Can Dogs Live with Herniated Discs?

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A lot of the ailments that affect people can affect dogs, too. As a doggo owner, we're sure you know that! But did you know that your pup can suffer from a herniated, or slipped, disc, just like you? It's true! Your poor pup has vertebrae too, and often, a slipped disc can be one of the biggest causes of paralysis in dogs. 

You probably have a million questions - can my dog live with a slipped disc? What are the causes? What can I do to prevent this? How can I tell if my dog has a slipped disc? 

No worries. We're here to help! Check out our guide below to learn about what a slipped disc is, how you can prevent it from happening with your dog, and what signs you should look out for if you're suspicious your dog might have a slipped disc in his back. 

Introduction of Can Dogs Live with Herniated Discs?

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Signs That Your Dog Has a Slipped Disc

Odds are, a slipped disc in your pup won't have mild symptoms. It's a pretty painful experience, so it's likely that your dog will be acting very differently. If you're not sure exactly what to keep an eye out for, we can help. 

One of the most common signs of disc displacement is spinal pain. This is manifested in a few different ways. Your doggo can start to carry himself in strange ways. For example, he might have a strange posture, tiling his head down and rounding his back. He also might be a lot less enthusiastic about moving. He probably won't want to play and will want to spend most of his time laying as still as possible. It's also possible he'll develop a weird gait when he walks. 

If you suspect your doggo might be in pain, (very) gently run your hand along his spine. Do you feel any abnormal bumps or lumps? Does it feel like there's something sticking out that shouldn't be? That's a good sign something is wrong. 

Your pup might also experience some more severe signs including lameness, loss of coordination, weakness, paralysis, incontinence, or even loss of sensation in his legs. If you notice any of these symptoms in your pup, take him to the vet immediately! 

Body Language

Your pup will likely be giving you all the body language cues you need to determine that something is up. If he's exhibiting any of the following cues, make sure you take him to the vet as soon as possible:
  • Pupils dilated
  • Head turning
  • Weakness
  • Dropped Ears
  • Freezing
  • Back hair on edge
  • Sweaty paws
  • Raspy panting
  • Low tail carriage

Other Signs

Look out for a few other signs that your dog might be showing you that he has a herniated - or slipped - disc
  • Pain or Weakness in Rear Legs
  • Lameness
  • Low Appetite and Weight Loss
  • Incontinence
  • Tense Muscles
  • Hunched Back
  • Anxious Behavior
  • Unwillingness to Move or Jump
  • Crying Out in Pain

The History of Herniated Discs in Dogs

History of Can Dogs Live with Herniated Discs?
Your dog can suffer from a herniated disc for a lot of different reasons. Historically, herniated discs and disc disease are most common in small dog breeds, like dachshunds, chihuahuas, and beagles, though, it can happen in other dog breeds as well. 

A slipped disc in a dog can happen in a few different ways. A dog can rupture a normally healthy disc with trauma. Think about dogs who get hit by cars or fall off high surfaces. This can tear their annulus fibrosus and cause destruction in their spinal discs. 

Your dog can also have issues with his discs as a result of aging. The progressive thickening of the dorsal part of your dog's annulus fibrosus can press up onto the spinal cord and cause a disc protrusion! 

This is most often found in the middle part of the spine, the lower neck, and the lower back - the areas that are most exposed to physical stress. 

The Science of a Herniated Disc in Dogs

Science of Can Dogs Live with Herniated Discs?
To understand how to help your dog heal from a herniated disc, it's likely going to be incredibly helpful to first understand what herniated disc is. Often called a slipped disc, this injury happens when the vertebral discs herniate and protrude out. 

These discs are spongy and shaped like a doughnut, and act as a pad between the main joint between the vertebrae. The disc lies just underneath the spinal cord in your dog and has a liquid center and a tough fibrous layer. The discs then form a bridge between the vertebrae on either side of it, acting as a spongy cushion that gives both strength and flexibility to your dog's spine.

