Can Dogs Live with Herniated Discs?

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Introduction

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?

Book First Walk Free!

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.
Bella
7 Years
Shorkie Tzu
Definitely a Herniated Disc
Signs
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.

1 year, 1 month 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!
Hi, my dog was diagnosed with slipped disk as well but it’s been more than a month and still unable to use hind legs. He was prescribed muscle relaxer and steroids. Did your dog get mri done or vet diagnosed via exam?
Hi I have two frenchies and had all the symptoms your dog has. They say once your dog isn’t using its hind legs, find a neuro vet immediately! One of my mine did and got him into surgery ASAP! It’s been a year now and he’s made a full recovery. I have to warn you though, surgery is really pricey! But without it, your dog will be in constant pain!
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My little guy Sid jumped off the bed like he always does, but this time he injured himself. One of his disks slipped and put pressure on his spine. Vet wanted 2,000.00 for surgery. The outcome was not guaranteed. Or, we could give him anti-inflammatory and pain meds and see if it would heal on its own. So that is what we did. Sid could not walk. No use of back legs at all. He dragged himself around as best he could. Had to keep him inside and used a lot of pee pads:). Had to be cleaned every time when he went potty because he could not stand up, he would lay in it. Every time he wanted to get up or down he had to be carried. Basically, he required constant care. Luckily I am retired so was willing and able to attend to his needs 24/7. It was hard. He was a fighter. After six long months a miracle happened!! Sid started walking again!!! Not perfect, but he could stand and go potty and wasn't dragging himself anymore. His legs kinda bend outwards. But Sid is on the move again. Never give up💕
Just want to point out to everyone with small dogs, they are not designed to jump off beds, or sofas, or anything. I have had small dogs my entire life. I have ramps and stairs all over my house. I have a ramp that goes from the floor to the bed. My 5 lb Maltese uses all his ramps every day. Do they get in the way of a pretty house? Sure. But I don’t care. My dogs health and safety come first. I once saw a lady open her car door and was trying to get her tiny chihuahua to jump up and into the car! Freakin’ idiot! Small dogs are lap dogs. Pick them up! Don’t let them jump off beds and sofas! I know it’s hard but try. None of my small dogs have EVER had a disc issue. Now my small Maltese has a disc issue but he has never been a jumper. My vet assured me it is from aging. I’m still going to be as careful as I can with my small dogs. Good luck!
Michelle, my tiny Chihuahua is having an issue too which just started today. He’s not dragging but he doesn’t want to walk far and mildly limping. He’s 13 and he doesn’t jump. We have ramps and steps everywhere, and runners. I’m having him rest and of course we’ll end up at vet if he isn’t better or gets worse. But how do we diagnose disc issues and how can we treat without using harsh meds?
Hello, My dog is a frenchie and two years ago he was also diagnosed, I tried to crate him for the recovery, but his case was worst case scenario. I opted for surgery and although it was very pricey ($7000 CDN), but after the 6 week healing process he was back to normal. Two years later, he spend the week at the farm with my Aunt and Uncle while I went on vacation; when I came back the symptoms are now come back in the same spot. We are lucky enough to have a Neurology specialist and he's back on meds and back to little to no movement. They are thinking it is inflamed and the slipped disc needs to re-fuse together. Waiting to hear the outcome in two weeks.
Last October our 9 a year old little Maltese Cross Poodle/ was out of sorts in the morning wouldn’t eat,and was giving a little yelp every so often.By the end of the day was swaying and dragging his back legs,he couldn’t stand at all.First I thought it could be Tick Parslysis.No Tick.Straight to the Vet,then we were sent straight to the Vetinary Hospital.First a Spinal Tap,checking for Meningitis and then a MRI,found 2 ruptured discs.The Vet explained just like Humans can bend down,Twist or jump and land the wrong way can cause a slipped disc,same for Dogs,plus old age.After 3 days in Vetinary care,I opted to take him home with Strict Crate rest for 5 weeks,with Pain meds and anti inflammatory syrup.Exercises 3 times per day and I applied Cold packs not Heat a few times per day,which he loved.A 50% chance of recovery with maybe not a good outcome if I decided for Surgery.By the end of 9 days he had an 80% chance of recovery.Was like having a Baby,had a sling under his belly to help him stand and Pee.After about 4 days of soft foods he hadn’t gone to the toilet,so my Son googled how to make a disabled Dog poo!An ice cube wrapt in plastic dabbed on his anus,worked.Sounds Gross,but he was relieved,and so was I,another trip to the Vet Hospital was giving me an anxiety attack,his stay with no operation cost $4,700 Australian and the Operation if necessary another $5,000! He is now fully recovered,however am very cautious with placing him in the back of the car and no more sleeping on the bed,he sleeps at the foot of my bed.He did slip down the back stairs a few weeks before hand,due to a fright from the new neighbors big dog.I should have given them the Bill...!Love him,couldn’t be without him.He is skipping about like a Puppy.Still give him his exercises once a day and quarter of a Glucosamine tablet a day.Good Luck everyone Fury and Human 😊❤️
P.S...Furry not Fury😅😅
What exactly is crate rest? If my dog is in the kennel she constantly whining and moving. But when she lays next to me on sofa she is still. Can she be on crate rest next to me on sofa? And how do you bring them to bathroom on crate rest? I mean they have to move to go to bathroom
And how do you tell if their back legs are paralyzed or not? We brought to vet, they think herniated disk. Can’t afford surgery. But she doesn’t move her back legs at all. If she sits up she falls over cuz she has no support back there. But when vet presses on back she helps so there is deff pain. Just wondering if her back legs are paralyzed
Duncan
Eleven Years
Chow Chow
Definitely a Herniated Disc
Signs
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

