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IVDD: All Your Questions Answered

The spine is the central pillar of a dog's body - it keeps them walking, running, and is an integral part of any movement of their bodies. That's why any condition or injury of the spinal column is a cause for concern and should get assessed and treated quickly. 

So, what is IVDD in a dog?

IVDD or intervertebral disk disease is a condition that can affect any dog breeds but is more common in some breeds than others. It can occur suddenly or come about from a slow degeneration of the discs in the spinal column. 

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with IVDD, you likely have questions about how to treat and care for your pup. Read below to learn more about intervertebral disk disease, how it affects our dogs, and what we can do at home to provide proper IVDD treatment for our furry friends.

What is IVDD in dogs?

IVDD is a disease in dogs that occurs when a disc in the spine bursts or bulges out of place. These discs absorb shock to protect the spine, and when they move out of position, they can put pressure on spinal nerves.

This pressure on the spinal nerve is what causes IVDD dogs to present their symptoms. Their bodies are no longer communicating signals properly between the brain, spine, and the rest of the body.

There are two types of IVDD, and both have several stages. The severity of the symptoms of IVDD determines the stage of the disease in each dog.

Type-1

Type-1 is caused by a rupture to the middle part of the spinal disc and tears in the disc's outer region. It presents itself as a sudden, onset inability to walk. The inner disc loses water content, hardens, and becomes prone to damage. Smaller breed dogs and young to middle-aged dogs are most likely to experience Type-1.

Type-2

Type-2 is a slow, degenerative version of the disease, caused by chronic bulging of the outer part of the disc on the spinal cord. This type is seen more often in middle- and older-aged large-breed dogs. 

IVDD stages

Stage 1. Mild pain that corrects itself in a few days.

Stage 2.Moderate to severe pain, mostly in the lower back (lumbar) or neck area.

Stage 3.Partial paralysis, making it difficult to walk and coordinate movement.

Stage 4.Full paralysis, but can still feel extremities. 

Stage 5.Full paralysis and no feeling whatsoever. 

As you can see, IVDD has a wide range of severity, from mild issues to the complete loss of bodily control. 

What causes dog IVDD?

IVDD is a degenerative disease that can happen to any dog as they age. In the case of smaller breeds being more susceptible, that's caused by a disorder in their cartilage formation, called chondrodystrophy. 

These dogs mostly have similar body types, characterized as a chondrodystrophic appearance - stocky bodies with short legs. Dwarf dogs have been bred this way purposely, but it can lead to IVDD and other degenerative issues as their body shape tends to put extra pressure on the spine and joints. 

Breeds prone to IVDD

  • Dachshund (most common)
  • Beagles
  • Bulldogs
  • Basset Hounds
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Corgis
  • Poodles
  • Shih Tzus

Obese dogs of these genetically predisposed dwarf breeds are especially likely to suffer from IVDD as the pressure on their spinal discs is compounded with extra weight to carry. 

How do you know if your dog has IVDD?

These symptoms may come about slowly in the case of Type-2 IVDD in dogs, or they may suddenly begin at any time in Type-1. 

IVDD symptoms and signs

Look out for these behaviors and symptoms of IVDD, which may mean your pup is suffering from the condition:

  • Unstable and wobbly walking, or complete loss of ability to walk
  • Reduced activity levels compared to normal; incredibly hesitant to jump 
  • Weakness in the hindquarters, incoordination
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • Crying in pain, especially when being touched
  • Stiffness in the neck and back
  • Muscle spasms throughout the body
  • Loss or reduction of appetite
  • Arched back
  • Loss of control of bowels and bladder

If your dog exhibits some or many of these signs, it's time to call the vet clinic and get your pup in ASAP for an assessment from a professional.

Does IVDD get worse?

Yes, some dogs start with a mild stage of IVDD that worsens over hours or days. Sometimes the disc herniation takes time to happen, and sometimes it happens suddenly. 

In the case of sudden herniation, it's unlikely the symptoms will get worse over time. 

Treatments for IVDD

First things first, take your pup straight to the vet so that a professional can properly diagnose the problem. 

They will perform a hands-on physical examination of the dog and then follow-up with any other exams they deem necessary.

Your dog may need a CT scan, MRI, spinal radiograph, or myelogram for a full diagnosis. 

Surgery

For mild to moderate stages of IVDD, the dog will likely respond well to non-surgical treatments, but surgery may be needed if the IVDD is more severe.

Surgery to correct IVDD typically costs between $1,500 and $4,000.

Non-surgical options

Pain medication may be provided by your vet for the first few days after the injury to manage your pup's pain levels. 

Back braces are also available to help provide pain relief and prevent any further spinal injuries. 

Physical therapy will help your dog recover with ease - massage, hydrotherapy, and balance exercises are all great ways to get your dog's strength back after IVDD. 

IVDD dog treatment and prevention at home

Crate Rest

In the first few days, your dog may not understand that they need to rest. If your pup doesn't want to relax, try crating them a little more often than usual. 

As the pain subsides, you can slowly allow your pup to be more active again. 

Ramps

Since this disease often affects small dogs, a ramp is both a helpful treatment and preventative measure. 

In the early days of recovery, getting a dog ramp for bed will help your pupper get up onto the bed, couch, or into the car without adding too much pressure to the spine and joints. 

If you have a small-breed dog prone to disc problems, start them off using ramps from an early age. Repetitive use can cause too much pressure on the discs. By relieving this pressure from an early age, you'll go a long way toward preventing future issues in your dog's spine and discs. 

Reintroducing exercise

Start gently reintroducing easy exercise after the initial pain has subsided, and the vet gives you the go-ahead to start recovery.

Start with hydrotherapy. Support your dog's torso in the water and allow them to "swim" with their legs. 

Then, take your dog on slow, short walks. Try with just one loop around the block, and pay close attention to your dog. They'll give some physical cues and when they seem tired, let them rest. Slowly increase the distance and speed of walks as they grow stronger.

Use a harness

Instead of a traditional collar, use a harness to walk your dog. Harness walking relieves pressure on the neck and spine and spreads it evenly along your dog's chest. 

Weight management

Keeping your dog's weight in its healthy range for their breed will prevent IVDD and relieve excess pressure on the spine and discs.

Final notes: helping your pup live an active life with IVDD

Although the possibility of paralysis is scary, don't let a diagnosis of IVDD discourage you. 

Many dogs make a full recovery from the condition and go on to lead happy and healthy lives. 

Give your dog their best chance by getting an early diagnosis, getting surgery as needed, and following up with non-surgical therapies like massage and hydrotherapy. 

Prevent future issues with IVDD by using ramps to prevent excess stress on the spine and joints and regularly exercising your dog to keep their bones, muscles, and joints in tip-top shape. 

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