Slipped Disc In Dogs, When To Put Down

A slipped disc is one of the most painful experiences imaginable, for both humans and dogs alike.

Our dogs can fall victim to unbearable disc disease just like you and I can, though their treatment options will vary greatly.

When a dog owner is unable to pursue proper treatment for their dog with a slipped disc, this often leads them to the possibility of euthanasia.

Euthanasia can be a solution for a dog with debilitating disc disease, but it should only be explored when other options have failed to work.

To help you better understand the details of this disease and when it may be time to say goodbye, let’s get into the topic.

My Dog Has A Slipped Disc

What Is Intervertebral Disc Disease In Dogs (IVDD)?

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs is a condition that refers to the degeneration of the discs between the spinal vertebrae, causing the discs to either bulge or slip into the spinal cord space.

The term IVDD and slipped disc is used interchangeably when describing the condition, as the protrusion of the disc is the result of the degeneration as a whole.

The intervertebral discs in the spine play a large role in the overall function of the canine spinal cord. When a dog has IVDD, this means that the cushion-like discs between the vertebrae are put under stress.

These discs will begin to slip or protrude into the spinal cord space, causing the normal function of the spine to be disturbed.

The spinal cord itself relies on the vertebrae and intervertebral discs between the bones to offer protection, as these provide a natural barrier from potential trauma, as well as allowing safe flexibility.

When the intervertebral discs in the spine are not functioning properly and have slipped out of place, this in turn throws everything off.

Not only will a dog struggle to carry out normal tasks, but they will experience great pain when doing so.

What Causes A Slipped Disc In Dogs?

Though symptoms of IVDD can come on suddenly in dogs, the actual degeneration of the intervertebral discs takes time.

The degenerative process of the disc can take years to set in, while the actual protrusion of the disc can take weeks to occur.

To help you better understand how this process develops, let’s discuss the two types of IVDD progression below.

Type 1 IVDD

When a dog has type one IVDD, they will experience deterioration of the discs along the mid-region of their spine.

These dogs will develop hardening of the outer layer of the intervertebral discs in this region, causing the disc to become more sensitive over time.

This means that any forceful impact can cause a disc to burst, leading to sudden and excruciating pain. This is the type of IVDD that is most commonly found in small breeds with long backs.

Type 2 IVDD

Type two IVDD in dogs is a more gradual process that is most common in older, large breed dogs.

This form of IVDD is due to chronic bulging of the outer portion of certain discs in the spine, causing the disc itself to deteriorate over time.

These dogs often display subtle signs of pain that worsen over time, leading to eventual weakness of the limbs.

Symptoms Of Disc Disease In Dogs

The symptoms of a slipped disc in dogs will often vary based on the type of disc herniation they are experiencing.

Type 1 and type 2 IVDD have different rates of progression, meaning the general symptoms of the disease can vary from dog to dog.

Though signs can vary greatly, there are a few common symptoms to be aware of when referring to spinal pain in dogs.

Some of the most common symptoms of a slipped disc in dogs include:

  • Abnormal gait or movement
  • Appearing tight or guarded around the abdomen and back, often with a hunched appearance
  • Being reluctant to participate in physical activities
  • Appearing uncoordinated, or more wobbly than usual
  • Weakness in certain limbs
  • Holding their head lower than usual
  • Crying out when jumping on furniture or being picked up
  • Shaking or panting
  • Having a hard time posturing to urinate or defecate
  • Lethargy
  • Appearing listless or depressed
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia
  • Paralysis, or extreme weakness of the back limbs

These symptoms will vary from dog to dog, and may appear sudden or gradually. It all varies based on the form of IVDD they are experiencing, or the trigger that leads to their current pain.

Is A Slipped Disc An Emergency In Dogs?

A slipped disc in dogs is considered an emergency due to the potential for paralysis and permanent spinal damage.

A slipped disc can also be an excruciating condition for a dog to endure, making it essential to seek immediate relief for the dog affected.

Though a slipped disc is a medical emergency, IVDD is not always obvious in every furry friend.

The best advice would be to seek veterinary care from the moment you notice any abnormal symptoms, as this can decrease the chance of permanent damage in your canine friend.

Time is of the essence in these situations, so it’s always best to be safe if you notice any potential symptoms of disc disease.

Diagnosing Disc Disease In Dogs

If your veterinarian is suspicious of a slipped disc in your furry friend, there are a few diagnostics that can help them to make an accurate diagnosis.

First, your vet will gather a detailed history on any symptoms your dog has been experiencing at home, along with their standard behavior in terms of physical activity.

Once your vet has gathered a history, they will then perform a physical exam. This physical exam will include mobility tests that not only examine your dog’s flexibility, but will search for any evidence of pain.

For example, if your dog cries out when the vet attempts to lift their neck, this will help them determine the area of the spine they should be concerned with.

