Your older dog has lost the bounce in his step and, where he used to love a good back scratch, he now seems to cringe when you touch his back. While these symptoms can just be your dog getting older, they can also be a sign of canine spondylosis. This degenerative condition occurs as a response to spinal instability and your dog's body trying to repair itself.
Spondylosis is not a condition that appears overnight. As your dog’s body senses instability in the spine, calcium deposits near the area of instability and creates a bony spur, which creates a bridge between the vertebrae. Spondylosis often occurs with no outward symptoms and diagnosis is, in many cases, found by accident through X-rays when looking for other conditions.
Many dogs with spondylosis are often symptom-free. As the spurs connect the vertebrae, restricted movement or stiffness may be the only indicator that something has changed. Spondylosis most often occurs in the mid- to lower back regions, often only used by dogs when jumping or stretching. Other symptoms depend on the location of the spurs. If they develop near a nerve root, pain or lameness may occur. Often you will be able to feel the growth on your dog’s back before any symptoms arise.
Spondylosis was once thought to affect large-breed dogs, but it can develop in any breed and usually begins to develop by 10 years of age. Many believe that it affects all older dogs to some extent, though diagnosis does not always occur. While associated with aging, repeated micro-trauma, major spine trauma or repeated pressure on areas of the spine can contribute to spine instability and bone growth.
Treatment for spondylosis depends on the location and severity of the spurs, as well as your dog’s lifestyle. In many cases, spondylosis does not cause pain or require any treatment. If your dog experiences pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can provide relief. If the spurs compress the spine, surgery to remove them can reduce symptoms, though the need for surgery is rare. Maintaining a healthy weight can help in some cases, as can physical therapy and monitored exercise programs. Due to spinal fragility, avoid any twisting and bending of the spine in dogs diagnosed with spondylosis.
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