is, to be performed x-rays of the spine, best with contrast above the soft tire, i.e. to myelography.

X-ray picture of the dog's spine

Myelography it is probably the most accessible test in the diagnosis of spinal cord diseases, and at the same time less expensive compared to tomography if resonance and continues to be the "first-line test" in the diagnosis of discopathy in dogs.

It is performed under full general anesthesia, therefore the patient must be starved beforehand and show no contraindications to anesthesia.

By suboccipital puncture (suspected pathology in the cervical region) or lumbar puncture (damage to the distal parts of the spine), iodine contrast agent is administered, and then X-ray pictures are taken at various times in order to see the passage of this agent.

Diagrams showing four possible variants of myelographic images:

  • A - normal picture,
  • B - epidural compression,
  • C - intrathecal / extra-spinal compression,
  • D - intramedullary lesion
Myelographic examination | source: roberts. E. , selcer b. AND. : myelography and epidurography, “vet. Clin. North. Am. Small. Animal pract ”, 1993

Other diagnostic methods with high accuracy and certainty are magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography.

It is worth using them, especially wherever they are available, because they confidently confirm the diagnosis and are a very helpful tool in the treatment process.

Treatment of discopathy in dogs

In general, we can approach discopathy in two ways. It can be treated non-operatively - conservatively or using surgical methods.

Conservative treatment of canine discopathy

Treatment of dog discopathy - restriction of movement

The basis of conservative proceedings is absolute traffic restriction for up to a month.

This method seems easier to apply for small dogs and difficult to perform for very active dogs, accustomed to a large portion of daily movement or long walks.

What may seem inhumane - we have to lock the patient in a small, tight cage because only in this way can we force him to remain motionless.

Additionally, we use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (analgesics), but only those registered for dogs.

I warn against self-prescribing over-the-counter human drugs due to different metabolism and potential life-threatening side effects in the form of gastrointestinal haemorrhagic inflammation.

Remember that we use these drugs many times, which must guarantee safe administration and minimize potential side effects.

Relieving the pain may cause the animal to move, therefore it is absolutely necessary to limit the movement so as not to worsen the condition of the sick dog.

Other non-conventional treatments can also be used, such as for example acupuncture, which if skillfully carried out, it has a strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect and stimulates tissue regeneration.

We can also apply steroid drugs, however, bearing in mind the potential side effects and not to combine them with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

As a supportive treatment and many doctors give vitamins E and C being antioxidants and slowing down degenerative processes within the spinal cord.

Of course, an animal sitting in a cage requires special care. It should not be picked up in order not to cause further damage to the core.

It is extremely important too rehabilitation, because sitting still for 4 weeks can cause problems muscle atrophy.

Surgery for discopathy in a dog

Surgical treatment of dog's discopathy it should only be reserved for severe cases and used in situations of well-informed owners.

Not every dog ​​owner will be able to devote himself to and provide adequate postoperative care for his pet.

The cost of the procedure and subsequent convalescence are also important.

How much does surgery for discopathy in a dog cost? Usually it is around several thousand zlotys.

We must also remember that not every dog ​​is eligible for surgery.

Obesity, concomitant cardiological diseases, geriatric problems, often may make the procedure impossible or bring significant anasthetic risk.

Nervous, hyperactive or aggressive dogs are patients with worse prognosis due to their temperament.

In the case of discopathy, we usually perform the procedure laminectomy or hemilaminectomy.

The decisive prognostic factor here is time:

the sooner the surgery is performed after the prolapse, the better the prognosis.

These procedures involve the removal of the invaded nucleus after the removal of the spinous processes, articular processes of the vertebrae and decompression of the spinal cord.

The surgery itself is not and should be performed by experienced surgeon, having a well-equipped operating room with all facilities.

During the procedure, respiratory arrest and a sharp drop in blood pressure often occur, and there may be intense bleeding from damaged venous sinuses, hence the need to provide appropriate equipment monitoring the patient's vital signs.

It is also necessary to know how to behave in case of complications so as not to panic later when something "unforeseen " happens.

Remember that the spinal cord damaged by the nucleus pulposus regenerates very slowly (1-6 months) and that is why the dog's guardian must show great patience and understanding.

Convalescence after surgery

Convalescence after surgery is a process long-term, expensive and demanding a lot of self-denial of the owner.

Immediately after surgery for a period of up to up to 3 weeks the operated patient should be completely confined, which will drastically limit his movement.

Due to the great soreness he receives strong painkillers (especially during the first days after the procedure).

It also requires a variety rehabilitation treatments, initially physical therapy consisting in massaging motionless limbs, and later massages do exercise exercising on a treadmill in the water.

You can see what rehabilitation of a dog on a water treadmill looks like in the video below

Dachshund IVDD Therapy: Walking the Underwater Treadmill
Watch this video on YouTube

Patients often require manual emptying of the bladder, which absolutely must be performed in a hospital or at home.

Successful surgery does not mean full success, as the recovery period requires considerable commitment and dedication of the owners.

They must take the animal outside, ensure the emptying of the bladder, participate in the process of defecation or actively massage the motionless limbs.

This often exceeds the owners' capabilities and is the reason for the dog's euthanasia

Can discopathy be prevented?

How to prevent discopathy in dogs?

As cliché as it may sound, a healthy spine is essential for an animal's proper, species-normal, physical activity.

Dogs, as we know very well, are predators that in nature, in order to survive, have to hunt and be practically in constant motion.

The modern lifestyle of our pets, low physical activity, inadequate, too caloric food, not compatible with nature, can lead to a number of pathologies, including those related to the spine.

Much depends on you with discopathy.

Yes, you will not completely stop degenerative changes affecting the intervertebral discs, but you can minimize the risk of disease by taking care of your dog's condition.

In the case of the first disturbing disease symptoms, time is extremely important, so do not wait for it to pass itself, but quickly go to the veterinary office for professional help.

Not every case of discopathy requires complicated and expensive surgical treatment at once, so do not be afraid of the disease, but find out how to behave in a given situation.


I hope this article has explained and provided the necessary knowledge on this subject.

If you have questions related to the treatment or rehabilitation of discopathy, now add a comment under the article, I will write back as soon as possible.

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