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What is Spinal Cord Disease?

Spinal cord disease in dogs can be very concerning to pet owners, 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.</p>

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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

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Murphy

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Boxer, pit, lab mix

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14 Years

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

Moderate severity

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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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1611 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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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Trembling
Staring At Walls

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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1611 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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Nina

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German Shepherd Dog

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy

Hello! My German Shepard Nina is 10 yrs old this month. She recently started having back issues. I took her to the ER last night and they took an XRAY of her spine. It shows that in the middle of her spine she's missing the "spikes" of her spine going upward. The middle looks like stumps. Vet called me in the morning today and said him and the radiologist said it might be cancer. What can I do to help my Nina? She still has so much life in her. She eats, drinks water , goes outside . She has difficulties getting up. I don't know what to do.

March 21, 2018

Nina's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

There are various deformities which may affect dogs and German Shepherds are known for spinal issues especially in the lumbar region, this may have occurred during embryo development (but mild enough that it didn’t cause an issue until now) or may be due to other causes which may include cancer. I would recommend that you consult an Orthopaedic Specialist to get their input, sending the x-rays to PetRays for a second opinion may help. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.petrays.com

March 21, 2018

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Chester

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Beagle

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

My Beagle name Chester is not able to walk with rear legs.We had MRI done and found tumor in spinal cord.My neurologist telling us to put him to sleep.we are not ready for that.since he is 9 yrs old.Please give me some hope to make him survive and get life back.Any suggestion to keep him live?I will highly appreciate if you please advise me.Thanks.

March 7, 2018

Chester's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Spinal cord tumours require surgery and in some cases surgery is unrewarding with some dogs still being paralysed afterwards; the specific location on the spinal cord and other factors would determine operability or management options. However, if you are not happy with your Veterinarian’s recommendation you should visit another Veterinarian for an examination and second opinion. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 7, 2018

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Mila

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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6 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Lethargy
Withdrawn
Weakness In Hind Legs

My 6 year old female cavalier King Charles spaniel has been acting differently the last 2 years. Our once happy and energetic girl is now withdrawn, laying under tables and chairs almost the entire day, has difficulty getting up from laying down, will occasionally go weak in her hind limbs and collapse (only has happened a couple of times), winces if you firmly touch her neck or neck area, and we can tell she wants to engage and play with us but she just can't. She will still get up to eat or go for a short walk and becomes excited over it, but that's about it. Our other cavalier passed away around the same time she started displaying the lethargy and withdrawn behavior and we chalked it up to depression since her best friend died. However, she became progressively worse. Woke up one morning with a stiff neck and a few days later was contorted into a c-shape unable to walk at all and lost control of holding her urine and vomited (this was 7 months ago).we took her to the neuro and they suspect COMS. She went on prednisolone and gabapentin and seemed to be doing better but still wasn't back to herself. I discontinued the pred after weaning her down to a very low dose of 2mg and she was okay until about a month ago when her hair became coarse and was falling out everywhere, she was more withdrawn than ever, and her hind legs are so bad she can't even stand for longer than a few minutes or walk much. She won't go up and down stairs anymore or jump on or off the couch at all. She also has trouble opening her jaw all the way and cannot fully open to yawn or hold toys in her mouth. She also can't fully shake her head though she attempts. Urine sample normal, bloodwork all normal except for slightly low albumin and slightly high globulin. She's getting a sonogram on Monday and possibly a chest X-ray soon after but I'm hesitant to do an MRI because whether the COMS is confirmed or not, treatment stays the same. We've taken her to two veterinarians and no one can figure out what's wrong based on her symptoms and I'm at such a loser at this point. She's tried carprofen which hasn't really worked, takes 200mg gabapentin every 8 hours which I'm not even sure is working anymore, and tramadol if she's restless at night (she likes to sleep on the floor for most of the night now). In hindsight now that I think back she displayed signs of SM/CM/COMS since she was a puppy. Face rubbing and yelping when picking her up without supporting her rear. Basically this has been a nightmare and I just feel like I have no guidance or help from anyone and I'm at a loss of what to do for her.

March 3, 2018

Mila's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that Mila is having these problems, that is hard to watch her have such difficulty, I am sure. Since I can't examine her, or know more about her specific history, I can't comment on what might be going on, but between your veterinarian, and your neurologist, you should be able to get some answers as to what is happening, what to expect, and how best to treat her to keep her comfortable. It is clear that you care deeply about her, and you deserve answers from your veterinary team. They may just need to know that you need further information.

