Your dog's spinal column consists of numerous small bones, vertebrae, that protect the spinal cord running through them. Each vertebrae is cushioned from the next by a disc consisting of outer fiber and a gel-like interior. A dog afflicted with canine degenerative disc disease, also known intervertebral disc disease, might not show any sign of a problem until a disc actually ruptures. Gradual degeneration occurs over the animal's lifetime, much like any arthritic condition.
Dogs of middle age and older might develop spondylosis deformans, in which bone spurs form along spine bone edges. Also known as osteophytes, these spurs often form in several areas along the spine: Usually, bone spurs develop at the chest vertebrae and the lumbar region around the rear legs, hips and lower back. Most dogs remain asymptomatic, other than slight back stiffness. However, if a bone spur hits a nerve, pain results. Your veterinarian can diagnose spondylosis deformans via X-rays or other imaging methodologies.
A rupture occurs when the fibrous part of a disc breaks open, allowing part of the interior to come out and hit a nerve or the spinal cord. It can occur when the outer layer doesn't break but the entire disc bulges outward, also hitting the spine or nerves. Dogs affected with an ruptured disc experience great pain and might have trouble walking or become paralyzed. When a disc bulges, the onset is more gradual, so the dog might exhibit gait issues and wobbliness over time.
Certain breeds -- especially small dogs with long backs -- are quite susceptible to disc rupture. These include dachshunds, Welsh corgis, beagles, basset hounds, Pekingese, shih tzus, Lhasa apsos, poodles, cocker spaniels and other breeds deliberately bred for short leggedness. While canine degenerative disc disease is related to aging, degeneration can start in puppyhood in short-legged, low-slung dogs. For affected dogs, disc ruptures can occur within the first few years of life. Certain larger breeds are prone to disc rupture, including German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and Labrador retrievers, but such ruptures tend to occur in older canines.
Treatment and Recuperation
Dogs diagnosed with disc rupture usually require surgery as quickly as possible. Your regular veterinarian probably can't perform the operation -- your dog needs the services of a veterinary neurologist or other specialist. The faster the dog undergoes an operation, the better his prognosis for an overall recovery. The surgery, called a laminectomy, consists of removing the disc material and performing a procedure to reduce the risks of herniation of adjacent discs. Expect your dog to stay in the hospital for approximately a week and to spend four to six weeks recuperating at home before resuming normal activities.