1 year 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.
My dog had two herniated discs last spring and recovered completely with crate rest and Gabapentin.
You have to very strict about the crate rest which is really hard when they start to feel better and want to move around. I used two small pens in living room and bedroom and also got a pet stroller so she could be moved painlessly from room to room. The first week was rough, but she felt better each day. Zero walking is the key. She is small so it was easy to carry her from the crate outside. Sometimes she need support holding up hind legs to go to the bathroom. She’s having a recurrence now and we go to the vet in the morning and I hope she has the same great outcome.
Sounds like we all have precious furbabies that have disk collapse, bulging. I cannot afford the serjury. Newly widowed. I also do not believe in having dogs suffer in pain. Mine gets 2 weeks heavy meds and crate risk.
If you pray, pleas keep my little bear in your thoughts.
God blesses me with this little bear. Please let 4-6 weeks of rest repair your spine little one. I can’t bare the pain of your suffering, I can’t Bare another loss. I love you buggy. I hope you come back your wagging tail happy dog prance.
My 10-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier was diagnosed by MRI with a ruptured disc. It cost about $3000 for the exam, the scan, and the diagnosis with one month of meds. We applied for CareCredit. It seems to have happened when she jumped off the couch. She's normally very active! So we noticed her right leg was up and she we as hopping on three legs. It is so hard to see a vet around here that it took 3 weeks to finally get the MRI. She's on Gabapentin and Prednisone for now. I am so sorry for everyone's dogs!
I have a beagle diagnosed with this 3 years ago. With crate rest and meds she recovered enough to be “normal”. She walked pigeon toed and needed help getting on furniture but otherwise did very well.

Now my beagle is an exception to the rule. She is very lazy. Now that she is 13 years old, we are seeing a change. She is more wobbly and walks with her head down. Everything else is the same. We are letting her rest as much as possible and we are here to help her get up and down from the furniture.

One thing I am noticing is she can’t do “the shake”, where it starts at their head and ends at their butt. Her head does a small shake, nothing in between then the butt finishes. Cute, but I see this disease progressing.

