Degenerative back disease, or intervertebral disk disease, in dogs affects the disks between the vertebrae. In a healthy dog, these disks provide a gel-like pillow between the bones, allowing for spinal movement while keeping the bones from coming into contact with the spinal column. In degenerative disk disease, the disks outer shell breaks and allows the disk center to rupture outward, toward the spinal cord. Recovery, and the treatment necessary for recovery, depends on the stage of degeneration and any possible complications.
Minor Injury, Simple Recovery
Stage I disk disease occurs when there is only mild disk rupturing. The main symptom is slight pain and typically does not require any treatment aside from rest and reduced movement. This form usually corrects itself within a few days. If the condition does not resolve on its own, the veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications.
A Prescription for Recovery
Stage II and III increase in symptom severity. Stage II causes moderate to severe pain in the neck or lower back while Stage III causes partial paralysis, resulting in uncoordinated walking. Both these stages are typically treated with anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce disk inflammation. Pain relievers and exercise restriction are recommended until pain and symptoms improve. If no improvement occurs within four to seven day, or if symptoms worsen, the condition may have progressed to Stage IV or V.
Both Stage IV and V result in paralysis. In addition to paralysis, Stage V also causes loss of feeling. In many cases, dogs with Stage IV can recover on anti-inflammatory medications however, surgical intervention typically is recommended for both Stage IV and V. Surgery involves removing the leaking disk material that is placing pressure on the spinal cord. The sooner surgical intervention takes place, the greater the recovery prognosis.
A Thorn in the Back
Spondylosis deformans is a condition commonly seen with degenerative disk disease. As disks rupture, the stability of the joints weakens. When this occurs, spurs, or osteophytes, develop and often form a bridge between vertebral bones. These spurs help to re-establish stability to the spine. In many cases of spondylosis deformans, the spurs cause no pain and actually prove beneficial, requiring no treatment. Occasionally, the spurs develop and grow inward, compressing the spinal cord. When this occurs, surgery is necessary to relieve compression.
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