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What is Spinal Cord Disease?

Spinal cord disease in dogs can be very concerning to pet parents, as the symptoms are often acute, and affect their movement or control of their bodily functions. When disease occurs within the spinal cord, dogs often present with difficulty walking, loss of coordination or balance, partial or total paralysis, and/or pain. The spinal cord cannot regenerate when damaged so diseases in this location are particularly serious and should be assessed by a veterinarian promptly.Degenerative myelopathy is the general medical term that refers to the disease of a dog's spinal cord or bone marrow. The spinal cord is encased inside the spinal column and runs from the brain down to the base of the tail. The spine carries crucial information from the brain to the rest of the body, and controls functions like movement, sensation, urination and defecation.

Spinal Cord Disease Average Cost

From 17 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$5,500

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

Symptoms can vary depending on the diagnosis and stage of the disease. Paying close attention to the onset and progression of the symptoms will provide important information to veterinarian. Commonly seen symptoms of a disease process in the spinal cord:

  • Changes in gait
  • Pain
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Partial or total Paralysis
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
Types

Listed below are commonly seen diseases of the spinal cord to be considered after trauma and secondary diseases have been ruled out through blood work and imaging.

  1. Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive condition typically seen in older dogs. The white matter of the spinal cord degenerates over time and ultimately results in partial or total paralysis.
  2. Tumor growth of the spinal cord can be either benign or malignant; however, even a benign tumor can cause spinal dysfunction. The symptoms often present slowly and without pain initially.
  3. Syringomyelia and Hydromyelia are two similar diseases which result in an excess of fluid in the spinal cord. This disease is more commonly seen in small breed dogs.
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Causes of Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

The causes of many serious spinal cord diseases are unknown, but research has found that genetics and age may play a role.

  • Genetics: There is evidence to suggest in some cases there is an underlying genetic component. Degenerative Myelopathy for example is commonly diagnosed in medium to large size dogs. Neuroblastoma, an invasive tumor, is diagnosed mostly in young German Shepherds.
  • Age: Spinal Cord Disease seems to be age related in many cases. Degenerative Myelopathy for example is rarely seen in dogs under 6 years of age. With a few exceptions, tumors also become more common as the age of the dog advances.
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Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

The veterinarian will first rule out any trauma from an injury. Traumatic injuries to the spinal cord are very serious and will be handled differently from a diagnostic standpoint than a disease of the spinal cord. He or she will then distinguish between a disease of the spinal cord and a s disease process of the spinal column or discs surrounding the spinal column that may be impacting the spinal cord on a secondary level. After, traumatic injury has been ruled out there are several types of diagnostic procedures which may be used to find a diagnosis.

  1. Physical Examination: A Veterinarian will typically first perform a physical examination to check for any neurologic or physical abnormalities. A thorough examination will help the veterinarian decide what diagnostic tests or imaging is necessary.
  2. Blood Work and Urinalysis: Preliminary blood work will provide a look into the overall health of the dog, and may provide clues as to whether an infectious process, and a urinalysis will be performed if incontinence is present.
  3. Imaging: An X-ray will likely be performed at the time to rule out obvious tumors or structural abnormalities. An MRI is usually recommended but other imaging tools may be recommended such as a CT or myelography to look closely at the spinal cord. The MRI and CT scan allow the veterinarian a detailed view of the spinal cord and are a critical diagnostic tool.

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Treatment of Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

The treatment of serious spinal cord diseases is difficult. The delicate spinal cord provides crucial information to the rest of the body from the brain and cannot heal itself.

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the only available treatment for diseases such as tumors or Syringomyelia/Hydromyelia. Surgery is considered in cases where the benefits outweigh the risks of further damage to the spinal cord. In the case of tumors, the location of the tumor and its size will be evaluated when considering surgical removal. In the case of Syringomyelia/Hydromyelia, a controversial surgical treatment is to release some of the fluid from the spinal cord in order to reduce the pressure inside may be considered in severe cases.
  • Management: In the case of Degenerative Myelopathy and other progressive diseases management of the symptoms and the dog’s quality of life may be the only treatment option.
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Recovery of Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

It’s important to continue monitoring symptoms. If symptoms worsen a follow-up appointment should be made. As treatment options are often limited for spinal cord diseases, its important the disease be managed to in order to provide the best quality of life to the dog. Dogs should be continuously monitored for worsening symptoms from progressive diseases like Degenerative Myelopathy or a growing tumor. There are numerous tools available to help manage spinal disease.

