What is a slipped disc?
A Slipped Disc is also known as Intervertebral disc disease, which affects your dog’s spine and surrounding areas causing limited mobility. In both dogs and cats, the intervertebral disc is a doughnut-shaped pad that provides a cushion between your dog’s joints. When it shifts, it causes friction to build up around the joints, which causes issues with walking normally or supporting their own weight.
What causes a spinal disc to slip?
A disc can slip in one of two ways, by injury or due to age or premature aging.
Severe accidents like getting hit by a car or getting into a fight can cause internal damage, including a slipped disc.
More often, the natural degeneration of your dog’s spinal cord. Over time the discs, between their joints will harden and become unable to cushion the vertebrae properly. This puts pressure by compressing or bulging onto the spinal cord, which can push onto your dog’s nerve endings and causes pain.
Signs of a Slipped Disc
Even the most pampered of pooches can unknowingly develop symptoms of a slipped disc, which can fly under the radar even during yearly checkups. Signs typically come on gradually, though they can come on suddenly in severe cases; one wrong jump onto the bed can spark symptoms by putting stress on a degenerated disc that’s been affected by IVDD.
Slipped Discs are best treated when detected and treated quickly, so if you notice your pooch showing any of the following symptoms, it’s essential to schedule an examination by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Slipped discs can occur along the top, middle, or lower sections of your dog’s spinal cord, and their symptoms will look slightly different.
Upper Back or Neck Symptoms
The slip of a Neck Intervertebral Disc can have effects that range from stiffness to inability to move.
Other symptoms to look for are:
- Curving Back
- Whimpering or Crying
- Head held down
- Knuckling of paws
If the slip occurs in the middle of your dog’s back, you may notice symptoms across the body.
- Weak Back Legs
- Tense Stomach
- Trouble supporting their own weight
- Slow or Pained Movement when walking
Lower Back Symptoms
When a disc is slipped on the lower back vertebrae, many symptoms are localized in the hips, rear end, and tail.
Symptoms of Lower Back Disc Disease:
- Limp Tail
- Urinary incontinence
- Painful Jumping or Climbing
Dog Breeds that are Prone to IVDD
Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to IVDD and joint diseases. Breeds that have been bred for stoutness over generations tend to have more issues because of their elongated spines working against their short, stubby legs. Breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Pekingese tend to be less agile and active, contributing to limited mobility as they age. This makes these breeds prone to disc degeneration as they grow older, as a natural part of aging. Conversely, hyperactive breeds like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are more likely to sustain injury from jumping on couches or off beds.
Treating and Caring for a Slipped Disc
Once a slipped disc has been identified, it is crucial to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations to avoid worsening the condition and prolonging pain for your furry friend. Timely diagnosis and treatment of IVDD can protect your pooch from irreversible damage and get them back to living a normal life in no time.
Have your Dog Examined By Your Vet
Diagnosis needs to begin as soon as possible after you have seen signs of IVDD in your dog. The doctor will try to determine the cause of the slipped disc, which could have been sustained following an injury or developed over time. Your vet may order an X-Ray to determine the extent of damage to the spinal cord. If there is more extensive damage or inflammation, a CT scan or MRI may be necessary for further evaluation.
Begin Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or Steroids
In most cases, when your pet still has most of its mobility, your vet will prescribe an anti-inflammatory or a round of steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling at the site of the slipped disc. A rigid routine of reduced physical activity will be implemented to reduce pain and agitation of the vertebrae while your dog is healing.
Be sure to complete the entire regimen, even if your dog seems to be improved; this will give them time to heal fully and ease the tension on their back and limbs.
If medicine and rest haven’t worked after several weeks, the next step the vet will take is surgery.
Surgery may be necessary to remove portions of the hardened disc to reduce tension and bulges along the spinal cord.
Surgery is very successful in dogs with mild cases or cases that have not lost full mobility in their limbs. The damage of Intervertebral Disc Disease can be permanent, meaning the more damage that occurs before treatment, the more likely the disease will have long-lasting effects.
Physical and Home Therapy
Dogs who show signs of long-term damage may be great candidates for strength training. A wide range of mobility and strengthening exercises that a physical therapist will choose from to best fit your pup’s needs. You will learn the proper techniques and beneficial effects of your dog’s physical therapy exercises regimen so that you can continue with home therapy after several weeks. Continuing therapy at home will reduce the long-term damage done from the slipped disc and manage your dog’s pain and discomfort. This is especially important for older dogs and breeds that are more susceptible to IVDD.
