Dogs can develop spinal cord tumours at any age but only 28 per cent are under 3 years old. Ninety per cent of dogs with spinal tumours are large breed dogs. There are various types and locations of spinal tumours. Your veterinarian will usually refer your dog to a specialist to determine the type and treatment options.
Most causes are not known, however dogs under the age of 3 often have a type of tumour that may be genetic. The most common breeds to develop spinal tumours at a young age are German shepherds and Labrador and golden retrievers.
The first signs of a spinal cord tumour may be very subtle limping or unstable gait. Typically pain in neck or back that worsens longer than two weeks is a later sign. Eventually marked dysfunction in movement occurs. However some tumour placement may cause sudden severe symptoms.
Spinal tumours on the bone, extradural tumours, are the most common. Intradural-extramedullary tumours grow on the spinal cord nerve sheaths and account for one third of tumours. Intramedullary tumours attack the glial cells, which are part of the neurons that make and receive messages or surround those neurons. It is the least common type. Peripheral nerve tumours grow in the nerve root.
Your vet will use X-rays or an MRI or CAT scan to determine the location. Blood work also helps in the diagnosis.
Spinal tumours in the bone that can be surgically removed have a fair prognosis but most intramedullary tumours cannot be removed. Survival time with surgery average is 240 days, 180 days if malignant and 1410 days with benign tumours.