  • Pain Management: Pain medications or anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to manage pain if indicated. Carefully monitoring symptoms will help to determine the best dosage over time.
  • Exercise: Weight should be managed to prevent any additional pressure on the spine. Maintaining muscle tone through mild exercise and physical therapy may be useful in some cases.
  • Living Space Alterations: It may be necessary to isolate the dog to one floor of the house if stairs become challenging or dangerous. Small steps can be helpful for dogs that rest on couches or beds, or to access the car more easily. Making these small changes can help the dog live a more autonomous life, and help an owner who is physically unable to lift the dog.
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Spinal Cord Disease Average Cost

From 17 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$5,500

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Spinal Cord Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Murphy

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Boxer, pit, lab mix

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14 Years

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Moderate severity

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14 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Hind Leg Weakness, Falling

My baby boy (65 lbs) will be 15 in November. I am torn on how to handle his condition. A few years ago he was experiencing right hind leg weakness. When I took him to the vet, I was advised he had cysts on his spine between he hips. The vet recommended Duralactin for inflammation, and my boy has been on it for about 4 years now. He has been doing well with it up until Feb 2017. He was very reluctant to go up the stairs but would. We have since moved to a single story house but vacation in a house on the FL west coast where the main living area is on the 2nd floor. Needless to say, he was able to go down the stairs to go potty but I had to carry him back up each time for a month. I felt awful for him. Not to mention, my poor baby can't get in a car by himself and must be lifted. He needs significant assistance getting out of a car because he will fall if he tries by himself. The look on his face when he does fall is absolutely heartbreaking. Fast forwrd to the past few days. My boy lays down and groans. He cannot sit due to pain. All he can do is stand and lay down. I can tell when he's really hurting because when he stands, he sometimes squats his hind end. Please keep in mind, he still frollicks occasionally, such as today. But he's vey clingy lately and he sleeps so much now. I know here is no definitive answer, but how do I know when it's time? Am I a bad pet owner for even considering having him put to sleep? I see him struggle to get up and hear his pain when he lays down. But I still see his good moments too and that sways me from making the move. Unfortunately, the bad are starting to outweigh the good.

June 8, 2018

Murphy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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14 Recommendations

I think this is a very difficult decision to make, and you are not a bad pet owner for taking his quality of life into consideration. It may be time for him if his suffering is greater than his joy. It may help to have him seen by a veterinarian, as there may be other medications that you can give to help him. They will be able to give you an honest opinion on his quality of life. I hope that you have a little more time with him.

June 8, 2018

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Kengo

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Staffordshire Bull Terrier

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11 Years

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Moderate severity

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3 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Staring At Walls
Pain
Trembling

Kengos hind left leg started shaking after walks a couple of months ago. This would be after about a 30 min walk and didn't happen after every walk. The vet thought it was arthritis and put him on anti inflamotories. Now it's after most 10 min walks and his left front leg has also shaken once. He sometimes stares and barks at the wall. The vet thinks it may be neurological. Can you give me any advice please? Thanks

June 2, 2018

Kengo's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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3 Recommendations

Without being able to examine Kengo or assess his neurologic status, it isn't possible for me to comment on whether he is having arthritis and again brain changes, or neurologic disease, unfortunately. If he has not had x-rays taken of his joints, that may be a good idea to determine whether he actually has arthritis, and your veterinarian should be able to evaluate his nerve function and get a better idea as to what disease needs to be treated. I hope that all goes well for him.

June 2, 2018

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Spinal Cord Disease Average Cost

From 17 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$5,500

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