She was diagnosed at 10 years old and I wouldn’t do surgery then, at 13, I still won’t. She has managed well with the disease and the help from us.
It seems like a lot of people aren't following up with feedback on how their pet is doing - so I wanted to weigh in and tell you our story:
My parents have a 6 year old rat terrier mix. My parents go on a lot of long walks with him and he loves it! He's a very active, very happy dog and would be devastated to not go on his adventures. About 10 months ago he started showing signs of pain and within a day he couldn't move his back legs at all. They took him to the vet and did xrays which confirmed he has disc disease and that one of his discs had herniated. The vet sent him home with the medications that everyone else seems to get, but when he didn't improve, the only option was surgery. Taking care of a pet that is in pain and can't move or is moving awkwardly is very mentally and physically difficult for both owner and pet. It was expensive, but he's so young it was more than worth it. Plus, he was still himself for the most-part (happy, relatively energetic). After the surgery it took him about a month to really be able to walk on his own and for several months after that he walked very weird, but was not in any pain. It was also very difficult to keep him from moving around a lot during this time. As soon as he was comfortable enough, he wanted to run around and jump and play. We could have done a much better job of restricting his movement and changing his lifestyle, but it's no easy task. In the last two weeks he has shown definite signs of pain again, but no paralysis. Because his disc disease is degenerative (and not a one-time slipped disc) he is likely in pain from an array of spinal issues. We've taken him again to several vets and specialists and they tell us that there isn't anything in particular on the xrays that tell them what we can fix, but meds and rest were again prescribed in order to get any swelling and discomfort down. He was actually misdiagnosed at first with appendicitis because he would cry when he was picked up. A week later after meds and rest he seems worse. He doesn't move much at all, has terrible diarrhea (vets say from stress), and he doesn't have his personality like when his disc was slipped. We aren't sure that he will get better this time. My moral of the story is, get your dog the surgery if the vet suggests it, take extreme measures to limit their movement long-term. Shorter, lighter walks, NO JUMPING, and minimize running and rough housing. If you do have to get the surgery, be prepared for a long and time consuming recovery. This was difficult for my parents as well because they both still work full time, but they got him a little doggy play-pen type enclosure and fortunately he loves his crate, unfortunately, for them, it seems like the degeneration of his spine may have been quicker than expected. Pray for this sweet puppy and for my parents. I pray for all of you as well. It's absolutely gut-wrenching to see your pet go through this and we're always torn as to what we can do to help. Do everything you can, because if you don't you'll always look back and wish you had. Good luck and remember a healing spine takes time.
Can anyone respond for updates with their pets?
I am going through the same thing with my Chihuahua. She has had xrays and has been on anit inflammatorys muscle relaxers and pain killers on three separate occasions in 2 months. She has not gotten better of course while she is on medicine she is great but when she is out it is very bad. Ive tryed everything because surgery is expense and i cant afford it either. Ive tried to get grants for surgery and even tried placing her in a rescue but one look at the conditions their my dog is better off at home. Going for second opinion friday i cant stand her being in so much pain
Our 3 year old Shih Tzu Milo started showing signs of pain on July 4th. As we had just switched his food too quickly, we assumed it was just stomach issues. I should have known it was more because he didn't have any vomiting or diarrhea, and he would hang out in an area of our home that would prevent us from reaching him. The next afternoon, I went to touch him and he yelped with even the anticipation of me touching him. So I immediately took him to the ER vet. Because I had given him a toy and he may have eaten some stuffing, we wanted to rule out an instestinal blockage too. The doctor performed an xray and found a possible intestinal obstruction and also a spinal misalignment. We were given a muscle relaxer and anti-inflammatory and we were to return for a repeat xray the next morning. He seemed to sleep well enough that night.
We took him in first thing at 7 am. Doctor referred us to a neurologist to rule out intravertebral disc disease. As Milo was still walking, the neurologist said that they could do surgery but he could also just be crated for 4 weeks to let his body heal and to return if he loses feeling in his feet. I believe his results may have been different if the first vet hadn't given him Morphine to control his pain. But I also didn't want Milo to suffer either. So it was relieving to have him pain free for a few hours. Well we chose the crate option and within 1 hour of being home, he lost use of his legs but still responded with us pinching his foot. I should have taken him back then. As my husband had been to the neurologist with Milo, I wasn't fully informed of all the risks of IVDD and delaying surgery. At 2 am on July 7th, we took him to the vet, who was suspicious of Myelomalacia, spinal death. Milo had lost all feeling in his lower extremities. He recommended we drive 1.5 hours away to the nearest neurologist available on a Sunday. We had the MRI done and the neurologist was 90% confident that his IVDD advanced to myelomalacia, which could only be truly diagnosed with a spinal tap. So just a heads up to the furparents, that it could advance to something more deadly.
The option was to perform the surgery and hope that it was just inflammation (highly unlikely) and wait to confirm the myelomalacia, waiting for it to spread. The myelomalacia would have left him in excrutiating pain and would have continued to spread to his upper spine and prevented him from breathing, and then eventually killing him. We didn't want that for our sweet Milo. And so we put our sweet boy down while he was under anesthesia. We did not even get a proper goodbye as we thought we would see him after surgery. It was so quick and so unexpected. I hope for smooth and successful recoveries for your furbabies.