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Can Dogs Get Pinched Nerves?


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After a long day of pulling weeds or after that pickup game of basketball with your teenage son, you’re laid out on the living room floor struggling, if by some miracle from heaven, there is one position you can find where there isn’t excruciating pain shooting through your neck or back. Everyone else in your family thinks you’re just being a baby, but you know better. This isn’t just the soreness that comes from the ever-growing number of candles on your birthday cake. You’ve experienced this before so you know--this is a pinched nerve.

A pinched nerve occurs when a nerve has too much pressure applied to it by the surrounding bones, cartilage, muscles, or tendons. This can cause pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation in the area. In serious cases, it can even cause paralysis. If you pinch a nerve, even if your family thinks you’re being a wimp, you have every right to complain about how bad it hurts and to refuse to help your brother-in-law move this weekend out of his third-floor apartment. That being said, however, this experience will hopefully make you more sympathetic toward other members of your family when the same thing happens to them, including the furry family members.

Can Dogs Get Pinched Nerves?

Yes, pinched nerves can occur in dogs for pretty much the same reasons they occur in humans. As we age, whether we’re humans or dogs, our bones, especially our vertebra weaken, making it easier for them to pinch the nerves in between discs. Usually, a pinched nerve is the result of either a traumatic injury or what we might call “thinking you’re younger than you are,” as in trying to be more athletic than you should be for your age. The same goes for dogs. All dogs, though, no matter the age, could pinch a nerve as a result of falling, being hit by a car or bike, or rough-housing or getting in a fight.

Does My Dog Have Pinched Nerves?

You know how you act when you have a pinched nerve--wanting to lie still while at the same time finding it impossible to lie still, turning your whole body toward someone when they call your name rather than just turning your head, moving around like some kind of robot or mummy. Well, if your dog pinches a nerve, there’s a pretty good chance they will act in a very similar way. If your dog doesn’t want to raise or turn their neck, yelps in pain when you touch their neck or back, finds it very difficult to get comfortable, or is even limping, there’s a chance your dog has pinched a nerve.

Pinched nerves can be terribly painful. If it happens to you, you might be willing to pop a few ibuprofen and suffer through it, but it’s not fair to force your dog to do the same. After all, since your dog can’t talk, you don’t really know how much pain your dog is in. Your dog needs to go to the vet.

The vet will examine your dog, feeling the usual areas where pinched nerves occur, and see how your dog reacts to being handled. It’s very likely that your vet will need to do an x-ray to make sure your dog doesn’t have a broken bone or some other more serious traumatic injury.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Pinched Nerves?

Veterinarians will usually treat pinched nerves in dogs much the same way your doctor would treat yours. They will likely employ the following treatments:

  • Cortisone to reduce swelling

  • Painkillers such as tramadol

  • Rest: Take a break from walks. Try to keep your dog from jumping on and off furniture. Consider keeping the dog with the pinched nerve separate from other pets if those pets are rambunctious. Sometimes when your dog is hurting, you can’t help but want to hug them to comfort him. When dealing with a pinched nerve, it’s probably better to just let your dog be for a while so as not to hurt them or make it even worse.

  • Whatever you do, don’t use a neck leash on a dog with a pinched nerve in the neck.

  • In a severe case, surgery may be required to relieve the pressure being put on the nerve, usually by discs in the back. 

How Are Pinched Nerves Similar in Dogs and Humans?

As has been mentioned, there are a lot of similarities between pinched nerves in dogs and humans. Here are just a few of them.

  • Whether you’re a dog or a human, pinched nerves hurt!

  • The most common areas of the body to suffer a pinched nerve are the neck, shoulders, and back.

  • Most instances of a pinched nerve will go away in a week or so in both dogs and humans.

  • Both dogs and humans often benefit from pain and anti-inflammatory medications during a pinched nerve episode, to be more comfortable as the body attempts to heal.

How Are Pinched Nerves Different in Dogs and Humans?

Ultimately, however, because dogs and humans, as much as we love each other, are built differently in a lot of ways, there will be some differences between a dog’s pinched nerve and a human’s. Here are a few differences.

  • Walking on four legs, dogs carry their weight differently than humans. This may cause the dog to experience pain in different ways than a human would.

  • Unlike your spouse and kids, your dog can’t tell you what’s wrong. They have to wait for you to notice that they’re hurting. You’ll have to be observant.

  • Dogs actually have more spinal cord segments than humans, at 36 to our 31. Theoretically, this adds five additional areas where a pinched nerve can occur on your dog.

Case Study

While home for the holidays, you notice that your grandmother’s Jack Russell terrier, Humphrey, isn’t his usual rambunctious self. You ask grandma about it and she says he wouldn’t let her pick him up this morning for their morning coffee and cuddle, but yelped instead. He keeps moving from spot to spot in the house, starting to lie down but then popping back up again. She hasn’t had time to deal with it because, after all, you and all the rest of the family were coming over for dinner and everyone expects her to cook their favorite dish. After dinner, you watch Humphrey and notice that his head is down, that he’s unwilling to look up, and instead of turning his neck toward you when you call him over for a nibble of turkey, he turns his whole body. At one point you have to shoo away your nieces and nephews from trying to squeeze him to death with hugs. 

After dinner, you tell your grandma that Humphrey needs to go to the vet sooner rather than later, that he seems to be in a lot of pain. So you and grandma gently load Humphrey into the car while leaving everyone else to clean up the kitchen and you take him to the after-hours vet hospital where they feel around on him and take an x-ray. “He’s got a whopper of a pinched nerve in his back,” the vet says. “He’s really hurting.”

The vet prescribes a painkiller and a corticosteroid. She advises consistency with the medication and complete rest. She gives him the first doses while you’re there and by the time you, grandma, and Humphrey make it back to the house, he’s more comfortable and snoring loudly. You gently carry him inside and put him on the dog bed in the bedroom. Then, after consoling your grandmother who feels guilty about not taking him earlier, you dig into a piece of grandma’s famous pecan pie.

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