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Understanding Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

As dog owners, we want our furry friends to live happy, healthy lives. However, just like in humans, dogs can experience various health conditions, including intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). IVDD is a common spinal condition that affects many dogs, particularly those with long bodies and short legs. In this post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options of IVDD in dogs, helping pet owners to better understand this condition and provide appropriate care for their furry companions.

Causes of IVDD:

IVDD occurs when the cushioning discs between the vertebrae in the spine degenerate or herniate, resulting in compression or damage to the spinal cord. While the exact cause is often unknown, certain factors may contribute to the development of IVDD, including:

  • Genetics: Certain breeds, such as Dachshunds, Corgies, Beagles, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus, have a higher genetic predisposition for IVDD.

  • Age: IVDD is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older dogs, but it can occur at any age.

  • Trauma: Acute trauma or injury to the spine, such as a fall or sudden impact, can trigger IVDD.

Symptoms of IVDD:

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of IVDD is crucial for early detection and treatment. Symptoms may vary depending on the location and severity of the disc herniation and can include:

  • Back or Neck Pain: Dogs with IVDD may display signs of discomfort, such as vocalization, reluctance to move, or a hunted posture.

  • Weakness or Paralysis: A herniated disc can compress the spinal cord, leading to weakness, difficulty walking, or even paralysis in the limbs.

  • Changes in Gait: Dogs may exhibit an unsteady or wobbly gait, dragging their limbs or knuckling over while walking.

  • Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control: Severe cases of IVDD can result in a loss of control over urinary or bowel functions.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options:

If you suspect your dog may be experiencing IVDD, it is crucial to seek veterinary care promptly. The veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, evaluation the dog's neurological status, and may recommend diagnostic tests, including X-rays, myelography, or advanced imaging like MRI or CT scans.

Treatment options for IVDD depend on the severity of the condition and may include:

  • Conservative Management: Mild cases of IVDD may respond well to conservative treatment, which typically involves canine rehabilitation, pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, and crate confinement to prevent further injury and promote healing.

  • Surgical Intervention: In more severe cases or when conservative management doesn't provide improvement, surgery may be utilized. Surgical options are hemilaminectomy, ventral slot, and others.

Recovery and Rehabilitation:

Regardless of the chosen treatment options, rehabilitation is crucial for a dog's recovery from IVDD. Canine rehabilitation, under guidance of a veterinarian or certified canine rehabilitation therapist, can aide in muscle strengthening, improve mobility, and support the healing process. Rehabilitation may include exercises, hydrotherapy, massage, acupuncture, laser or PEMF therapy.


While not all cases of IVDD can be prevented, there are steps dog owners can take to minimize the risk:

  • Weight Management: Maintaining a health weight reduces the strain on the spine and intervertebral discs.

  • Appropriate Exercises: Avoid high-impact activities that may place excessive stress on the spine, especially for breeds predisposed to IVDD.

  • Proper Lifting Techniques: When lifting or supporting your dog, ensure you provide proper spinal support to minimize the risk of injury.


Intervertebral disc disease can be a challenging condition for both dogs and their owners. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and exploring appropriate treatment options, pet owners can provide the best possible care for their furry companions. Seeking prompt veterinary attention, considering both conservative and surgical approaches, and incorporating rehabilitation therapies can greatly improve a dog's quality of life and aid in their recovery from IVDD. Remember, early intervention and ongoing management are crucial in managing this condition and supporting your dog's well-being.

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