What is IVDD in Dogs?
IVDD or intervertebral disk disease is a disease relating to the back and spinal column. The bones of the spine have protective cushioning, called intervertebral disks between the spinal bones that aid in support whilst your dog is moving, playing, and jumping. These disks are tough but can become weaker with time or even rupture. When this occurs, it causes pressure on the spinal cord. IVDD in dogs is further subcategorized into IVDD type 1 and IVDD type 2.
Type 1 IVDD involves rupture of the intervertebral disk. This is often not associated with trauma as the disk can get weaker with time, and then rupture. The material from the disk presses into the spinal cord and often causes paralysis.
In type 2 IVDD the disk does not fully rupture but becomes weakened to the point where it ‘bulges’ out from its normal position between the spinal bones and presses into the spinal cord causing less severe, but still noticeable signs.
Symptoms of IVDD in dogs are very noticeable. The breeds most commonly affected are short-legged dogs with long backs, such as Corgis and Dachshunds. Dachshunds especially are very prone to this condition, with around 19-24% of all Dachshunds affected during their lifetime according to studies.
Signs of type 1 IVDD include intense pain, vocalization when touching around their back end, paralysis, and loss of movement in the back legs. You may also notice your dog is unable to urinate or defecate. This process can be very sudden, with dogs unable to move or have any sensation in their back legs within a few hours.
Signs of type 2 IVDD are less pronounced. They may be painful around the lumbar or hip area when touched, start limping, and struggle to move. Over time this can progress to loss of movement and sensation in the hindlimbs altogether. This is a much slower process than type 1 IVDD.
Of course, there are other causes of back pain in dogs, so a veterinary visit is needed to work out the exact location and cause of the pain.
A veterinarian will do a thorough neurological examination to locate the exact area of the spine that is causing the problem. Once this area has been located, testing is needed.
Your veterinarian may suggest X-rays to rule out other causes of back pain such as osteoarthritis, cancer, or fractures as a starting point. Advanced imaging such as a CT or MRI scan is needed to assess the intervertebral disks in detail and reach a diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 IVDD in dogs.
IVDD in dogs is treated medically and surgically.
Surgical treatment is needed for type 1 IVDD, where the intervertebral disk ruptures and causes pressure on the spinal cord. A veterinary neurologist will perform delicate spinal surgery to remove the disk material pressing into the spinal cord. The success rates are around 90% in dogs who still have deep pain in their toes. Recovery time after surgery is usually 6-8 weeks of crate rest, medications, and physiotherapy.
Medical treatment is most common for type 2 IVDD. This involves complete crate rest, and pain relief medications. There are many different types of pain relief we can give dogs to help them cope with the pain, and giving multiple types of medications is common. You may need to help your dog go to the toilet, and massage their legs to help with blood flow to the muscles. Recovery times are longer, usually 2-3 months, but can be even longer than that. Some dogs may have lasting signs of leg weakness or paralysis.
IVDD in dogs can never be completely prevented as it is related to body type and genetics. Keeping your dog in the normal weight range and not overweight will help reduce extra pressure on the back. Avoiding high-energy activities that put a lot of strain on the back such as chasing a frisbee or ball can help reduce the chance of IVDD. Try low-impact activities instead such as gentle walks or joining a scent work class.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I do at home to treat IVDD?
IVDD is a painful, progressive condition. No home treatment will cure your dog. In the short-term keeping your dog as still as possible–in a crate is best whilst waiting for your vet appointment. Do not give any medications to your dog as this can mask signs your veterinarian is looking for to reach a diagnosis.
Can dogs recover from IVDD?
IVDD in dogs is a complex condition, and the earlier the issue is diagnosed the higher the chance of survival. Surgical correction carries a good prognosis, & medical and pain management can be highly successful but take much longer. Your dog is always at risk of suffering from this condition again in the future if they do make a full recovery.
Is IVDD in dogs an inherited disease?
Yes, there is a strong link between genetics and the occurrence of IVDD in dogs. Lifestyle and environmental factors also play a small part.
Do IVDD dogs need a wheelchair to get around?
Whilst recovering from illness, dogs with IVDD need confinement. If permanent damage is present after the recovery period, a wheelchair may be helpful for mobility- talk to your veterinarian.
IVDD in dogs is a complex condition, and an early diagnosis is crucial for good success rates. If you see any of the signs described above, or your dog cannot walk, book a veterinary appointment for a check-up. The cost of advanced diagnostics such as CT scans, specialist veterinary surgery, and prolonged recovery rates can mean this condition is a very expensive disease to treat. Bills of upwards of $10,000 are common even in uncomplicated cases because of the level of expertise and care required to treat this condition. Pet insurance can help cover this cost, so always consider purchasing this for your dog, especially if you have a high-risk breed such as a Dachshund or Corgi.