What is IVDD?
Intervertebral disc disease, IVDD, refers to abnormalities of the discs between the vertebral bones of the spine. These gelatin discs between each vertebral bone allow the spine to flex and cushion the shock of spinal movement.
In older, large breed dogs the soft gelatin begins to harden and become fibrous and eventually becomes stiff cartilage. These changes cause the surrounding tissue to bulge into the spinal canal, compressing the spinal cord. This is called Type II IVDD.
Type I IVDD is the kind found in certain breeds like dachshunds, the basset hound, and other “stubby legged” (chondrodystrophic) dogs as well as other small breed dogs. This genetic defect causes discs to mineralize and become hard at much earlier ages. Bulging into the spinal canal results in spinal cord compression similar to Type II disease. Unlike Type II, Type I discs can spontaneously rupture and cause extreme pain, spinal compression, and nerve dysfunction in younger dogs.
What are the symptoms of IVVD?
Type I IVDD: Severe pain is the most notable symptom for Type I discs in the neck. These dogs have stiff necks and scream when their heads are manipulated. Sometimes these dogs show incoordination in their front legs. With Type I, thoracic (chest) and lumbar (lower back) disc, dogs will become weak and uncoordinated in their hind legs. Spinal pain and sudden paralysis and the inability to walk at all are common. These dogs often lose bladder control and develop urinary incontinence.
Type II IVDD: Reluctance to jump or climb stairs and ramps are the most common early symptoms. Restlessness and panting may be the only early signs. Walking with a lowered head and arched back or reluctance to move the neck are symptoms common in more advanced disease. These dogs may have episodes of unprovoked yelping. In later stages owners will notice that their dog’s back feet “knuckle over” and they drag the tops of their toes. Shaky, trembling back legs with a “wobbly walk” in the back legs is also common. Difficulty getting up or falling on wood or tile floors is also common for dogs with Type II discs.
What causes IVDD?
Although Type I IVDD can occur in any breed of dog, it is primarily due to genetics. Breeding for chondrodystrophic and smaller breed characteristics also carries the genes for this early disc deformity. It is unlikely that more selective breeding practices can reduce the genetic tendencies of these dogs due to the specific show standards for other qualities that are linked to this condition(leg conformation, body type, etc.)
Think of Type II IVDD as a wear-and-tear condition. Years of jumping up and down on furniture, jumping for frisbees, playing, etc. cause injury and damage to spinal discs and initiate the hardening changes.
How is IVDD diagnosed?
A veterinary physical exam will often alert us to probable disc disease. Limb and neck manipulation, neurological function tests, and pain response tests identify what part of the spine is involved. X-rays narrow the search more. Usually, Type I calcified discs readily show on x-rays but sometimes x-rays will not show the affected disc(s) and dogs need an MRI to locate the troublesome disc.
How is IVDD treated?
The paralysis and pain of Type I ruptures require immediate veterinary care to prevent permanent spinal cord damage. Corticosteroid drugs and other medications are given to reverse damage to the spinal cord and reduce swelling of the cord and prolapsed disc.
To prevent permanent damage to the spine, surgery is often necessary. It is also common for these dogs to require multiple surgeries during their life. Many surgeons will not only treat the acute(happening now) disc but perform the procedure on all questionable adjacent discs.
Few dogs that receive medication and cage rest only for a Type I ruptured disc will walk normally again. We have successfully treated Type I disc disease with holistic treatment if surgery is out of the question for a patient.
Type II discs are very responsive to alternative, holistic treatment, and rest. Our go-to-program is a combination of cold laser therapy, essential oils, and Chinese herbs that reduce inflammation and pain. We also include a safe injection that significantly increases mobility.
Although we do not offer acupuncture, acupressure, and massage, when used in combination with the above program, these treatments add more pain relief and mobility. Chiropractic therapy can help but should be used with caution if spinal impingement is severe as “adjusting” could cause more disc displacement into the spinal cord. This, unfortunately, happened to me and I end-up needing neck surgery.
If possible, water therapy is wonderful for strengthening back muscles to help protect weak discs. 10-15 minute sessions in the hot tub or swimming pool are excellent exercises. We recommend a dog life-saving vest so your dog can spend all of her efforts on moving her legs instead of trying to stay afloat. Your dog may need assistance getting out of a pool in the shallow end steps because the steps can be slippery. Another alternative is purchasing a wading pool that, when filled, comes to your dog’s chest. Using treats, encourage your dog to walk around the pool for 10-15 minutes. As your dog gains strength, you can increase it to 2-4 sessions per day.
We reserve the use of Western treatments as a last resort or used in short intervals to “rescue” patients that may have “overdone it” playing or exercising. Corticosteroids, muscle relaxants, and Gabapentin decrease spinal inflammation and pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like Rimadyl, Galliprant, or meloxicam may help some dogs but are not consistent in their action for IVDD.