How to Train Your Dog to Deal with a Slipped Disc

Training of Can Dogs Live with Herniated Discs?
If your dog has a herniated disc, your vet will likely diagnose and treat him for it. However, there are specific ways you can help him heal and train him to relieve his pain. 

One of the easiest ways is to get him a new, suitable crate or enclosure that's both comfy and limits his movement. Train him to associate this new home with positive reinforcements like treats and cuddles. 

Train your dog to be okay with getting help with potty breaks, too. It's probable that your doctor will also prescribe medications for your dog while he heals. To ensure he's getting his right dosage, train your dog to take his medication correctly. Teach him a throw-and-catch game with his pills, train him to take his medicine gently out of your hand, or train him to eat his medication with his food.

There are other things you can do to get your dog to a healed state faster. Apply heat to his affected areas and help him get moving by enrolling him in a physical therapy and recovery program, too. Gentle massage is a good trick as well! 

How to React if Your Dog Has a Slipped Disc

  • Take your dog to a vet immediately!
  • Discuss surgery with your vet.
  • Be prepared for healing if your dog needs surgery.
  • Restrict your dog to bed rest for at least four weeks.
  • Participate in physical rehabilitation with your dog for muscle strength and flexibility.
7 Years
Shorkie Tzu
Definitely a Herniated Disc
Weakness in back legs

One morning my baby girl jumped out of bed, like she always does, but this time she seemed injured. She walked with a slant.. almost sideways and ran into things. I took her to the vet and they said she had ruptured a disc and that the fluid was putting pressure on her spine. She was restricted to bed rest for 2 weeks and given a steroid medication for swelling and a sedative medication for calmness, as she needs to relax as much as possible so that she heals over the next few weeks.

8 months ago
When I got home last night my small dog was dragging his back legs and couldn't walk. Diagnosis of ruptured disk. Vet didn't prescribe prednisone. just muscle relaxer and pain med. Has your dog recovered fully yet?
Did you dog recover at all since his diagnosis? We may be in the same situation.
I am having the same issue from exactly the same jump off the bed.Has your baby healed finally and if so how long did it take??
How is everyone’s dog’s doing? After two urgent care visits and X-rays it looks like my little guy has 2 slipped discs. It is heart wrenching. Let me know if anyone’s dogs got better please, I would love to hear some positive messages!
I've had a similar experience and I'm Meghan S too - rushed my 13 year old terrier to the emergency vet twice, he was screaming in pain 3 times - twice even on pain medication. An MRI showed 2 slipped discs in his neck. He's been resting and in and out of the hospital for two weeks and no outbursts for a week and we're gradually weaning him off of an anti-inflammatory, codeine and gabapentin. Heart wrenching - yes! I'm nervous every step he takes. Praying he can recover without surgery. I've never witnessed a dog express pain like that and hope to never witness it again. I hope your baby is ok too.
About a year my dog was showing signs of pain and weakness in back legs. Her gait was odd and she’d stumble on her back legs. Wasn’t eating much or going to the bathroom. Very lethargic and panted a lot which I learned was a sign of pain. She was diagnosed with a slipped disc and prescribed a muscle relaxer, gabapentin, and rimadyl for joint pain. we thought she’d need surgery, but she recovered before the specialist appt! The vet said scar tissue formed around the injury and she healed as much as could be expected. It took about 2-3 weeks and then we weaned her off meds and eventually she was almost 100% back to normal. Yesterday she started showing signs of pain and weakness again. The vet said relapse can happen in 50% of the cases. I’m hoping it’s not that!
Eleven Years
Chow Chow
Definitely a Herniated Disc
Lame in bacl legs and in pain

