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The bones of the backbone that protect the spinal cord are called "vertebrae". Soft cushions are located between these bones which serve as "shock absorbers" protecting the very delicate nerves that lie within the spinal column. These cushions are called "discs". Each disc consists of a tough outer ring surrounding a jelly-like core. With age, the core hardens to a cottage cheese consistency while the outer ring looses some of its strength. The disease is commonly seen in poodles, dachshunds, and other breeds with long backs.
A sharp movement or sudden force may cause the outer ring to rupture, allowing the core material to protrude into the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal cord. Disc disease can occur anywhere along the spinal canal. This pressure may result in pain in the neck, back, abdomen, a reluctance to jump or use stairs, lame to paralyzed limbs, and loss of control over bladder or bowels.
The disc can also be damaged from an injury, such as jumping off furniture, resulting in the condition called a "slipped disc". In this condition, the disc has been forced out of its normal location and pushes against the spinal cord itself causing pressure on the nerves.
Medical treatment may relieve pain and inflammation, but surgery is often required to relieve severe pressure. Surgery involves scraping out the diseased disc material to relieve the pressure and prevent future episodes of pain.
Neck lesions usually require surgical intervention whereas lower spinal problems may or may not require surgery. The problem tends to reoccur in other disc locations, especially if the pet continues to do a lot of jumping and is overweight.
The treatment recommended by your veterinarian, and the prognosis for recovery is based on the severity of the signs, the rapidity in which the problem developed, and the time elapsed since the problem began.
Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and x-rays. If medical therapy is utilized, complete rest with exercise restriction is vital and instructions must be followed explicitly. Early treatment increases the chances of recovery. In mild cases, drugs are given to decrease inflammation and swelling of the spinal cord. Muscle relaxants, antibiotics, and pain-relieving medications are also given.
If surgery is advised, laboratory work and special x-ray studies may be needed prior to surgery. In either method, the recovery may be quite gradual over a period of many weeks. Unfortunately, not all cases respond to treatment, and the animal may be partially, or completely permanently disabled.
Signs may develop gradually or suddenly. The sudden onset of intervertebral disc disease is an emergency situation. If you suspect disc disease in your pet call us immediately.
REMEMBER, once this problem
has occurred, it can happen again. Keeping your dog's weight down
and discouraging jumping will help a great deal!