Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs

Lumbosacral Disease in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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.

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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


Great Dane




7 Years


2 found this helpful


2 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
I have a 7 year old Great Dane, 72kg, normally active and intact male. He started to limp on his left back leg and struggle to go up stairs, taking his time to do so. Was put on Loxicom initially but after no improvement after 3 weeks, had xrays and was diagnosed with lumbosacral disease and a little spondolytis. Since the xray 3 days ago, he has lost all movement in his tail - it just hangs and gets in the way when he poos. I have noticed that he doesn't fully evacuate all poo either and there is usually a little bit left over, which drops after he has walked away. Vet said surgery not an option (breed, age and size) and to stay on Loxicom for life. To add gabapenthen if he seems to have nerve pain. The issue with his tail, i have been told to monitor and if no improvement in the next few days, he will consider other options. I wonder how quickly he is likely to deteriorate, if there is always the same pattern (ie, gait gets worse, then starts to drag feet, then urinary and faecal incontinence, then loss of movement), or if this varies for all dogs. Also does spondolytis always go hand in hand with LS or is this an added complication which will result in him being treated in another way?

July 30, 2018

2 Recommendations

Spondylitis is an inflammation of the vertebra which is commonly seen in spinal conditions; however we normally see spondylosis in lumbosacral disease. There are different treatment options available but generally treatment is centered around controlling inflammation and managing symptoms; surgical intervention is suitable in some cases but down to Veterinarian’s determination whether it would benefit or not. There is no set time frame for deterioration, appropriate management (rest, anti inflammatories, weight reduction etc…) will help. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 31, 2018

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Pit bull boxer




10 Years


11 found this helpful


11 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Has A Hard Time Getting Up.
My dog Tiger, pit/boxer mix, age 10 and 102 pounds was diagnosed with Lumbosacral disease last week. He is on pain meds, but soon will be out. The medication cost us $67.70, which I believe is to high. What over the counter medication would you suggest?

July 12, 2018

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

11 Recommendations

I would not recommend any OTC medication for Tiger, as many of them are not tolerated well by dogs, and some are toxic. You can talk with your veterinarian about finding a less expensive alternative, as some prescriptions for dogs are available in human pharmacies and may be less expensive, but I would not give anything OTC.

July 12, 2018

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