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. 

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

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

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

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.

5 months, 3 weeks 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??
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

4 months, 2 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?