Animal Referral Hospital Brisbane

What is IVDD? And what to do about it…

This month is IVDD Awareness Month, and unfortunately at ARH we see too many dogs with this debilitating spinal disease. Throughout July, we will take you through some of the key facts about IVDD that may help you spot if your pup is ever in trouble.

What is IVDD?

IVDD, aka Intervertebral Disc Disease, occurs when one of more of a dog´s intervertebral discs (shock-absorbing structures located between the vertebrae of the spinal column that stabilise the spine and allow regulated movement) undergo degenerative change.

This degeneration happens from an early age, and as the dog ages these degenerate discs can then bulge or rupture. This process, known as intervertebral disc herniation (IVDH) results in compression, bruising and inflammation of the spinal cord and nerves.

If left untreated dogs can have continued pain and permanent neurological dysfunction, including paralysis, hence why early detection is so important. Indeed, in a small percentage of dogs, the damage to the spinal cord can be so severe that they never regain the ability to walk or urinate.

How do you recognise IVDH?

Signs that your dog is suffering from IVDH include:

  • behavioural changes, such as not wanting to jump or hiding
  • intermittent or consistent pain
  • arched back
  • wobbliness, weakness or lameness in one or both of their back legs
  • inability to walk
  • inability to go to the toilet
  • for dogs who have IVDD in their neck, weakness or lameness in one or both of their front legs and a reluctance to move their neck.

Some dogs can have very mild signs of IVDH initially, so it´s good to be aware of small changes to your dog´s behaviour or mood, and have them checked out if you are concerned.

Should I act quickly?

Time is of the essence in IVDH cases, and all too quickly a dog can go from mildly affected to paralysed. If you are worried, give your local vet or emergency hospital a call and they can let you know if your dog needs to be seen.

Before you see a vet, it’s important to keep your dog quiet and not allow them to jump or play. It’s best to keep them in a crate or pen and carry them outside to go to the toilet. They should be carried to the car and properly restrained when driving to see your vet.

What are the treatment options?

If your dog is diagnosed with IVDH, there are a range of treatment options which usually depend on the severity of clinical signs and the amount of spinal cord and nerve compression.

The seriousness of a dog’s condition is measured by a neurological grading system. Dogs in the lower grades can often recover with conservative management, including strict cage rest for a minimum of eight weeks and pain relief medications. They do however have a higher incidence of relapse at the problem disc site, resulting in a long term positive outcome in approximately 50% of cases. The time it takes to improve and ongoing pain also need to be considered.

For dogs that undergo surgery, over 95% will return to normal function long term. Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of dogs who never recover. In these uncommon cases, as long as a dog’s bowel and bladder are appropriately managed, they can live an acceptable quality of life, often achieving mobility with a cart. However, this does require intense commitment on the owner’s part. Rarely, dogs with severe IVDD can develop a condition known as ascending/descending myelomalacia which is typically fatal.

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