Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve on a Dog's Spine

dog image by Joanna Redesiuk from

A pinched spinal nerve is a painful and all-too-common situation dogs and humans, alike, face. There are a variety of causes for this condition. Quick treatment is recommended to increase the quality-of-life of your pet, but, luckily, the symptoms are readily apparent to an observant owner.

An MRI is the preferred method of verifying this condition, as an X-Ray may not show the cause of this condition or the extent of the injury or disease.

Changes in Movement

Dogs may exhibit symptoms such as a change in gait due to the pain from the pinched nerve. A dog may carry itself differently, favour a leg -- especially a hind leg -- and may exhibit limited range of motion in affected areas. Typically, dogs will become much less active and seem reluctant to play. Some dogs suffer intermittently from the condition and act normally on better days.

Dogs may also seem to lose coordination when suffering from a pinched spinal nerve. A dog may walk or lay down with its back arched or may carry its tail differently. Some dogs even walk on their knuckles when afflicted by this condition.

Pain Vocalizations and Distress

Dogs may begin to make pain vocalisation for no apparent reason -- there may be no wounds, insect stings or bites or other obvious injury. When in conjunction with changes in movement and behaviour, this may be one of the clearest signs of a pinched spinal nerve.

In addition, dogs may whine or otherwise communicate pain and distress when touched or moved. Typically, pinched nerves occur in the neck or lumbar region -- test your dog for pain reactions when pressure is applied there -- but can also occur in joints. A dog may communicate distress and seem to be in pain when urinating or defecating.

Behavioural Changes

Some dogs may exhibit acute behavioural changes when suffering from pinched spinal nerves. General weakness can be a sign of pinched spinal nerves or of a more serious medical condition. Some dogs will seem generally uncomfortable and will constantly fidget when at rest -- this will generally manifest as an inability to lay down or continually adjusting position. Dogs will also sometimes become aggressive when suffering from acute pain as a result of a pinched nerve and may growl or bite when handled.

Contributing Factors

Certain dogs are simply more susceptible to this condition, like obese dogs and dogs with particular physiologies, like being long and low to the ground (dachsunds) or larger breeds like Rottweilers, German shepherds or Great Danes. Highly-active dogs will also be more likely to suffer from this condition, while other dogs may have a familial history of this disease. Some diseases like cancer, a herniated disc, osteoporosis or Wobbler's Disease, that mainly affects large breeds, can contribute to pinched nerves in dogs .