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What is Lumbosacral Disease?

Lumbosacral disease is also known as cauda equina syndrome. The lower spine is the area that is most affected. The average age of onset is 7 years, and the condition is seen most often in large breed dogs, particularly the German Shepherd. Lumbosacral disease can be acquired or congenital. Back pain evolves to a compression of the nerves, progressing to loss of neurological function.

This condition is most often of a degenerative nature; however, many canines can improve with medical management (medication and change in activity) while others will require surgical intervention. Early diagnosis and treatment is beneficial and may prevent painful progression of the condition.

Lumbosacral disease is a condition that adversely impacts the nerves that are connected to a dog’s spinal cord, resulting in disease of the L7-S1 junction. Lumbosacral disease will result in changes to the intervertebral discs and the spacing found there. Back pain and lack of mobility in canines must always be evaluated by a veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs

When the spine is abnormally unstable, movement can be difficult and painful. Other signs of the disease include:

  • Worn nails
  • Limited movement
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty squatting
  • Staggering
  • Low tail position
  • Reluctance to wag the tail
  • Licking of the genital area
  • Self mutilation
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Reluctance to participate in activity

Causes of Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs

  • May present as arthritis or hip dysplasia which must be ruled out
  • Ligaments may thicken
  • Disc protrusion or herniation may be present
  • Trauma to the spine can be a factor
  • Male canines are more affected
  • Working dogs are most prone
  • Neoplasia can cause the disease
  • Discospondylitis may be concurrent

Diagnosis of Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs

The veterinarian may commence the diagnosis with the intention of ruling out conditions that may present the same such as hip dysplasia, muscle injury, cancer, or a fracture of the spine. Imaging tools such as an x-ray can provide needed information. Along with x-rays, details can be fine tuned with the use of a CT scan and MRI.

A physical examination may be considered; however, it depends on the amount of pain your dog is experiencing. Lack of reflexes and muscle atrophy are just two of the clinical signs that may be seen. In many cases, the physical palpation of the limbs is avoided in order to not cause your pet more pain.

Treatment of Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs

Medical Management

The veterinarian will prescribe anti-inflammatories. He will advise on a modification of exercise such as leash walking only and the avoidance of stairs. Weight reduction, if required, is very important in the healing process. The veterinarian can provide advice on the modification of your pet’s present diet and can recommend a food that will promote good bone health and immunity bolstering. In addition, the suggestion may be to try an epidural infusion of methylprednisolone which has been shown to be successful in mild to moderate cases, with relief provided for up to one year.


The emphasis will be on the removal of the compressed disc, decompression of the nerves, and the stabilization of disc space. This is called a dorsal laminectomy which can be extensive and involves stabilizing the disc space with screws. The outcome is positive and should be considered as an alternative to the medical management if need be.

Other Management

Whether postoperative or as part of medical management, your veterinarian may recommend other treatments such as hydrotherapy (underwater treadmill)|, laser therapy or acupuncture.

Recovery of Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs

The outlook for dogs with this condition is good if the treatment was obtained before neurological effects were evident. It should be noted that canines who were experiencing urinary or fecal incontinence may still have the incontinence after the surgery or concurrent with the medical management. This complication is rarely reversed. However, pain and lack of mobility will be reduced or eliminated. The recovery time may take a few months; during this period, exercise will be limited and additional therapies (swimming, underwater treadmill) will be beneficial.

Lumbosacral Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Border Collie Bull Staffy
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Rear legs

My 12 year border collie/lab mix has been diagnosed with LS disease. He is on pain meds and an antibiotic. Regular vet said caused by bacterial infection so gave antibiotics. Emergency room sent us home with pain meds. He had no use of rear legs.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1076 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm not sure what your question is? Your veterinarian seems to be taking care of Jackson, and he is on appropriate medications. I hope that he recovers well.