March 4, 2018

I am sorry to hear that. We have a 3.5 yr old Maltese that is going thru the same symptoms. He was fine 5 weeks ago when he started whincing in pain. Thought it was a popped knee and a couple of xrays showed nothing. They suspected IVDD and went to emergency early July (after 3 weeks). The surgeon indicated he may have been paralyzed if he was suffering ivdd for that long and sent us to Neuro. The doc then did a MRI and showed soft sports on his spine (about 5-6 from neck to hips). She thought it was fungus (as he was so young) or cancer (less likely). We refused Biopsy and he went on fungal meds, tramadol and Gabapentin. Still is all bent up and is just in his crate / laying outside. Still is eating and drinking well, and some days has the old spark back in his eyes. Others he seems just too difficult to even respond. Given that he has been on fungal meds for past 3 weeks, and still is losing weight rapidly and hunched up, the doc thinks its possibly cancer. Anyone w/ a similar experience, please let me know. srinitn@gmail.com. Thanks

July 30, 2018

Srini R.


That happened my dog too it’s really sad. We did an MRI and the doctor said had cancer in her spine. She was almost 15 but the doctor suggested putting her to sleep because she was in pain. It was a really hard decision but in the end it was the best for her. I feel really bad for you and your dog since she’s so young and there’s like a family member . I hope it’s not too serious. Take care

May 19, 2018

Emilio B.

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Pepper

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Jack Russell Terrier

dog-age-icon

4 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Pain

So I have a 4 year old Jack Russell. About a month ago now she was screaming in pain and yelling out whenever she moved or we went near her or touched her. We originally thought it was maybe a grass seed that had gotten into her ear as it was coming from the right hand side ear area only. We took her to the vet and they did remove some grass seeds, and she had a small perforated ear drum which they said would heal in a couple of days. 5 days later she had declined and was yelling in pain again, so I took her back and they put her under for an x-Ray and found nothing. They now are thinking it’s a spinal problem either an infection or her discs. Because she has a very stiff neck and it’s sore around her neck, and then half way down her back is quite sore as well. She had wet herself a few times when all this began, and she is now on antibiotics as she started coughing the other night. She is also on a couple of pain reliefs. She has a different gate, and is very cautious and slow to do anything so that it doesn’t hurt. She has not got much of an appetite at all and a slight raised temperature. She never stops shaking unless, especially if she is ever moving or being touched. She is not emptying her bowls very much at all. She was the happiest and busiest dog ever as we live on acres and she loves it out here but now all she does is sleep and lay down inside in her bed because she is sad and sore. She can still roll on the ground to scratch and stuff like that so not sure if that would be discs or not? Do you think this could be a spinal disease ?

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Bijou

dog-breed-icon

Bichon Frise

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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

Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Back Legs Paralysis
Loss Of Muscle Mass
Spinal Cord Inflammation

We have a 12 year old Bichon Firses and about 4 weeks ago she started having difficulty walking with her back legs. She just fell down after walking for a little bit. Took her to the vet, ran test and an MRI and the doctors saw some type of inflammation on her spinal cord. Prescribed pain meds and they said there is nothing else they can do. Since then she's been getting worse and worse and we have tried pain meds, cbd/hemp oil, different diets and essential oils. She lost most muscle mass in her back legs and her back area and her spine is now crooked and twisted to the left. We cannot believe how fast her body is being "eaten" by this inflammation. We know she's in pain and we will have to put her down soon but we are desperately trying to find some type of miracle cure.... any advice would help.

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Bailey

dog-breed-icon

Shih Tzu

dog-age-icon

13 Years

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

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Circling
Incontinence
Panting
Pacing

My 13yr old Shih Tzu/Maltese has been going downhill fast the last 4 weeks. Initially taken to vet for yelping when I tried to touch him or pick him up, and snapping (which isn’t normal for him) eventually blood work was done -normal. chest X-rays-normal. Other Xrays showed narrowing disc space in lower back & neck. And enlarged prostate. Although pain seemed to be in neck. Eventually took him to neurologist who did mri, we were thinking surgery. But images from mri came back and all soft tissue in neck was white on images, suggesting infection, or aggressive tumors. Also bone loss. Since they weren’t able to diagnose with mri, we also did spinal tap to rule out infection in spinal canal. Also came back normal. Except proteins were sent out and came back 3.5 times higher than they should be. Now they want to do CT scan yo compare images to MRI images to narrow down. But poor bailey can barely walk now, yelping, experiencing incontince, pacing, panting. Currently on antibiotics & steroid in case of inflammation or infection.

Spinal Cord Disease Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$5,500

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