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What is Spine Degeneration?

Spine degeneration in dogs can be described in several ways. The effect of the degeneration on your pet will depend on the type of deterioration, and the prognosis after treatment. The recognition of the need for a veterinarian visit for treatment can be the result of a progressive condition, or may present in an acute manner. It should be noted that some degenerative conditions in dogs may not be easily recognised. Therefore, if you see your pet showing signs of pain or discomfort, contact the veterinarian without delay.

Spine degeneration in dogs is a condition that occurs secondary to diseases of the spine that cause a deterioration in stability and mobility for your dog. Treatment by a veterinarian is imperative in order to maintain a quality of life for your pet.

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Average Cost

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Symptoms of Spine Degeneration in Dogs

Symptoms of the worsening of a condition of the spine will depend on the type of degeneration.

Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Inability to climb stairs or get into a vehicle (meaning rear limb weakness)
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Hind leg muscle loss
  • Difficulty lying down or raising up
  • Progression may bring bladder and/or bowel incontinence
  • As disease progresses you may see hind tail drooping and severe rear leg drag
Intervertebral Disc Disease

The symptoms will vary depending upon the severity of the disease:

  • Vocalisation of pain (in back or neck)
  • Shivering and rapid breathing
  • Movements show a hunched back
  • Unwillingness to move because it is difficult to walk
  • Severe cases may result in loss of bladder function and the inability to feel pain

Spondylosis Deformans

Dogs may be asymptomatic for this condition, but sometimes can present as follows:

  • Obvious bone spurs along spine
  • Pain resulting from bone spurs pressing on vertebral ligaments or spinal nerve roots
  • Pain evident in hind leg motion

Lumbosacral Stenosis

Older dogs with this condition may be hard to identify as owners often associate the symptoms with age.

  • Limping
  • Appearing slow to rise
  • Experiencing incontinence in the bladder and/or bowel

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Causes of Spine Degeneration in Dogs

Causes of spine degeneration are numerous, but the necessity for prompt treatment remains the same:

  • Degenerative Myelopathy
    • This is a slow onset, painless, progressive deterioration of the spinal cord, which eventually leads to atrophy of the brainstem and cranial nerves. It is similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in humans and similarly results in paralysis and death.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease
    • This is disc degeneration caused by the loss of the ability of the disc to hold the liquid necessary for proper function, and can result in nucleus pulposus degeneration and extrusion (Hansen type I), or annulus fibrosis disc degeneration and a protrusion (Hansen type II). (There is also Hansen type III which is caused by exercise or trauma).
  • Spondylosis Deformans
    • Boxers and large breed dogs are reported to be more susceptible to this condition which is caused by disc changes (such as narrowing of spaces between discs), resulting in bony outgrowths that can encroach on the spinal nerve root or spinal cord.
  • Lumbosacral Stenosis
    • This disease can be congenital or may be a consequence of a degenerative narrowing of the spinal cord. German Shepherds, Boxers and Rottweilers can be prone to this condition which causes instability between the vertebrae.
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Diagnosis of Spine Degeneration in Dogs

  • Degenerative Myelopathy
    • The diagnosis for this condition is one of exclusion, using MRI and myelography to rule out other degenerative diseases. The only way to completely confirm is at the time of autopsy, after the death of the dog by examining changes in the spinal cord characteristic only to this condition.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease
    • Diagnosis can be made through the process of a radiograph, but the best result for a definitive conclusion is through advanced imaging such as MRI or CT scan. Your pet will be put under general anaesthesia for this procedure.
  • Spondylosis Deformans
    • The veterinarian will study your pet’s medical history before doing a physical and neurological (testing of reflexes and motor function) exam. Radiographs (x-ray), under anaesthesia, may show evidence of lesions or spurs. Myelography (X-ray using a contrast medium), is performed on canines who are candidates for surgery.
  • Lumbosacral Stenosis
    • Analytical tools such as x-ray, CT scan, MRI, or myelogram will be used to correctly diagnose and differentiate from other degenerative diseases that may present similarly.
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Treatment of Spine Degeneration in Dogs

There is no cure for Degenerative Myelopathy though there are adequate tools and resources that can be used in the earlier stages of the disease to make your dog’s mobility and joy of life possible as the illness progresses.

With Intervertebral Disc Disease, Spondylosis Deformans and Lumbosacral Stenosis, the treatment will depend on the severity and the limitations your pet is having mobility wise. All three conditions can be treated with pain relief and movement restriction by imposing crate rest. However, surgery is often the option in order to completely recover normal functions and movement, and to prevent the recurrence of the disease.

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Recovery of Spine Degeneration in Dogs

Degenerative MyeIopathy presents in stages. In the first phase (each phase is 3 to 6 months in duration), physical therapy such as swimming, and tools like hind quarter harnesses can be used to help your dog achieve some day to day normalcy. As the condition progresses into the second phase, aquatic therapy and a harness can still be used. However, complications of the progression, like loss of bladder function will begin to reduce the quality of life for your dog. The end stages will see a multisystem failure, and euthanasia is the common step at this point.

Intervertebral Disc Disease, Spondylosis Deformans and Lumbosacral Stenosis require extensive recovery time and patient management. After surgery, pain medication will be administered immediately. The length of hospital stay depends on individual circumstances but support therapy, physiotherapy, and comprehensive rehabilitation will be necessary in order to assure a comfortable and healthy recovery. It must be noted that despite the best efforts of you and your veterinarian, your dog may never completely recover normal function or the natural mobility he once had.

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Spine Degeneration Average Cost

From 4 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

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Spine Degeneration Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Jagger

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Belgian Malinois

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6 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Spondylosis
Myelitis
Bone Spur
Shuffling When Walking

We had a MRI done on my Belgian Malinois. It was found he has spondylosis C6-C7 and myelitis. He has had this for almost a year now and shuffles when he walks. He isn't really in pain. Do you recommend surgery? What are the overall affects on his life expectency with this diagnosis? Will he get worse really fast, or can he still live a good life?

