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All you want to know about IVDD: Symptoms, Stages, Treatments and Predisposed Breeds
IVDD is the common acronym for Intervertebral Disc Disease. It is a degenerative condition of the spine and typically impacts breeds that are ‘long and low’. However, other breeds are at risk, too.
In dogs, as in people, intervertebral disc cushions are the disc-shaped tissue that occupies the space between the vertebrae in the spinal column, protecting the backbones from rubbing together when your pet moves, and protecting the spinal column from damage. When these discs bulge or rupture, it causes painful damage to the spinal cord, which can seriously impact a dog’s mobility.
Nearly 80% of disc herniation or “slipped discs” occur in the center of the back. Spinal IVDD will cause rear leg weakness and sudden paralysis, usually after a small jump or fall. Here, we will talk about the symptoms, stages, treatment, the breeds commonly impacted, and much more.
Breeds Prone to Developing IVDD
Breeds that are predisposed to Intervertebral Disk Disease more than any other breed are Dachshunds. Their long backs make them the most diagnosed dog, barre none. Studies show that one in four dachshunds will suffer from IVDD in their life. A dachshund disc can slip simply from how they are held or placed down from a holding position.
Dachshund, 45 – 70% of the cases
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
German Shepherd Dog
Additionally, obese dogs of predisposed breeds are considered at high risk for IVDD and disc ruptures.
When a spinal disc ruptures, it shifts out of position and applies pressure to the spinal cord, which restricts communication with the brain and, in turn, impacts a dog’s ability to move. The location of the disc rupture determines where and how a dog is impacted. IVDD is the leading cause of paralysis in dogs and can occur anywhere along the spine.
Along with mobility problems, dogs with IVDD can experience:
Urinary incontinence and loss of bladder control
Neck and back pain or stiffness, a reluctance to move the neck or head
Lowered head stance
Abdominal tenderness or tenseness
Arched back or hunched posture
Lack of coordination, often referred to as ataxia
Sensitivity to touch and a possible show of aggression when touched
Reluctance to rise or lie down
Weakness, stiffness, or sensitivity to movement (yelping unexpectedly)
Tremor, trembling, or shaking
Impairs, incomplete or inappropriate urination
Lameness or paralysis in one or more limbs
Dragging one or more legs when walking
Knuckling or toeing over when walking or standing
Labored or tentative gait
Stages of IVDD
IVDD Stage 1
Stage 1 IVDD is the least severe form of Intervertebral Disc Disease, and your dog can recover without surgery. At this stage, a dog will show signs of neck or back pain, but no other deficits. Although your dog is in pain, he or she can still walk and stand normally, but movements may be stiff. Dogs at this stage typically undergo strict crate-rest until the herniated disc resolves itself. The disc rupture usually self-corrects within a few days. Until fully healed, it’s normal for dogs to hold their head lower and will be reluctant to turn their head.
IVDD Stage 2
A dog in stage 2 IVDD can still walk but will struggle with its paw placement. Proprioception deficits such as paw knuckling or toe dragging are common. This lack of coordination and muscle control is also normal at this stage. Back pain can range from moderate to severe and usually occurs in the neck or lower back. Because there is more pain in this stage, your dog may yelp or get aggressive when they are moved. Treatment for stage 2 IVDD varies, 50% of dogs will undergo medical management and crate-rest with the other half choosing a surgical approach. Surgical veterinary hospitals have reported that surgery in dogs with IVDD is very successful in most cases. Important to note that this success rate is based on dogs that have NOT lost the ability to walk.
IVDD Stage 3
At stage 3 (partial paralysis), a dog can still move their legs but cannot stand or walk on its own. When your dog is standing, one or more paws may be knuckling (when a dog’s foot rolls under), dragging the paw, or staggering while walking. Surgical treatment for dogs at this stage is close to 100% successful. A more conservative approach has closer to a 50% success rate.
IVDD Stage 4
This is the stage where you begin to see true mobility problems from IVDD. In dogs with stage 4 IVDD, the dog is paralyzed, unable to walk, and has a deep pain sensation. A dog’s pain sensation is tested by judging his or her response to a pinch of the toes. A dog at stage 4, may not be able to control its bladder or bowels. Surgery is often recommended at this stage, with under a 90% surgical success rate. In most stage 4 IVDD cases, timing is vital for a good prognosis. Most veterinary surgeons will recommend immediate surgery for your dog to regain the function of his or her legs.
IVDD Stage 5
Stage 5 IVDD is the most severe stage of Intervertebral Disk Disease. Dogs with stage 5 IVDD are paralyzed and have no deep pain sensation in their feet. If a dog cannot feel their toes, he or she will not be able to walk. A conservative approach is not the best option for dogs at this severe stage. Stage 5 IVDD surgery is about a 50% success rate. At this point, surgery is an emergency and should be done within the first 24 hours of onset.
IVDD Diagnosis & Prognosis
Finds on veterinary examination
Prognosis with non-surgical treatment
Prognosis with surgical treatment
Walking but weak and wobbly.
Unable to walk or stand unassisted.
Recovery times vary. Dogs typically walk within 11-3 weeks, though some take 2 months or more.