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Labrador Retriever
5 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Pain on extension of left hip
Struggling to go up steps
Spontaneous yelping

My 5 year old Labrador Retriever has just been diagnosed with "Suspected Lumbosacral Disease' (MRI). She had an epidural steroid injection which we hope will improve her pain. However, given that she is a relatively young dog should we consider surgical intervention now in order to remove the issue and prevent further degeneration before neurological effects become evident? We are very active and spend our holidays in the mountains. We also have a fit 7 year Lab so want to get our younger girl sorted.
Thanks in advance for your advice.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1076 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. If your surgeon suspects that they will be able to prevent further problems by doing the surgery, she is a young active dog, and that would be great to not have this progressive disease affect her life. Your veterinarian can talk to you more about risks and benefits based on her health history, but it seems a good idea if possible.

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7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

stiffness of hind quarters.

Hello, My 7 year old lab-german shepherd cross has become slow to get up and limps with his back legs. The severity of the symptoms really vary and some morning his is really chirpy, others quite withdrawn. Occasionally he whimpers when lying down. He has been diagnosed with lumbosacral disease and prescribed Onsior. Combined with reduced exercise this has had some effect but I'm told by other dog owners that metacam is really effective. I do not know what the difference is between the two, and why Onsior would be the initial choice. Can you help?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1076 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that Hiccup is having these problems. Your veterinarian probably prescribed Onsior because that is an NSAID that they use and are comfortable with. Meloxicam is another NSAID, and is the same type of drug. Some dogs react better to one type of NSAID than another, and if you feel that Hiccup is still painful on the Onsior, it would be a good idea to call your veterinarian, let them know that he is still having pain, and see if they want to try a different NSAID, or add another pain medication to the Onsior - either option may help.

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Labrador Retriever
13 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

As above

Medication Used


My 12 and half yr old labrador (soon to be 13) suffered the sudden onset of ataxia after jumping out of a car. He had some mild/occasional left hind dragging before this) His condition worsened over the next 48hours and then showed some signs of improvement. I followed all vetinary advice and he began water treadmill therapy- but to cut a long story short, over the past 6months, he has gradually lost the ability to stand/sit/ or place his back legs when walking. He is not paralysed and still moves his legs from the hips and knees but not enough for any foot placement. He twitches his back legs when sleeping also and has proprioreceptive reflexes to tickle/touch etc. He can still wag his tail.
Currently we have stopped the treadmill work, as I don't want to make him work so hard when there seems to be little or no chance of hind leg function returning. He has laser and acupuncture twice a week. His bladder function is very good but he is not aware of bowel movements any more.
My question is this... my dog LOVES swimming, but I am hearing very mixed messages re the benefits or even harm that swimming could bring. Some say the position of the dog's body when swimming could add to the the compression on the limbo sacral region- others say it's an appropriate and good way to enable the muscles to continue working. As my dog loves it so much, and it would provide freedom of movement for him, I would like to know definitively whether this exercise (hydrotherapy in a warm pool) needs to be avoided or not. My dog has a 'walk in wheel's wheelchair and I have built him a 'chariot'/buggy, so he can still enjoy walks and sniffs. Obviously walking on only two legs puts a lot of strain on the front too- and I have a canine therapist starting with him in the next few weeks.
It is absolutely heartbreaking but on the plus side, he is pain free and jolly. He has never shown any outward signs of pain even since the initial trauma.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1076 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that is happening to Bill, I am sure he is a lovely dog. Swimming typically is a great form of physical therapy, as it does let the muscles work without weight bearing. In some cases of spinal disease, it is contra-indicated, unfortunately. He may be able to enjoy the pool as a walking exercise where you can support him while he walks, and once you start working with the canine therapist, they will be able to direct you more as to whether swimming will be beneficial for him, as they can examine him and see where his limitations are. Your veterinarian may also be able to give you guidance, especially if he has had an MRI and the location of the lesion is known. I hope that he improves with physical therapy - you are doing a wonderful job for him.

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