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IVDD - Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

IVDD - Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) is a degenerative disease that can affect your dog's spinal cord and causes a range of painful symptoms.

What is Intervertebral Disc Disease in dogs?

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD for short) is often described as a herniated, ruptured, slipped, or bulging disk. This painful and often debilitating condition can be seen in any breed of dog but is commonly found in beagles, dachshunds, pekingese, shih tzus, basset hounds and American cocker spaniels.

What causes IVDD in dogs?

Intervertebral Disc Disease is a degenerative process that gradually affects the dog's spinal cord over a period of time. This condition can go undetected for a number of years, until your dog's hardened disc or discs become ruptured, and painful symptoms become evident. Even with regular, yearly wellness exams, your vet may not detect any signs of IVDD.

Something as everyday as a running up or down the stairs could suddenly damage a disc that has been weakened by IVDD, and trigger acute and painful symptoms of the disease.

IVDD in dogs occurs when the shock absorbing discs between the vertebrae gradually begin to harden to the point that they are no longer able to cushion the vertebrae normally. At that point the hardened discs will often go on to bulge and compress the spinal cord, in many cases damaging the dog's nerve impulses such as those that control bladder and bowel control.

In other cases, a simple jump or poor landing can lead one or more of the hardened discs to burst and press into the nerves of the dog's spinal cord causing pain, possible nerve damage or even paralysis.

How can I tell if my dog has IVDD?

Symptoms of this condition will depend upon which part of the spine is affected by IVDD, and how severe the damage is. Because Intervertebral Disc Disease can occur in any of the discs in your dog's spine, symptoms vary greatly and can appear suddenly or come on gradually. If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms of IVDD seek veterinary care as soon as possible. This condition can be very painful for dogs and early treatment is essential for preventing the condition from becoming more severe or causing irreversible damage to your dog's spine. 

Symptoms of Cervical IVDD

Cervical IVDD occurs in the discs of the dog's neck. Symptoms can affect almost any part of the body, and range from mild to very severe. If your dog displays one or more of the following symptoms, contact your vet for urgent advice, or visit your closest animal emergency hospital for immediate veterinary care:

  • Head held low
  • Arching back 
  • Shivering or crying
  • Reluctance to move
  • Unsteadiness in all 4 legs
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of all 4 paws
  • Inability to support own weight
  • Inability to stand
  • Inability to feel all 4 feet and legs

Symptoms of Thoracolumbar IVDD

Dogs with Thoracolumbar IVDD have a damaged disc or discs causing issues in their back and may display one or more of the following symptoms. Symptoms of Thoracolumbar IVDD mainly affect the mid to back portion of the dog's body and can range from mild to very severe:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Tense belly 
  • Weakness in hind legs
  • Crossing back legs when walking
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Knuckling of back paws, or dragging rear legs
  • Inability to support their own weight
  • Unable to move or feel back legs

Symptoms of Lumbosacral IVDD

In dogs that are suffering from lumbosacral IVDD, the diseased disc or discs are located in the dog's lower back. Symptoms of lumbosacral IVDD typically affect the very back of the dog's body and may range from mild to very severe:

  • Pain and/or difficulty jumping
  • Limp tail
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Dilated anus

How is IVDD diagnosed in dogs?

If your dog begins showing any of the above symptoms it's important to seek immediate veterinary care since symptoms may become more severe or cause irreparable damage to your pet's spine. Tests for diagnosing Intervertebral Disc Disease will usually include x-rays, a neurological exam, and/or MRI to help locate the problematic disc or discs.

What is the treatment for IVDD?

It is essential that diagnosis and treatment for Intervertebral Disc Disease begins as early as possible in order to achieve the best possible treatment outcomes. That's why we recommend taking your dog to the vet for a full examination if you spot even mild symptoms of IVDD in your dog. Delays in treatment could lead to further damage.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

In dogs diagnosed with a mild to moderate IVDD injury, treatment may include steroid and anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce pain and swelling, combined with strictly reduced activity for approximately for about 4 -6 weeks.


Surgery is is the most common treatment used to help dogs suffering from more severe cases of Intervertebral Disc Disease where rest and medication are not sufficient to reduce pain and other symptoms.

During surgery, your dog's surgeon will remove the diseased disc material which is pressing on your dog's spinal cord and causing the IVDD symptoms.

Surgery tends to be more successful in dogs that have not lost their ability to walk. If your dog's surgery fails to be successful, a dog wheelchair can help your pup to enjoy a happy and active life while living with IVDD.

Recovery from IVDD surgery requires 6 - 8 weeks of restricted activity. Running, climbing stairs, playing with other dogs, or jumping on furniture need to be prevented in order to avoid further damage as your dog's spine heals.

Physical Therapy

After surgery, your vet may also recommend physical rehabilitation (physical therapy) for your dog in order to work on muscle strengthening and to help get your pet moving comfortably again.

If your dog is showing signs of IVDD it is essential to seek emergency veterinary care. Contact your primary care vet, or bring your dog to the closest emergency animal hospital. In Rock Hill SC, the emergency vets at Carolina Veterinary Specialists are available late nights, weekends, and holidays. Contact us when your pet needs emergency care.

Vet Care for Rock Hill Pets

Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Rock Hill, accepts new patients to our specialty services by referral only. Our emergency/urgent care service welcomes all patients.

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