Many dogs suffer from intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), and it’s not always clear what the best treatment approach is. Here’s what I told a reader whose dog has been diagnosed with the condtion.
Q: My Lhasa apso has been diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease. What can you tell me about it, and will she need to have surgery?
A: We commonly see IVDD, as it’s called for short, in dwarf dogs such as dachshunds (who have 45 to 70 percent of all cases), poodles, Pekingese, beagles, French bulldogs and Lhasa apsos as well as in dogs such as German shepherds, Dobermans and cocker spaniels. Although the disc may rupture after a fall or jump, in most cases the “slipped disc” is a result of chronic disc degeneration.
Signs of disease — pain, difficulty walking, muscle spasms or paralysis — typically appear in small or short dogs when they are 3 to 6 years old. In breeds such as Labrador retrievers or German shepherds, signs usually occur at 5 to 12 years.
Genes play a role in development of the disease. Last October, researchers at the University of California, Davis announced the discovery of a genetic mutation across breeds that is responsible for dogs developing chondrodystrophic features — the shorter legs and abnormal intervertebral discs seen in low-slung, long-bodied dogs. They found that dogs with IVDD are 50 times more likely to have this mutation. Not enough is known yet about the prevalence of the specific gene in the affected breeds to be able to breed out the condition, but it’s a start.
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. In dogs with mild signs, the veterinarian may recommend pain medication and cage rest with slow, on-leash exercise only. When dogs don’t respond to conservative management or have severe signs, surgery is usually the best option. Some veterinarians use acupuncture and rehab techniques in combination with cage rest, analgesics and controlled exercise to help manage mild cases or to benefit dogs before and after surgery.
Read more, including a look at great new pet gadgets, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.