Back Problems in Dogs

Back Problems in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Back Problems?

Dogs can experience back trouble for a number of reasons including genetic predisposition, age, and even injury. Although some conditions like strains and sprains may only require minimal intervention, other disorders, such as intervertebral disc disease and spondylosis, typically require surgical intervention.

Disorders like degenerative myelopathy do not have any effective treatments but can be managed for a time. As the treatments for certain disorders are time sensitive, and if your dog is showing signs of sudden or unexplained back pain or any evidence of paralysis, it should be treated as an emergency situation.

Dogs can experience back trouble that can range from simply inconvenient to severely incapacitating and can be triggered by genetic predisposition, trauma, or age.

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Symptoms of Back Problems in Dogs

Dogs who experience back problems often have many symptoms in common regardless of the cause of the back trouble:

  • Arched back
  • Changes in posture
  • Difficulty urinating or inappropriate elimination
  • Increased pacing behavior
  • Reluctance or inability to rise or walk
  • Reluctance to move head 
  • Vocalizations of pain when moving
  • Weakness
  • Wobbly or unusual gait
  • Yelping or whining when touched


Any dog can be afflicted with back problems due to injury, age, or overexertion, however, certain dog breeds are somewhat predisposed to certain types of spinal trouble. Spondylosis may have multiple triggers, but certain breeds such as Boxers, German Shepherds, and Airedale Terriers seem to be over-represented. Several breeds of dog are prone to experiencing acute cases of intervertebral disk disease, particularly dogs with long bodies and short legs. Some of these breeds include Dachshunds, Pekingese, Shih-Tzus, Beagles, Poodles, Basset Hounds, and Corgis, and some larger dogs such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers,  and Doberman Pinschers are prone to developing a more gradual version of the same disorder.

Causes of Back Problems in Dogs

There are several disorders that can trigger pain or immobility along the spine in dogs. Some of the most common conditions to affect the backs of canines can include:

  • Arthritis - Arthritis can attack any joint, including the joints in the spine; spinal injuries during early development, while the bones are still growing, may predispose a dog to develop spinal arthritis 
  • Degenerative Myelopathy - This is a progressive disease that is typically restricted to older animals with an onset at around eight to fourteen years of age; it starts with a slight loss of coordination and weakness in the back legs and progresses to complete paralysis of the back legs, generally within six months to a year of onset 
  • Injury - Injuries to the back can result in bruises, muscle strains, pinched nerves, ruptured disks, and even fractures of the vertebrae
  • Intervertebral Disk Disease - Also known as a slipped, herniated, or prolapsed disc, this is when the fluid-filled discs that act as cushions between the bones of the spine become damaged; this type of disorder can occur suddenly, or it can develop more gradually, and the symptoms may vary somewhat depending on where on the spine the damage has occurred 
  • Spondylosis - This disorder is typically a disease that develops in old age in which bone spurs grow on the vertebrae and cause pain and difficulty moving; although the triggers for Spondylosis are not well understood, injuries to the spine, repetitive bone wear, and genetic predisposition are believed to contribute to the development of this disease

Diagnosis of Back Problems in Dogs

The diagnostic portion of your visit with your veterinarian is likely to start with a thorough physical examination in order to evaluate the general condition of the patient as well as to pinpoint the location and severity of the pain or paralysis. Diagnostic blood tests will usually be ordered as well, including a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and a biochemical profile, in order to uncover if there are any infections or imbalances that may be contributing to the animal’s trouble. 

Computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging technology (MRI), and a myelogram, an x-ray aided by a special dye injected around the dog’s spinal cord, are all techniques may be utilized to help visualize the bones and joints along the spine. If arthritis is suspected, then the examining veterinarian may choose to take a sample of the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint capsule for evaluation. An examination to evaluate the dog’s neurological functioning may also be utilized, particularly in cases where the patient is experiencing partial or total paralysis.

Treatment of Back Problems in Dogs

Back problems can range from inconvenient to incapacitating and can occur suddenly or gradually, and the treatment of disorders of the back and spine will depend on the underlying condition. Many of these conditions, such as spondylosis, intervertebral disc disease, and even some severe cases of arthritis, will require surgery for successful treatment. Other conditions, such as muscle strains and extremely mild cases of arthritis, may get more benefit from alternative treatment methods such as therapeutic massage and hydrotherapy, often accompanied by anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce swelling and relieve pain. 

These methods are known to be particularly helpful in relieving the pain from disorders like arthritis and intervertebral disk disease as well as helping canines that have been afflicted with paralysis or other neurological deficits. Some of these disorders, such as degenerative myelopathy, some injuries, and unaddressed ruptured discs, are not curable but may be manageable with the use of medications and therapeutic tools.

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Recovery of Back Problems in Dogs

The prognoses for disorders that affect the back are quite variable, and while some of the conditions are easily treated, others may require extended healing periods as surgical intervention is often required. It is important that the patient have a quiet and calm environment to recuperate in, and food and water should be kept close at hand. Dogs that have had difficulties with their backs and spines frequently need assistance with everyday activities such as getting outside to relieve themselves and getting up and down stairs, or may require limited motion. Following your veterinarian’s advice regarding medications, diet, and exercise routines is often critical for your pet’s recovery.

Back Problems Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


German Shepherd




3 Months


6 found this helpful


6 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Screamingand Yelping While She Scratches
Open cut from scratching

July 26, 2017

6 Recommendations

For the open wound, keep it clean and free of debris; but if Emily is suffering from back problems, it would be best to visit your Veterinarian so that they may check the wound caused by the scratching and to check Emily’s spine as German Shepherds are prone to spine and hip problems, early detection and management can help. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 26, 2017

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