There are various degenerative spinal conditions affecting dogs of all sizes and breeds. The conditions can affect the spine, the spinal cord or both. Some are due to genetic predisposition and are more common in specific breeds, while others develop after a traumatic event. All of these conditions progress and can lead to a loss of motor function and even paralysis.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease, or intervertebral disc disease, is a spinal condition that affects the stabilizing discs between the vertebrae. Gel-like discs are found between each vertebra that absorb shock and help to stabilize the spine. As dogs age, these discs degenerate, the center ruptures and moves toward the spinal cord, often compressing nerves. Symptoms include pain, reluctance to move, difficulty walking and partial or complete paralysis. Degenerative disc disease affects both small and large breed dogs with a predisposition occurring in the dachshund, poodle, Pekingese, lhaso apso, cocker spaniel, German shepherd, Labrador retriever and Doberman pinscher. This condition often is accompanied by spondylosis deformans.
Spondylosis deformans is a degenerative condition often secondary to degenerative disc disease. As the discs become unstable, bony spurs, or osteophytes, develop to help stabilize the spine. These spurs often form a bridge between vertebral bones and result in reduced range of motion. The bony spurs typically don’t cause symptoms, but they can put pressure on spinal nerves, causing pain and lameness.
Degenerative myelopathy is a degenerative condition that affects the white matter in the spinal cord. As the spinal cord degeneration increases, body function decreases. Symptoms include muscle atrophy, partial or complete paralysis, loss of bladder and bowel control and loss of muscle mass. Genetic studies have shown a predisposition in German shepherds, corgis, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Irish setters, boxers, collies, Rhodesian ridgebacks and poodles.
Cervical spondylomyelopathy, or wobbler syndrome, is a degenerative spinal condition affecting the cervical spine. Disc slippage or bony malformations cause compression of the spinal cord in the neck. Symptoms include the trademark wobbly gait, neck pain, weakness, short walking strides, muscle loss near the shoulders and difficulty getting up from a sitting position. In extreme cases, paralysis can occur in all four limbs. Breeds predisposed to cervical spondylomyelopathy include Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds and basset hounds.