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. 

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:
  • Weakness
  • Head turning
  • Low tail carriage
  • Raspy panting
  • Sweaty paws
  • Back hair on edge
  • Dropped Ears
  • Pupils dilated
  • Freezing

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.

Tell Us About Your Pooch's Herniated Disc!