April 25, 2018

Jagger's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Each case is individual taking into account the severity of the spondylosis, the impairment of walking and general quality of life; life expectancy is a difficult one to say as it is case dependent, your Veterinarian would be able to give you more information. As for quality of life, it again depends on severity and response to any medical treatment given. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

April 26, 2018

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Jake

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Labrador Retriever

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pain

My lab mix, Jake, is 10.6 years old. He has always been very active; long walks, runs; playful. Within the last 6 months we noticed Jake having difficulty walking down the stairs, in which he needed to be coaxed. Yesterday, he was not able to come down or walk up the stairs; and dragged his hind legs. Ultimately, we took him to the vet and, as indicated by the x-rays, were told that his spine was fused. Thus far, he has no use of his hind legs, has not urinated or eaten. The day before this happened, he was able to go for a long walk. He is on pain medications and antibiotics. We love our dog and want him to have, at least, some quality to his life. Would you be able to tell what the prognosis would be for this condition? Is it typical for spine degeneration to happen overnight? Considering that his spine and hind legs appear to be immobilized, would a dog wheelchair help? Thank you Olivia

April 12, 2018

Jake's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Jake may have had a piece of bone or a blood clot dislodge and cause this problem. Without examining him, I'm not able to comment on what might be going on with him specifically, but if you are able to get an MRI for him, it would give a lot more information on the prognosis for recovery for him. If he is not in pain, and he is not recovering from the event, a wheelchair may be a viable option for him, as may physical therapy. It would be best to discuss these options with your veterinarian, as they have examined him and are able to assess his nerve function. I hope that you are able to keep him comfortable.

April 12, 2018

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Buddy

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Lab, pit, golden mix

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14 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness
Sleepy
Lazy
Sleepiness
Falls Down
Walks Sideways
Unhappy
Sleepiness, Walks Sideways, Stiff

Buddy is 14 years old has severe arthritis in his back left knee and a compressed disk in his spine. My vet has him on prednisone, Pepcid, tramadol (up to 6 a day), and gabapentin (300 mg). He falls down a lot, sleeps most of the time unless he is out to use the bathroom and sometimes won’t go outside because he doesn’t want to go down the stairs, I have to stabilize him and keep him from falling when he gets to the bottom so he doesn’t fall at night. When he takes all his meds as prescribed there are no signs or very minimal signs of improvement depending on the day, but he can’t hold it (bladder or poo). One night he wet his bed. He seems depressed but times awhere he is awake and happy. he seems fine when we go outside or for a car ride as you would never know anything is wrong until you go to get him out of the car and have to lift him to the ground or he falls down and lays there for five minutes before he gets back up. Sometimes, he falls down and you have to pick up his back half so he can get his leg out from under him. He is a lab, golden, pit mix and I wonder if he is really suffering and just so stubborn he hides it or when is enough enough? I feel like this is a horrible question, or my son feels that he’s just old so we question his suffering. I don’t want to put him down if it’s not needed but I don’t want him to suffer either. How do you know when overall he is healthy?

March 13, 2018

Buddy's Owner

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1 Recommendations

This is never an easy question to answer (I haven’t examined Buddy) and the decision is down to you; I normally talk to owners about the quality of life day to day taking into account the bad times since most owners will think about ‘last Tuesday’ when everything was good and ignore the following four bad days. You need to think about what is in Buddy’s best interest and not your feeling for wanting to keep him around; visit your Veterinarian and discuss Buddy’s condition to get their input. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 13, 2018

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kiara

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Siberian Husky

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7 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Limpness , Wobbly , Heavy Breathing

Hi my dog kiara is 7 yr old Siberian husky with hip issues has lameness and trouble climbing stairs refuse to go on walks and shaking in backend on her feet heavy panting and doesnt want to be touch in back end or on legs .. took her to vet had xrays show some hip issue but not very bad at all ..I still concern and need to see a specialist she alway been very active and love walks.. She even snap at me and we very close.. I worried

Feb. 5, 2018

kiara's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Without examining Kiara I cannot say what the cause of her lameness is, but you should certainly visit a Specialist to determine the cause of the lameness and to create a pain management plan as required. You should also speak with your Veterinarian about pain management in the lead up to visiting the Specialist so that Kiara would be comfortable in the meantime which also means to restrict exercise. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 5, 2018

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Molly

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Beagle Pit

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limping
Swaying
Difficulty Rising
Drag Back Legs

My 12 year old Beagle/Pitbull, possibly German shepherd, mix is having trouble walking. When she was about 6 years old she was diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease and had to have surgery which helped her a lot at that time. However, about a year ago, she started kicking her rear legs behind her and having trouble with her hips. The vet said it was probably just arthritis and prescribed Deramaxx for pain and Robaxin as a muscle relaxer. Her kicking had gotten less severe so we didn’t think much about it but now it’s starting up again. She is also limping, dragging her back legs when walking and starting to cross her rear legs. While walking, she’ll trip and fall and have to wait a few minutes before she can get back up which is a struggle for her. Is this most likely Degenerative Myelopathy? Or is there any possibility it could be something else?

Nov. 27, 2017

Molly's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Leg crossing whilst walking is a common sign of degenerative myelopathy, it is important to have x-rays done to rule out other causes. The best course of action in cases of degenerative myelopathy is to put Molly through physiotherapy to help keep her mobile longer; the condition is progressive and there is no cure. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/degenerative-myelopathy-diagnosis-and-treatment-proceedings

Nov. 27, 2017

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Spine Degeneration Average Cost

From 4 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

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