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Herniated disc in dogs: symptoms, treatment and prevention

Disc herniation in dogs occurs when spinal discs are displaced causing compression of the nerve roots and spinal cord. If the animal does not always suffer from significant pain, the clinical signs vary from a simple lameness to complete paralysis. It is therefore better to act quickly to relieve the dog. Let’s discover the characteristics of this neurological pathology.

Herniated disc in dogs: what are the causes?

As in humans, the dog’s spine consists of vertebrae through which the spinal cord passes. Each of these vertebrae is centered around a gelatinous nucleus which is surrounded by a fibrous disc. When the fibrous disc is displaced or ruptured, the gelatinous nucleus is exposed and compresses the spinal cord or its nerve roots, causing the animal to experience symptoms ranging from difficulty moving to complete paralysis.

There are two categories of herniated discs:

  • Acute disc herniation is rapid and occurs within 24 to 48 hours. More or less painful, it generally results from a shock on a dog weakened by a packed body or a long body, two types of morphologies which exert greater tensions on the spine.
  • Chronic disc herniation is rarely as painful and sets in gradually, with clinical signs occurring after several days or even months. While some breeds are more predisposed to this form of hernia, all dogs are likely to be affected depending on their age or their activity.

It should be noted that a herniated disc can most often affect two areas, namely the forelimbs (cervical hernia) and the hind limbs (thorsolumbar hernia).

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc in dogs?

Symptoms of a herniated disc vary widely from animal to animal and form to form. These vary according to the stage of development of the hernia and its location. At first, the dog shows some signs of pain, he may moan, refuse to walk or play, suffer from a certain stiffness in his movements. Over time, these are more and more difficult and painful, his back arches and paralysis can occur more or less quickly depending on the form of the condition.

Symptoms differ depending on the location of the herniated disc.

  • In case of cervical disc herniation (front limbs), the dog presents an uncoordinated gait, stiffness in the neck and weakness in all four legs. He may moan or cry in pain depending on the movements he makes.
  • In case of dorsolumbar disc herniation (hind limbs), only the hind legs are affected. In this case, the animal may present clinical signs ranging from simple feverishness in the legs to complete paralysis.

How to diagnose a herniated disc in dogs?

At the slightest suspicious sign, it is imperative to consult the veterinarian in order to establish a diagnosis and put in place an appropriate treatment.

The veterinarian will start by performing a clinical examination that will allow him to confirm the herniated disc. He will evaluate the possible pains of the dog, its movements and movements as well as the possibility of a partial or total paralysis.

He will then perform additional medical examinations to confirm his diagnosis and better understand the form of herniated disc in question and its stage of progression. The most commonly performed examinations in this case are:

  • the neurological examination of the animal which makes it possible to evaluate its sensitivity, its reflexes and its reactions;
  • scanner or myeloscanner which can detect a herniated disc by imaging;
  • radiography or myelography;
  • MRI.

The earlier the diagnosis is confirmed, the faster the animal is taken care of, which favors the setting up of a more comfortable treatment and maximizes its chances of remission.

How to treat and prevent a herniated disc in dogs?

In dogs, a herniated disc can be treated in two ways.

Non-surgical or conservative treatment

When the herniated disc is dorsolumbar and the symptoms remain minor, the veterinarian can set up a treatment based on anti-inflammatories and recommend a rest period of two weeks.

Surgical treatment

The hemilaminectomy consists in extracting by surgical operation the piece of disc which compresses the spinal cord. It is important to act quickly, because to hope for chances of remission and allow the animal to walk again, it must still be able to move or, failing that, to maintain deep muscle sensitivity despite paralysis. The dog is then monitored very regularly for two to four weeks after the intervention in order to assess its neurological progress.

Can a herniated disc be prevented?

Yes and no. In predisposed breeds, certain movements must be avoided to limit the risks. In particular, avoid your pet going down the stairs or from the sofa alone. Carry it if possible, but in the right way to avoid spinal collapse, i.e. lifting the whole body at once, placing your forearms under the belly, one under the legs front and the other under the hind legs. Avoid at all costs lifting the animal by the shoulders, as you compress the spine.

In general, avoid all vertical movements in dogs, especially jumping on the spot, bad for the spine, all breeds combined.

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