When humans complain about low back pain, they may be suffering from herniated or intervertebral disc disease. The same is true for your canine companion. In the spine of both humans and dogs, discs act as cushions between the vertebrae. These discs are composed of fibrous outer capsules and gel-like insides. With herniated disc disease, the discs bulge or burst, placing pressure on the spinal cord. Two types of disc disease exist in dogs; they cause similar symptoms and require similar treatment.
Hansen Type I Disc Disease
Hansen Type I disc disease primarily affects small-breed dogs such as beagles, cocker spaniels, Pekingese, basset hounds, corgis, poodles and dachshunds, with dachshunds being the most commonly affected. With this type of disc disease, the spinal discs actually rupture or burst, leaking the gel-like substance out, causing pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. This rupture can occur gradually or abruptly, causing immediate symptoms, including sudden paralysis. Symptoms typically surface between 3 years and 6 years of age.
Hansen Type II Disc Disease
Hansen Type II disc disease affects larger breed dogs, such as Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, German shepherds, Rottweilers and mastiffs. Unlike Type I disease, the discs in Type II do not rupture. Instead, the entire disc slowly slips out of place and bulges outward, placing pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. Symptoms typically surface in older dogs. Disc disease is often a component of wobbler’s syndrome, a neurological condition seen in large-breed dogs that causes a wobbly gait.
Symptoms Associated With Disc Disease
Despite the difference in how the disc causes pressure, symptoms of both Hansen Type I and II disc disease are similar, with pain being the most common. Petting your dog’s back may cause him to cry out in pain. You may notice muscle spasms down the spine. Your dog may refuse to play or even get up. Stairs are usually extremely painful. With increasing pressure on the spine, your dog may experience lameness, weakness, paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control.
How Disc Disease Is Treated
Treatment for herniated disc disease varies depending on the severity of the spinal pressure. In mild cases, your veterinarian may prescribe steroids or anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pressure. At such a time, your dog’s activity will have to be minimized; many dogs require cage or kennel confinement. In severe cases where paralysis is present, surgery may be necessary. In these cases, the most common surgery is a laminectomy. In this surgery, the surgeon goes in through a small incision in the back and removes a section of the vertebra above the disc. At this point, the protruding part of the disc is also removed. In cases where the herniation is in the neck, the procedure is called a ventral slot. After surgery, activity is typically restricted for four to six weeks, with full recovery and strength returning within six to nine months.