Radiculopathy in Dogs

Basset hounds are one of several breeds at greater risk of developing radiculopathy as a result of IVDD.
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Radiculopathy is a condition in which the nerve roots around the spine are compressed, usually as a result of spinal degeneration or injury. One of the primary causes of canine radiculopathy is intervertebral disc disease, which some dog breeds are prone to. Treatment can help reverse some of the damage caused by IVDD and radiculopathy. Take steps to prevent your canine companion from developing the disorder.

Radiculopathy & IVDD

Located between all but the two neck vertebrae are intervertebral discs that act like shock absorbers in the spine. As dogs age, these discs naturally start to degenerate in a process called spondylosis. That natural type of degeneration usually doesn't cause any noticeable discomfort for your dog. However, some breeds, such as beagles and cocker spaniels, can be born with defects that affect the development of these discs, and others, including German shepherds, can have chronic problems with bulging discs. Regardless of the cause or the breed, these disc problems -- intervertebral disc disease -- can put pressure on the nerve roots around the spine. That pressure on the nerves is called radiculopathy.

Symptoms of Radiculopathy

Just like humans, dogs who suffer from radiculopathy can experience numbness and pain because of the nerve compression. Weakness in the limbs can also be a problem. Dogs exhibit these conditions with a number of visible symptoms, including lameness, walking with their backs hunched, eating less, unwillingness or inability to jump, muscle spasms, becoming less active and making audible sounds of discomfort. As a result of the nerve compression, some dogs become incontinent. If any of these symptoms appear in your dog, see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Delayed treatment can cause more severe and permanent nerve damage.

Available Treatment Options

The severity of the nerve damage caused by the radiculopathy determines how aggressively the condition will be treated. In mild cases, your veterinarian may use medications to reduce inflammation and swelling of the discs, which will relieve the pressure on the nerve roots. Other cases require the surgical removal of parts of the vertebrae to give the discs better spacing. With either approach, the dog will need time to recover and may need restricted activity to prevent additional injury to the discs and spine.

Preventing IVDD & Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy and IVDD are preventable conditions, even in dogs genetically predisposed to spinal disc problems. First, good training and regular exercise can prevent dogs from engaging in risky activities such as dangerous jumping, which can cause damage to the spinal cord and discs. For breeds at risk of the condition, maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the strain on the back and spine. Also, using harnesses instead of collars while walking can reduce the risk of damaging the neck and upper vertebrae. You can also discourage jumping behavior by using stairs or ramps to make it easier for your dog to reach places.