Next, your vet will likely suggest some form of diagnostic imaging.

Radiographs are typically readily available in most veterinary offices, but they cannot show all evidence of IVDD progression.

X-rays can show narrowing of the spaces in between the vertebrae, but it cannot indicate the health of the intervertebral discs.

An MRI or CT scan are the best options in terms of getting an accurate IVDD diagnosis, though you may need to be referred to a specialist to have this performed.

Can You Treat A Slipped Disc In Dogs?

Disc disease can be managed or even treated in dogs, but treatment varies based on how severe your dog’s condition is.

The progression of IVDD in dogs is graded in 5 stages, each of which will respond to different degrees of treatment.

The 5 stages of disc disease in dogs include:

Stage 1 IVDD

Dogs may experience mild pain due to the beginning stages of disc deterioration, but often respond quickly when offered proper medical management

Stage 2 IVDD

Dogs can experience mild to moderate pain in this stage of the condition, but still tend to respond quickly when offered effective management options. 

Stage 3 IVDD

Dogs may begin to experience weakness of the limbs, significant pain, or uncoordinated movements. These dogs typically require more aggressive intervention, but may not require surgery just yet. 

Stage 4 IVDD

Dogs will begin to experience partial paralysis at this point, but may still be able to feel pain. This often means that dogs can have the disc repaired and gain back most spinal function with surgery, but the prognosis can be guarded. 

Stage 5 IVDD

Dogs will experience full paralysis and loss of feeling, and have the most guarded prognosis in terms of treatment through surgical repair.

The stage of a dog’s disc disease can range in severity, meaning their treatment options will vary as well.

Dogs with up to a stage 3 IVDD diagnosis may be pulled out of crisis with the use of anti-inflammatory medications and activity restrictions, while those with stage 4 and 5 will often benefit most from spinal surgery.

Managing IVDD In Dogs

To help you better understand the options available to your pup, let’s break it down.

Medical management

The use of anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, and muscle relaxants can be beneficial to dogs in the early stages of disc disease.

These medications help to reduce swelling in the spine, allowing the injury to repair itself along with strict exercise restriction.

Exercise restrictions

Exercise restriction is essential for dogs with any stage of IVDD. Exercise restriction is the only way to allow a current spinal injury to heal, and will need to be practiced for anywhere from 8-12 weeks.

Whether your dog received conservation treatment or surgery, you can expect to crate rest your dog for an extended period.

Spinal surgery

Spinal surgery is the best option for dogs that have already experienced limb weakness or paralysis.

Surgery is most successful when offered within 24 hours of the onset of paralysis, and in dogs that still have some pain response.

These pups often require 8 weeks of strict rest, and may benefit from physical therapy as well.

It’s important to note that most dogs will need to seek the care of a veterinary neurologist if they require surgery, in depth diagnostics, or physical therapy.

While most veterinarians can offer proper guidance and conservative treatment when pursuing medical management, it’s always a good idea to have a neurology consult when dealing with issues of the spine.

Can A Slipped Disc In Dogs Heal Without Surgery?

Spinal surgery is not an option for all canine friends.

Surgical treatment can be very expensive, and many pet owners are unable to afford this sudden expense. Due to this, many dog owners ask the question of whether or not a slipped disc in dogs can heal without surgery.

The answer to this question is yes, but only in certain situations.

Your dog has the best chance at healing without surgery if they are diagnosed before any paralysis is present, and when proper medical management is offered.

This means bringing our dog to the vet the moment you notice symptoms, offering your dog the medications your vet prescribes, and adhering to the strict exercise restrictions your vet suggests.

When doing this, your pup stands the best chance at recovery without surgery.

Most dogs will typically show improvements within one week of strict rest and medical management, and will begin to improve as the weeks go on.

When To Euthanize A Dog With A Slipped Disc

If your dog is in the late stages of IVDD, you may be searching for answers on how to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

It can be challenging to acknowledge when your dog is suffering in their condition, as we will always search for ways to help them continue on.

To offer you a bit more guidance on how to know when it’s time to let go, let’s list the signs of a dog suffering from their disc disease below.

The signs listed below are referring to dogs that are still experiencing these symptoms after being offered medical management.

  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Paralysis of the limbs, or dragging the limbs
  • Inability to control their bladder, whether they are leaking urine or are unable to urinate without expression
  • Disinterest in any activities they once enjoyed
  • Crying out in pain any time they are handled
  • Being unable to get up and down on their own

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian.

Your vet may have ideas for aggressive treatment to pull them out of crisis, but the possibility of euthanasia may be on the table as well.

Final Thoughts

If your dog is experiencing symptoms such as limb weakness, chronic pain, or even paralysis, it may be time to have a quality of life discussion with your veterinarian.

This condition can be heartbreaking to watch as our canine friends are usually in pain. Pain management and working close with your veterinarian will be key to making them feel comfortable.

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