The spine is made up of numerous small bones called
vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by flexible
"intervertebral discs" that cushion. The vertebrae each
have a tunnel running through them. The spinal cord
runs through these tunnels, where it is protected by the
bone surrounding it, except for the places in between
the vertebrae where it runs over the top of the discs.
A disc may rupture, or herniate, causing a portion of the disc to
protrude upward and place pressure on the spinal cord. The pressure on
the spinal cord can cause pain, weakness, paralysis, loss of sensation,
and the inability to control urination and defecation. This is a very
serious condition and it is imperative that you seek veterinary care
immediately. Your dog may have IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease).
In many cases, we may never find exactly when or what
caused the disc to rupture. Although a herniated disc may be
associated with severe trauma such as being hit by a car or falling
from heights, this cause is relatively uncommon. In the smaller
breeds, it often occurs when these dogs jump off furniture.
The veterinarian suspects a herniated disc based on a physical exam,
the history, and the symptoms. Radiographs support the diagnosis. A
myelogram (a special x-ray using dye), MRI, or CAT scan can pinpoint the
exact location of the disc problem. More than 1 disc may be involved.
Nonsurgical therapy is used when the symptoms are mild.
Treatment may include temporarily confining the animal to a cage or very
small area, making sure the dog doesn't jump, run, twist, or move in a
way that could further injure the area. Usually either a corticosteroid such
as prednisone, or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such
as Rimadyl (carprofen), Etodolac (Generic), or Deramaxx (deracoxib) is
recommended. These medications help reduce the swelling around the
spinal cord. Do not use pain relievers without consulting first with your
veterinarian. Acupuncture can also be used to help relieve the symptoms.
Surgery is considered in certain cases such as if there is severe pain,
or there are more severe nervous system signs. The protruding disc material
and/or portion of the bone that surrounds the spinal cord may be removed
to help relieve the pressure. Surgery must be done within the first day or
so following the injury to be most effective. Following surgery, the dog
must be kept in strict confinement as described above. Whether medical,
surgical, or a combination of the two treatments is used, it may be several
weeks to a month or more before the dog has achieved maximum healing.
Prognosis is generally good if the dog can still feel deep pain in the
affected limbs when presented for treatment and the treatment is provided
rapidly. The prognosis is more guarded if there is paralysis or reduced
deep pain sensation. The possibility of walking again is poor if the animal
is paralyzed and has lost deep pain sensation or treatment is delayed