Intervertebral disc disease in dogs

The spinal cord is protected by bony vertebrae, which are separated by cushioned discs that function as shock absorbers. Over time, the discs can degenerate and push into the spinal cord, causing pain, difficulty walking, or paralysis. 

Certain breeds are predisposed to disc disease early in life. Intervertebral disc disease can occur with a sudden disc rupture or slow compression of the spinal cord.

What are common intervertebral disc disease signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Difficulty getting comfortable
  • Arched or abnormal posture
  • Reluctance to jump or use stairs
  • Vocalising when moving or picked up
  • Unsteady gait

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Unsteady gait or crossing rear legs
  • Dragging feet or stumbling
  • Difficulty getting up or standing
  • Complete paralysis
  • Urinary or faecal incontinence

Dogs with intervertebral disc disease can benefit from mobility aids

How is intervertebral disc disease managed in dogs?  

Management of intervertebral disc disease depends on the stage of your dog’s disease. More than 80% of dogs with early signs can recover from the condition with strict cage rest and a combination of anti-inflammatory and pain medications. 

For dogs with more advanced signs, surgery performed as soon as possible can offer complete recovery for up to 90%. Acupuncture has been shown to control pain and significantly enhance the overall long-term success rate. Also, physical therapy is an essential part of recovery.  

Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with intervertebral disc disease?

Intervertebral disc disease may reoccur in up to 40% of dogs who receive medical management or surgery. Dogs with long-standing neurological signs prior to treatment, or a limited response afterward, have a poorer prognosis.

Management tips for dogs with intervertebral disc disease

At-home needs include:

  • Easily accessible food and water and a crate or pen for cage rest
  • Consistency with prescribed medications
  • Close monitoring for any signs of recurrence
  • Modified surfaces to increase traction
  • Ramps and safety gates
  • Physical therapy and supervised walks
  • Mobility aids (like a sling, harness, or custom canine wheelchair)
  • Dog nappies, potty pads and bladder expression, if needed
  • Preventing pressure sores and maintaining clean bedding

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog can walk, but is progressing to paralysis, suddenly collapses, stops urinating, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.