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Degenerative Disc Disease in Dogs

Spinal cord injuries result in permanent and irreversible damage in dogs which is why the spinal cord is protected by the spine. When a disc degenerates the spinal cord can become damaged which may impact a pet’s mobility. Each spinal disc is made up of two parts, a hard outer shell and a softer central part called the pulpy nucleus. This type of herniation may shift the vertebrae out of place causing even more pain. Herniated discs are most common in the neck, and mid to lower back. Degenerative disc disease causes the outer shell of the intervertebral disc to break down leading to sudden disc ruptures and herniated discs.

Disc degeneration often occurs in adult dogs between the ages of three to seven years old. Although the condition can impact any age dog and any breed, there are some dog breeds more prone to disc disease. Dachshund, Basset Hound, Shih Tzu, Corgi, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, and cocker spaniel are all at a greater risk for degenerative disc disease than other dogs. 

Symptoms of a Slipped Disc in a Dog

disabled dog lives happy life

Common signs that your dog has a slipped disc include:

  • Sudden back pain
  • Lameness or limb weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Inability to use back legs or hind leg paralysis
  • Loss of leg sensation
  • Dogs unable to walk may also have trouble peeing on their own

Herniated disc symptoms can mirror other spinal conditions as well. If your pet is exhibiting any of the signs of disc disease they need to be examined by a vet and tested to eliminate other possibilities such as tumor, spinal infection, or fracture.

Disc Degeneration and Canine Paralysis

Black schnauzer walks in small dog wheelchair

A slipped disc is the most common cause of paralysis in dogs. When a disc ruptures or “slips” the material inside the intervertebral disc bulges outwards and pushes up against the nerves in the spinal cord which can cause paralysis. The only way to reverse the paralysis is to reduce the spinal pressure. 

There are two methods of treating a slipped disc, relieving the spinal pressure through surgery or strict crate rest to allow the issue to resolve itself over time. Crate rest is the preferred treatment for dogs experiencing back pain, but are still able to move their back legs. In time, the swelling in the spine will reduce allowing the torn outer rim of the disc to heal itself. 

A laminectomy is the most common surgery to resolve disc herniations. During a laminectomy excess disc material is surgically removed. By removing the disc rupture, the dog’s spinal pressure is reduced helping the dog to regain back leg function. Surgical recovery and results will vary from case to case. The surgical outcome and recovery will depend on the severity of the herniated disc and how quickly the dog received treatment. For dogs who have lost the use of their back legs, paralysis may be permanent in those that were severely affected. However, the good news is that most dogs who have surgery will recover full use of their back legs. Both physiotherapy and mobility assistance from a dog wheelchair may help your dog to stay active post-surgery. Talk to your veterinarian about the recovery process and what your dog needs in order to heal.

Small dog wheelchair for dachshund

Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair

Understanding Canine Disc Ruptures 

There are two reasons why a pet would experience a ruptured disc.

  1. The healthy disc ruptures due to trauma.
  2. The disc rupture occurs from age-related degeneration.

What is a ruptured disc? A disc ruptures when the outer shell of the disc degenerates and the softer disc material inside escapes. This material presses against the spinal cord, disrupting the nerves and causing communication problems between the spine and the brain. Degenerative disc disease is painful and can impact your dog’s mobility, leading to possible paralysis. 

How Fast Do Intervertebral Discs Degenerate? 

Disc Degeneration and Canine Paralysis

Disc degeneration in the spine usually occurs slowly, typically over the course of several days or weeks. Pain is usually the first sign of disc degeneration in dogs, your dog may appear reluctant to move. Your dog may be experiencing back pain without you even being aware. Commonly, dogs will lay around for several days to try to resolve the back pain on their own. Although the degeneration process is usually slow, there are cases where a dog’s disc ruptures suddenly without warning. In cases where the dog’s disc degenerates suddenly,  the dog can become paralyzed in under an hour.


Your Vet will work with you to determine the treatment plan that is right for your dog. For the best results, always seek immediate veterinary care and follow the instructions given to you by a veterinary professional.

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