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Understanding Canine Spinal Disease

There are many causes of canine spinal cord disease, but most can be attributed to a dog’s age or genetics. A dog’s spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that control your dog’s muscles, sensation, and communicate with their brain. When a dog’s spine is injured it can be painful and even impact their mobility or leave a dog paralyzed. A slipped disc or degeneration in the vertebrae are just a few ways your dog can hurt their back. Here are a few of the most common spinal conditions in dogs:

6 Types of Spinal Disease and Spinal Conditions Affecting Dogs

Understanding how to treat your dog’s spine and help them heal means understanding their diagnosed spinal condition. Here are six spinal diseases that impacts dogs and canine mobility:

Spinal Shock

Neurogenic shock, also known as spinal shock, is a life threatening condition and is often fatal. Spinal shock occurs when a dog has experienced a traumatic spinal injury and the injury causes a dog’s blood pressure to drop suddenly. As the pet’s blood pressure plummets, catastrophic and irreversible damage is done to a dog’s body tissues. Low blood pressure and irregular circulation are the main symptoms of spinal shock however dog’s can also become nauseous, dizzy, or faint. Spinal shock can be fatal and dogs with neurogenic shock require immediate treatment. 

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) 

Spinal strokes or FCE in dogs occur when pieces of the cartilage block the blood flow in the spinal cord. This type of blockage disrupts the communication between the brain and the dog’s limbs causing stroke and mobility loss.

Who’s at risk for developing an FCE? Fibrocartilaginous embolism can impact either male or female dogs and can occur in dogs as young as a few months old. However, 80% of all FCE cases are in dogs between the ages of three and six years old. Dogs left paralyzed after a stroke can possibly regain their mobility. Regaining function in a dog’s back legs takes time, patience, and extensive rehab therapy.

Spinal Tumors in Dogs

Although uncommon, spinal tumors in dogs do occur. 90% of canine spinal tumors affect large dogs, with some types of cancer impacting one breed more than others. A neuroblastoma is an example of an invasive tumor that is most commonly seen in young German Shepherds.

Tumors can form on a single vertebrae, on a dog’s brain stem, or along the spinal cord itself. Most cancers develop slowly and symptoms can be hard to spot at first. Changes in mobility and loss of coordination are common symptoms in spinal tumors. Tumors that grow in the chest and back can cause rear leg paralysis in dogs. When a tumor sits on the dog’s neck it can impact mobility in all four legs. 

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) 

IVDD is a leading cause of mobility loss in dogs and cats. Most common among the corgi or dachshund breeds, IVDD is a degenerative disease that compresses the spinal cord and nerves. 

Pets with IVDD experience hind leg paralysis and back pain. Intervertebral Disc Disease symptoms include the inability to walk, rear leg weakness, and incontinence. IVDD treatment options can range from strict crate rest to surgery. After diagnosis, many IVDD pets rely on a dog wheelchair to improve mobility, or an IVDD back brace can help to provide additional support and relieve back pain.

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) 

A German Shepherd lakeside with degenerative myelopathy uses a dog wheelchair to live longer life
Dog Wheelchairs for DM

DM is a spinal condition that leads to progressive mobility loss that worsens as the myelopathy progresses.

Most often, degenerative myelopathy occurs in dogs over the age of six. With the earliest signs of DM impacting mobility in the back legs, the spinal condition moves up to the spinal cord in later stages, leading to full paralysis. 

Degenerative myelopathy is a hereditary condition that significantly impacts German Shepherd mobility, as well as corgi and boxer breeds. Every dog diagnosed with DM will require mobility assistance from a dog wheelchair. When selecting a wheelchair for a DM dog, choose a wheelchair that can adapt to their changing mobility needs. Eventually, all dogs with degenerative myelopathy will require the support of a four-wheel wheelchair with both front and back wheels. Exercise and continued mobility can help to delay muscle atrophy and help dogs with degenerative myelopathy to stay active longer. 


More common in older dogs, spondylosis is a degenerative condition where abnormal bone growth occurs along a dog’s vertebrae. Although spondylosis is frequently described as “arthritis of the spine” there are differences. Unlike arthritis, spondylosis does not cause spinal inflammation. Repeated stress and degeneration a dog’s spine becomes unstable and make moving painful.

A dog’s spondylosis symptoms will vary depending on the size and location of the bone growth on the spine. Spondylosis treatment can vary from dog to dog. Extensive care and surgery are common although spondylosis can sometimes be treated with medication. Spondylosis is a painful spinal condition that can cause limping and stiffness in dogs.

Canine Paralysis and Spinal Disease

Most spinal conditions will impact a dog’s mobility and carry a high risk of paralysis. A paralyzed pet’s mobility can be restored, but only if the spinal condition is treated quickly and in milder cases. Along with surgical treatment and crate rest, physiotherapy is a common treatment option for spinal issues. A combination of canine rehabilitation exercises and the use of a dog wheelchair can help pets improve their mobility and rebuild strength in many neurological cases.

If your dog is exhibiting any signs of spinal disease or back pain, they need to visit the vet immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to getting your dog back on its feet again.

german shepherd wheelchair for DM

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