Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

icon April 26, 2024

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a common neurological condition that affects dogs, particularly those with certain breeds and predispositions. This ailment can cause immense pain and discomfort for our beloved canine companions, and understanding its intricacies is crucial for both prevention and effective management. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention strategies for Intervertebral Disc Disease in dogs.

Understanding Intervertebral Discs:

  • Intervertebral discs are cushion-like structures located between the vertebrae of the spine.
  • These discs are composed of a tough outer layer (annulus fibrosus) and a gel-like inner core (nucleus pulposus).
  • Their primary function is to absorb shock, provide flexibility, and maintain the stability of the spine.

What Is IVDD in Dogs?

IVDD, or Intervertebral Disc Disease, is a spinal condition in dogs where the intervertebral discs degenerate or herniate, leading to compression or damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots. It often causes symptoms such as back pain, reduced mobility, abnormal gait, and loss of bladder or bowel control. Certain breeds are more predisposed, and prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for managing the condition and improving outcomes.

  • Certain dog breeds predisposed to Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) include:
  1. Dachshunds
  2. Beagles
  3. French Bulldogs
  4. Pekingese
  5. Basset Hounds
  6. Corgis
  7. Shih Tzus
  8. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

These breeds are more susceptible to IVDD due to genetic factors and the unique structure of their spines. Owners of these breeds should be particularly vigilant for signs of IVDD and take preventive measures to protect their dogs' spinal health.

IVDD in Dogs Stages

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in dogs is often categorized into two main stages:

1. Hansen Type I (Acute):
This stage involves sudden disc herniation, leading to spinal cord compression. Symptoms can include severe pain, paralysis, and loss of bladder or bowel control. Prompt medical intervention, including surgery, is typically required to alleviate compression and prevent permanent nerve damage.

2. Hansen Type II (Chronic):
This stage involves gradual disc degeneration over time, leading to chronic pain and neurological deficits. Symptoms may include intermittent or mild discomfort, weakness in the limbs, and difficulty with mobility. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of symptoms and may include pain management, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications to manage the condition and improve the dog's quality of life. Regular veterinary monitoring is crucial to assess disease progression and adjust treatment as needed.

Causes of Intervertebral Disc Disease:

  • IVDD occurs when the intervertebral discs degenerate or herniate, leading to compression or damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots.
  • Genetic predisposition: Certain dog breeds, such as Dachshunds, Beagles, and French Bulldogs, are more prone to IVDD due to their genetic makeup.
  • Trauma: Accidents, falls, or sudden movements can cause trauma to the spine, leading to disc herniation.
  • Age-related degeneration: As dogs age, their intervertebral discs may naturally degenerate, making them more susceptible to IVDD.

Symptoms of Intervertebral Disc Disease:

Symptoms of Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in dogs vary depending on the severity and location of the spinal cord compression. Common signs include:

1. Back pain:
Dogs may exhibit signs of discomfort or sensitivity along the spine, often indicated by reluctance to be touched or changes in posture.

2. Reduced mobility:
Weakness, lameness, or paralysis in the limbs, particularly the hind limbs, can occur due to nerve compression.

3. Abnormal gait:
Dogs may have difficulty walking, appearing unsteady, wobbly, or dragging their limbs. This gait abnormality is often described as "drunken" or "knuckling" over.

4. Loss of bladder or bowel control:
Severe cases of IVDD can lead to urinary or fecal incontinence due to impaired nerve function.

Diagnosis of Intervertebral Disc Disease:

  •    - Veterinary examination:
    A thorough physical examination, including neurological assessments, is crucial for diagnosing IVDD.
  •    - Imaging tests:
    X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be performed to visualize the spine and identify any abnormalities or herniated discs.
  •    - Myelogram:
    A contrast dye is injected into the spinal canal to enhance the visualization of spinal cord compression or herniated discs.

IVDD in Dogs Treatment

Treatment for Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in dogs depends on the severity of the condition:

1. Conservative management:
Mild cases may be treated with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, pain management, and physical therapy to alleviate symptoms and promote healing.

2. Surgery:
Severe cases, especially those causing paralysis or loss of bladder/bowel control, may require surgical intervention to decompress the spinal cord and remove herniated disc material.

3. Rehabilitation:
Post-surgery or in conjunction with conservative treatment, rehabilitation techniques such as physical therapy, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy can aid in improving mobility, strengthening muscles, and facilitating recovery.

Your veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate treatment based on your dog's individual needs and the extent of their IVDD.

IVDD Dog Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of a dog with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) varies based on factors such as the severity of the condition, response to treatment, and overall health of the dog. With proper management, many dogs with IVDD can live fulfilling lives, though individual outcomes may vary.

IVDD Dog Life Expectancy

Prognosis and Long-Term Management:

  • The prognosis for dogs with IVDD varies depending on the severity of the condition and the promptness of treatment.
  • Dogs that undergo surgery for IVDD may require weeks to months of rehabilitation and supportive care.
  • Long-term management may involve weight management, regular exercise, and lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of recurrence.


    Certain supplements containing ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids may help support overall joint health and mobility in dogs with IVDD, potentially improving their quality of life. It's essential to consult with a veterinarian before starting any supplements to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your dog's specific condition.

Prevention Strategies:

1. Maintain a healthy weight:
Obesity can exacerbate the risk of IVDD, so it's essential to keep your dog at a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise.

2.  Avoid high-impact activities:
Limit activities that put excessive strain on your dog's spine, such as jumping from heights or rough play.

3. Use supportive measures:
Provide your dog with supportive bedding, ramps or steps for climbing onto furniture, and avoid activities that involve twisting or turning the spine excessively.


Is Walking Good for Dogs with IVDD?

Walking can be beneficial for dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) as it helps maintain muscle tone, supports joint health, and promotes circulation. However, it's essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate level of activity based on the severity of the condition.

Can A Dog Fully Recover From IVDD without Surgery?

In some cases, dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) may fully recover without surgery through conservative management, including rest, medication, and physical therapy. However, the likelihood of full recovery depends on the severity of the condition and individual response to treatment.


Intervertebral Disc Disease is a challenging condition that can significantly impact the quality of life for dogs. By understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention strategies associated with IVDD, pet owners can take proactive steps to safeguard their furry companions' spinal health. Early detection, prompt veterinary care, and proactive management are crucial for ensuring the best possible outcomes for dogs affected by this condition.

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