My boy Duncan lay around for two days , when he tried to get up he was dragging his back legs . Took him to vet thinking maybe he had Lyme disease, turned out he had two slipped discs . Spent eight days in hospital . He is home now , it has been a month since this happened , and he is still recovering . He is on gabapentin , tramadol, methocarbamal, and prednisone . I hope so bad that he gets better . I bought him a harness with a handle , and a sling so that we can help him to walk to go potty . He has good days and bad days . I love him so much , it is hard to see him suffer . I hope that he will be greatly improved over the next month or so . I keep him in a doggy playpen that is 5 x 5 to limit his movement . He has to get lots of rest

6 months, 4 weeks ago
How is Duncan? My 10 yr old GSD also has bulging disc and a lot of extra weight. 5 days ago he stopped standing up. He is on Tramadol, Gapapintin, 2 antibiotics for a uti, and prednisone. He has been sick since June 8th. He eats and drinks plenty and asks the same except he hurts and he won’t get up because of the pain. :( I’m so sad it hurts.
How are your doggies doing? My poor girl is on her second week and still dragging her legs and on strict crate rest. It is so difficult!
My boy chief started dragging his left leg two weeks ago. It's been an emotional roller coaster for me. He didn't need surgery but it was confirmed through an MRI that he has a herniated disc. I have him on Prednisone, gabapentin, and Omeprazole. Three days ago I swear he stopped knuckling and today I saw him knuckling again. It was just the slightest bit but it was disheartening to see that. I feel like we went forward two steps and backwards one this morning. I'm so scared and anxious. Anyone notice an improvement followed by a slight regression with their fur baby?
SO sorry about your baby...My dog Lucy has a herniated cervical lumbar disc. She is on all those same medications and I am hoping for the best...
My dog Rocco injured his neck area by jumping off the bed he's a Dachshund and Beagle mix 7 year old male he's on the prednisone and the pain killer he had a good day two days ago and went back down hill again the vet told me to confine and rest him for 3 weeks Friday will be week 2 I don't see any Improvement it's very sad thing and I just don't know what to do next or what to ask the vet next when we go back
We have a Pit Bull that is now dragging her back legs, but we can't afford the surgery. Any input on how we can keep her quality of life up? We don't want to put her down. We have her on gabapentin and carprofen, but are waiting to see if she can get a steroid on Wednesday. Through chiropractic, she improved, then took a turn for the worse (unable to move her back end at all), but still has feeling in her feet. She still has a happy spirit and eats two meals a day while staying hydrated. Any recommendations if surgery is not financially feasible for us?
Lacey B. that is sad to hear. I would highly recommend surgery especially if she can feel her back legs, this is not a reason to put her down. recommendations 1.adopt her out and let someone else care for her (lots of people want special need dogs 2.Since surgery is not feasible crate rest for 4-6 weeks. 3.get a wheelchair for her. So sorry and I hope since writing this 3wks ago you have encouraging news for us.
So sorry to hear about your pup. My dog is in the same boat now for about a month. Two years ago she had a severe attack of back pain and was put on pain killers and muscle relaxants. She seemed to recover from that experience. Then, about a month ago, I came home to find her hiding in my room. She wouldn't even acknowledge me. I thought something had traumatized her. Three trips to animal emergency and a CT scan later revealed she has several herniated discs. She is now on gabapentin and onsior; tramadol just made her a trembling zombie. As well, she had good moments and bad moments. I don't know if she will be like this the rest of her life, or if it will get worse. I hate to see her in pain and without much of a life except resting, but I can't afford surgery, either. I'm going to try acupuncture tomorrow. I hope I can find something to help her, and I hope you find something as well. I know how heart-breaking it is.
Poor Duncan, I am going through the same with my 4 yr old terrier. This is his first time with this injury but I adopted him a yr ago so who knows. Please let me know how acupuncture works! I hope it helps!
We are dealing with something similar to Suzanne B. Our 3 year old american bulldog has been having what I can only describe as panic attacks in bed or after she's been laying on the couch for a long time. After speaking with a vet tech friend and replaying all these instances, and now reading Suzanne's story, I am thinking these panic attacks are her pain response. We have an appointment on Saturday.