Intervertebral Disk (Ruptured Disk) Disease
Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
Basset Hounds are among the breeds that are more susceptible to intervertebral disk disease.
|Your dog's spine is made up of numerous small bones called vertebrae that
extend from the base of his skull all the way through his tail. Vertebrae are
connected by intervertebral disks, flexible cartilage-like "cushions" between
each bone that allow the neck, spine, and tail to bend. Each vertebra has
a center tunnel, through which the spinal cord (a mass of nerve fibers that
connect the brain with the rest of the body) runs. The vertebrae protect the
spinal cord with bone; between the vertebrae, however, the spinal cord sits
atop intervertebral disks (see diagram on left).|
What is intervertebral
Age or trauma may cause disks
to rupture (herniate), resulting in
a portion of the disk protruding
upward, compressing the spinal cord,
and inhibiting nerve transmission
along the cord. A ruptured disk may
occur suddenly or gradually.
Veterinarians often cannot pinpoint the
cause of a ruptured disk. Although it
may be associated with severe trauma
such as being hit by a car, this cause is
relatively uncommon. In smaller breeds,
herniation often occurs when a dog
jumps from furniture.
Which breeds are
more susceptible to
intervertebral disk disease?
What are the symptoms
of a ruptured disk?
Certain breeds of dogs including
Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Beagles,
Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Lhasa
Apsos, Pekingese, and Corgis have a
greater incidence of disk disease. They
are more likely to have genetic factors
that increase the risk of the disease.
The first sign of a ruptured disk is
usually intense pain. Depending upon
the amount and severity of the pressure
and its location in the spine, symptoms
can also include weakness, paralysis, loss of sensation, and the inability to
control urination and defecation. In
severe herniations, the back legs will be
partially or completely paralyzed. This
may be temporary or permanent. The
nerves affecting the bladder and colon
may also be affected, making urination
or defecation difficult; this is a very
serious condition that requires immediate
How is intervertebral
disk disease treated?
Dogs with mild herniations require
temporary confinement in a small space
(ideally a cage or crate) to limit movement
and the potential for further injury. Your
veterinarian will also likely prescribe
pain medication and a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such
as Rimadyl to help reduce the
swelling around the spinal cord. Dogs
suffering severe herniations may require
surgery to remove the protruding disk
material and/or a portion of the bone
surrounding the spinal cord. This surgery
almost always requires the expertise of a
specialist, and must be performed within
hours of the injury. Full healing typically
takes several weeks or months.
If you suspect your dog has a ruptured
disk, see your veterinarian right away
for a definitive diagnosis and the best
possible chance for recovery.