How to Best Take Care of a Dog With a Ruptured Disc

Written by theresa bettmann
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How to Best Take Care of a Dog With a Ruptured Disc
Many different types of dog breeds are suceptible to serious disk injuries. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The vertebrae of a dog's spinal column are connected by several invertebrate disks, which provide support and flexibility. Disk degeneration can lead to various conditions. The most common and severe of these conditions is disk herniation, or rupture. In such cases immediate medical attention is required in order to minimise the risk of long-term damage like weakness of the hind limbs, or even paralysis. Typically surgery is necessary to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, and to minimise permanent damage. There are several important steps to consider when caring for a dog recuperating from a ruptured disk.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Confine the dog to a very small room, or a dog crate, during the initial healing process. Typically this is a minimum of three to four weeks. This is a critical step to restrict all unnecessary movements and avoid any further injury, which could result in permanent paralysis. Confining the dog is especially important during hours in which they are unsupervised such as overnight, or when owners are gone during the day.

  2. 2

    Support the dog's hind limbs with the use of a sling or towel, when taking them outside to relieve themselves. This will reduce pressure on the affected vertebrae by helping the dog to support its weight and balance. Dogs should not be allowed to go up or down steps during this healing phase. Any necessary movements must be with the aid and supervision of the owner.

  3. 3

    Participate in physiotherapy with the dog. The veterinarian usually initiates physiotherapy by using passive movements, which are often taught to the owner to continue at home. Passive movements are used to gently stimulate all of the leg joints through a full range of motion, for about five minutes every day. This promotes circulation and flexibility and ensures that muscles and joints will be capable of response. Standing exercises come soon after, and are necessary for building muscle strength. These should continue until the dog is able to attempt walking. Hydrotherapy is another option. It uses a warm water pool-like setting to loosen muscles, promote stimulation and reduce pressure on the limbs. Hydrotherapy can begin once any surgery incision has completely healed, generally in 10 to 14 days.

  4. 4

    Consider acupuncture. Acupuncture should only be performed by a veterinarian who is specially trained and certified to do so, and is generally conducted through a series of regular treatments. This procedure can stimulate reflex activity, improve muscle strength, and may even be useful in reducing muscle spasms. It is important to consult with the veterinarian to see how soon after surgery this treatment can begin.

  5. 5

    Visit a chiropractor. Veterinary chiropractics involves the manual adjustment of the vertebrae to correct subluxations and misalignment. Such conditions are the cause of neurological dysfunction and tissue degeneration, and can complicate ruptured disks. Often correcting these affected areas successfully stimulates the overall healing process. However, dogs recovering from surgery must wait at least three weeks, so that movement and manipulation will not cause further damage. It is important to make sure that any chiropractic procedure is done only by a licensed Veterinary Chiropractor.

Tips and warnings

  • Male dogs appear to be more likely than females to develop degenerative disk problems that can lead to ruptures.
  • Genetic predispositions puts certain small breeds at risk for disk problems like dachshunds, beagles, cocker spaniels, Pekinese, French bull dogs, corgis, miniature or toy poodles, or basset hounds. Additionally some large dog breeds like German Shepards and Great Danes, are also prone to these problems.
  • Older, overweight, or out of shape dogs run a higher risk of developing disk problems or injuries, making it important to monitor diet and exercise. Especially with high-risk breeds.
  • It is important to note that even dogs with no known risk factors, or predisposed conditions, can still injure or rupture a disk. Often this happenes during one wrong move in conjuction with a normal activity, such as jumping off of a couch.
  • For dogs that are recovering from surgery, close monitoring for signs of infection at the incision site is important. Immediately report redness, pain, swelling or oozing to the veterinarian.
  • Many dogs that have experienced ruptured disk will recover with proper veterinary treatment. However, in some cases of severe damage, paralysis may become permanent.

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