Cold Therapy is an effective therapy for the first two weeks following surgery. The therapy is designed to reduce inflammation, pain, and swelling by applying an ice pack to the affected area. Gel packs or conforming ice packs work best to take on the shape of your dog’s muscles and provide targeted relief. The ice will slow the blood flow by restricting the blood vessels in the surgical area to prevent inflammation. This is crucial to your dog’s recovery immediately after surgery because it promotes regeneration of damaged tissue following surgery.
Warm therapy will relax your dog’s muscles and improve blood flow. Heating pads will increase blood flow to the area and stimulate the healing process. However, it is essential to wait at least 72 hours before using heat therapy because the surgery site will need to regenerate healthy tissue and maintain low levels of inflammation during the initial healing period.
Be very careful to monitor heat levels when applying moist or heat therapy pads. You can soak a regular washcloth in water and then microwave it until it is warm. Before applying the washcloth to your dog’s skin, be sure to test it on your own skin. If it is too hot for you, it will be too hot for your dog. You can also utilize a hot and cold gel pack, which will provide the benefits of both hot and cold therapy and has warming instructions to guide you in safely heating it to the recommended temperature for your dog.
Some exercises can be practiced at home, light stretches like the cookie stretch, where you guide your dog’s head using a dog treat, to tilt to the left and right toward their neck can help keep their muscle loose and mobile.
Hind Leg and Hip exercises will improve your dog’s stability. Passive Range of Motion therapy will prevent tension and stiffness in the muscles. The therapist will extend and flex your dogs’ limbs within their natural range of motion using bicycle motion or mimicking typical walking motions. Once you have practiced with the therapist, they may suggest continuing physical therapy exercises at home to increase mobility benefits and joint lubrication.
Isolation and Rest
After a slipped disc, rest and relaxation will be your dog’s best friend. Your dog will need to have limited physical activity and exercise for 4-6 weeks. A dog crate or kennel is recommended to ensure your dog’s movements are restricted. This will prevent sudden movements and strains on the injured spinal cord. Maintaining a dog’s healthy weight is also crucial.
If you prefer not to keep your dog confined to a crate, you can isolate your dog in a spare room or dog pen for smaller dogs.
Create a specially designed dog room to keep your pup as comfortable as possible while they heal. Any great dog room starts with the best dog bed. You’ll want to choose a plush or therapeutic bed designed for body support. Beds like the Big Barker will provide lots of space and support for your doggo to stretch out and remain comfortable.
Keep an eye on your pampered pooch with a dog camera. You’ll want to opt for a live streaming camera so you can watch your dog in real-time. Monitor their activity to make sure they are not running or climbing in the room. Make sure to remove any furniture and block windowsills, so your dog is not able to climb.
Provide lots of dog toys to keep your pup occupied. They will be spending a lot of time alone in the room and will become bored quickly. It’s important to have various options to keep their attention while they are on a physically restrictive regimen. Put together a few baskets of your dog’s favorite toys so you can switch them out periodically. This will keep your dog’s attention for longer and keep boredom at bay. Browse the list of best dog toys for some great time-filling ideas. Be sure to look for low-activity toys that do not promote the rough play. The Frisco Monkey plush dog toy is great for snuggling, and the Frisco line of puzzle toys is great for cognitive stimulation; dogs will love playing hide and seek with the plush squeaky dinosaurs and aliens.
1. How long does it take a dog to recover from a slipped disc?
Recovery time for slipped discs is around 4 to 6 weeks. During this time, dogs should be on a physical activity restriction. Only light activity is recommended .
2. Is herniated disc in dogs painful?
A herniated disc can cause pain and discomfort in dogs. It is best to follow up with your dog’s vet to determine a suitable treatment plan to manage their pain.
3. How can I relieve my dog’s back pain?
Your dog’s back pain can be managed with anti-inflammatory medicine and steroids to reduce the tension and inflammation of your dog’s vertebrae along its spinal cord. Physical Therapy and a leg sling may also help with limited mobility.
4. Is walking good for a slipped disc?
Seek the advice of your dog’s vet before walking a dog diagnosed with a slipped disc. Limited physical activity is recommended.