Spinal Compression in Dogs

Updated November 21, 2016

Back pain not only strikes man, it strikes man's best friend. Compression of a dog's spinal column results in significant pain and other symptoms, such as being unable to walk, dragging one or both rear legs and an odd curve to the back. Treatment ranges from massages and acupuncture to steroid prescriptions and surgery. X-rays and CAT scans or magnetic resonance imaging exams are sometimes used to confirm a diagnosis.

Spinal Compression

A dog's spine is made up of discs, vertebrae and nerves. The discs absorb shock and let the spine flex. Blood clots, tumours, injuries and ruptured discs are among the causes for the spine to compress, putting pressure on the spinal cord and disrupting its normal function. The compression can extend to the spinal nerves. The compression can occur suddenly, with symptoms appearing within a few minutes or slowly, taking days, weeks or months as the condition worsens.

Irreparable Damage

Some spinal cord damage–whether it occurs over time from disease or happens instantaneously because of an accident, such as being struck by a car, or being shot–can result in full or partial paralysis. In the most serious cases, the damage cannot be repaired. In lesser cases, surgery can sometimes repair the spine or amputate a limb that has lost all sensation. The severity of the compression can be diagnosed by a veterinarian, who will prescribe medicines or surgery or both. Typically, the prognosis is not good for dogs that have lost feeling and pain sensations related to spinal damage.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease results when the tissue that separates the discs from each other and the spinal cord degenerate and rupture. This condition can cause paralysis in severe cases. Cortisone can help the dog manage the condition. Although any breed can face this disease, dogs prone to the condition include standard and miniature dachshunds and Pekinese. Symptoms can include tightened neck muscles. In the early stages, confining the dog can allow the spine to heal naturally. Medicine or surgery can be required for more severe cases.

Wobbler Syndrome

Large breeds such as Great Danes and Doberman pinschers are prone to cervical spondylomyelopathy, or wobbler syndrome, which results in progressive loss of hind leg coordination. The vertebrae in the neck have compressed and damaged the spinal cord. If the condition is not treated, the front legs can also be affected. Surgery is usually recommended to correct the problem.

Chronic Myelopathy

Large breeds, particularly German shepherds, can be struck with chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (chronic myelopathy or CDRM), a debilitating condition that results in partial paralysis. Affected dogs exhibit a lack of coordination with the rear legs. This progresses into partial paralysis. Controlling a dog's weight and providing light, daily exercise to boost muscle tone can help, but CDRM does not appear to slow down or reverse with medical treatments.

Other Remedies and Prevention

Rest and confining a dog with spinal problems to a small area can aid in natural healing. Dogs that are allowed to roam freely can be more at risk to accidents that can injure their spines. While veterinarians should be consulted to diagnose the nature of the spinal problem and to recommend treatment, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture treatment and massage therapy can be beneficial.

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About the Author

Jean Rabe has worked in journalism since 1979, serving as a reporter, bureau chief and magazine editor. She has written 27 novels, including "The Finest Creation" and "The Finest Challenge," while her true-crime book, "When the Husband is the Suspect," was written with F. Lee Bailey. Rabe has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Northern Illinois University.