Signs & Symptoms of Dog Spinal Cord Injury

Updated February 21, 2017

Injury to a dog's spinal cord tends to produce acute and sudden symptoms. Depending on the nature of the injury, the dog's symptoms may be considered mild, moderate or severe and can be progressive. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately if it is showing signs of a spinal cord injury.


Pain anywhere along the spine may be the first sign of trauma and will often occur no matter the extent or severity of the injury. The area where the dog is experiencing pain indicates where the injury to the spine is located. Neck pain occurs when an injury has occurred in the upper region of the spinal cord. Dogs may exhibit neck pain in many ways, some of which may seem unrelated. Neck pain may cause the dog to not move its head to eat or drink; its neck muscles may appear taut or tremble and/or it may have weakness in the front legs. Pain in the lower back often results in a reluctance to walk or limping in the back legs. In both cases, dogs may cry out when trying to move or when touched.

Mild Symptoms

Mild symptoms of spinal cord injury in dogs include ataxia--a lack of muscle coordination--with or without pain. Dogs that are showing signs of ataxia will have a wobbly walk; stumbling and running into objects. In these cases, they have a mild loss of control over their legs.


Dogs with more moderate sings of a spinal cord injury will have paresis. Paresis is a more severe weakness of the limbs, although the dog is still able to move its limbs. When attempting to walk, the dog may drag its back legs.


Paralysis and loss of pain perception occur when dogs have suffered a severe spinal cord injury. Usually the result of a spinal fracture, the paralysis can occur in the legs and respiratory system. Dogs with severe injuries may also develop Schiff-Sherrington phenomenon. Dogs with this condition will lie on their sides with their legs stiffly and fully extended. Dogs with severe symptoms of spinal cord injury are usually not given a positive prognosis. According to Dr. Robin Levitski-Osgood in her paper "Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease," "if the animal has lost deep pain perception for over 24-48 hours, the chances of spinal cord recovery are low."

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About the Author

Lynn Anders has more than 15 years of professional experience working as a zookeeper, wildlife/environmental/conservation educator and in nonprofit pet rescue. Writing since 2007, her work has appeared on various websites, covering pet-related, environmental, financial and parenting topics. Anders has a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies and biology from California State University, Sacramento.