Paraplegia. Paraspinal hyperesthesia.
+/- Urinary incontinence.
No deliberate or voluntary movement of affected limbs.
+/- Loss of bladder control
Recovery times vary. Dogs typically walk within 11-3 weeks, though some take 2 months or more.
Paraplegia. Absent deep nociception in affected limbs.
+/- Urinary incontinence.
Loss of deep pain sensation in toes of affected limbs.
No deliberate or voluntary movement of affects limbs.
+/- Loss of bladder control.
Only up to about 30% of these dogs walk again without surgery.
About 50-60% will walk fairly normally again.
Recovery can take up to 9 months or more, though most “successful” dogs walk within 6-12 weeks.
Delaying surgery > 48 hours does not affect outcome (though of course these dogs are in pain and need immediate care).
What is the cost of IVDD Surgery?
The cost of surgery will depend on the size of your dog, your region, and the type of hospital or clinic that will be performing the surgery. Our cursory research shows anywhere between $2000 and $12,000. If your pet requires surgery, it is best to contact your vet or surgeon’s office for their fees. Make sure you get prices not only for the surgery but for the additional items that are needed to perform the surgery and beyond:
Physical examination (consultation)
Complete Neurological examination
Blood tests and X-rays to ensure that anesthesia is safe for your dog
Anesthesia and monitoring of anesthesia
Hospital stay (3-4 days)
Does Insurance Cover My Pet’s Intervertebral Disc Disease Surgery?
YES! Typically, Pet Insurance Will Cover the bulk of the costs of surgery and costs associated with surgery. Most policies will cover aftercare, including Physical Therapy and Alternative Therapies. Look into your specific Insurance company’s plan to make sure what they cover. (Typically, this will be by way of reimbursement to you after you have paid the veterinary bill).
What treatments are available for my pet’s IVDD?
Diagnosing your dog’s IVDD begins with a thorough veterinary examination. Make sure your vet is experienced in diagnosing IVDD, as a delay in proper diagnosis presents a risk that could lead to a more serious diagnosis. A delay of 24 hours could mean the difference between proper treatment (potential surgery) or a dog becoming paralyzed. The exam will include a neurological exam, including diagnostic imaging, to locate the discs causing your pet’s symptoms.
If the diagnosis reveals mild to moderate injury, treatment may include the administration of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain, with confined (kennel/crate) rest required for four to six weeks or so. Crate rest may be suggested by your vet if your dog has only mild pain and is without coordination (ataxia). This plan will limit further disc extrusion and allow the natural healing of the spine to begin. Your vet may schedule regular check-ins to understand the progress. (Tips for cage-rest)
In more severe cases, surgery may be recommended to open the space around the spinal cord. Surgery is best performed by a specialist, a neurologist, or an orthopedic surgeon. Surgery has a better chance of being successful if the dog has not lost the ability to walk and if surgery is done very soon after diagnosis (within 24 hours). If a dog has already lost the ability to walk before surgery, the prognosis is not optimal.
Post-surgical physical rehabilitation and some Homeopathic and Alternative Therapies may be recommended for muscle strengthening. If surgery is not successful, a dog wheelchair is often recommended, which can give the dog a healthy, active life despite the disease.
Veterinary Colleges have collected data that reveals that Dogs that receive low-level laser treatment after initial surgery are walking a full week earlier than patients that do not receive the treatment
Some pet parents have found great success with the combination of acupuncture, laser, and gentle chiropractic care
Light Massage (and other modalities for dogs with IVDD)
As a neuro-protectant, CBD helps reduce damage to the brain and nervous system. CBD oil also encourages the growth and development of new neurons. In a condition such as IVDD, studies have shown that CBD can protect against neural damage and improve recovery
Quality Glucosamine Chondroitin product
Studies show that long-term use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate helps arrest the development of spinal disc degeneration. They can also help to reverse the symptoms, especially if begun in the early stages.
Preventing Intervertebral Disc Disease
Some things to keep in mind to minimize the risk of IVDD for their pets:
Keep your dog’s body weight in an appropriate range to reduce neck and back stress, especially for breeds predisposed to the disease.
Use a harness when going on walks to reduce neck stress. Neck Stress can occur if using a neck leash. The best harness for the prevention of IVDD (or after your dog has been diagnosed is one that distributes the weight across the chest and away from the neck).
Minimize jumping on/off furniture
High-risk dog breeds with long backs, such as dachshunds, need to be supported when picked up. Dachshunds should only be picked up when your arm supports their entire body from underneath. Never pick up a dachshund from behind their front legs with their body dangling. This is bad for their back.
Finally, consider a back brace to minimize risk.
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In most dogs, the prognosis can be a positive one. Except for severe cases, nearly all dogs that receive treatment for IVDD will make a full recovery. If your pup has had surgery or is on crate rest as it heals from an injured disc, sticking to a routine is important. Recovering dogs cope better once they learn when to expect mealtimes, potty breaks, and quality time spent with you. Set aside quiet times during which your dog should expect no interaction from you (typically at bedtime). Catching this condition early is key, and why regular vet check-ups are critically important. Know that IVDD recovery is a long process. Be patient and follow your veterinarian’s guidance to help your dog heal.