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Intervertebral Disc Disease: What is IVDD?

Posted 09.04.18 by Dr. Reagan Bugg, DVM

What is IVDD?

Intervertebral disc disease is a common cause of spinal pain in the dog. Between each vertebrae is a intervertebral disc, which acts as a shock absorber. A normal disc is made from a hard, fibrous outside ring (annulus) and a soft gel like center (nucleus pulposus).

There are two types of degenerative disc changes that can occur: chondroid metaplasia (or Hansen Type I) or fibrinoid metaplasia (Hansen Type II). Chrondroid metaplasia is most common in chondrodystrophic breeds like dachshunds, and  generally happen between 4-6 years of age. This is associated with the extrusion of the nucleus pulposus and has an acute clinical onset. Large breeds such as German shepherds  are most prone to fibrinoid metaplasia, which usually has chronic clinical signs and is associated with disc protrusion.

Signs of disc disease include back pain, tensing the abdomen, pelvic limb ataxia (wobbly walking), knuckling of paws, an arched back, or inability to walk.  If IVDD occurs in the neck, the dog will generally hold his head down which walking and have spasms in the neck.

How do we diagnosis this disease?

We use a combination of physical and neurologic examination with imaging to diagnose the issue at hand. Generally, we start with radiographs (x-rays), but advanced imaging (CT, MRI, myelogram) may be needed for accurate diagnosis as acute disc problems sometimes don’t show up on radiographs.

Dschshund in wheelchair

What’s next?

With only mild to moderate pain, medical treatment may work well as therapy. Methods of treatment generally include strict rest (2-4 weeks), pain relief (non steroidal anti-inflammatories safe for dogs or steroids), and a muscle relaxer. Check ups are often needed to assess progress.

When severe pain or loss of function is present, surgical treatment is indicated. In a patient with intact reflexes and normal pain responses, surgery is highly successful. If a patient develops loss of feeling in the limbs (deep pain negative), surgery should be performed as quickly as possible to maximize recovery.

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