Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) in Dogs What is This?

Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) in Dogs

What is This?

The topic for today is Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) in dogs this is a condition that is seen more in the smaller breeds but does not mean that the larger breeds cannot have disk problems.

Therefore, this is an advisable read for all dog owners knowing the symptoms and what can be done for your dog in the event of IVDD.

What Is IVDD?

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or ruptured (herniate) into the spinal cord space. The bulge or ruptured discs will press on the nerves running through the spinal cord causing pain, nerve damage, and even paralysis.

IVDD in dogs is a common cause of back pain, rear limb paralysis, and inability to walk or feel the back legs. Many times you will hear IVDD referred to as a slipped disk, bulging disk, herniated disk, and a ruptured disk. Small dog breeds are where the disease is most common especially in the Dachshund, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Beagle. IVDD can affect any part of the canine spine, which can include possible spinal injury due to jumping and playing in the low-slung breeds more than others.


The structures between the bones of the spinal column (called vertebrae) are actually the intervertebral disks. These vertebrae are made up of a soft center, called the nucleus pulposus and an outer fibrous part called the annulus fibrosus, and they act as the shock absorbers between the bones giving mobility to the spine.

Some breeds lose the inner nucleus pulposus the “jelly-like” properties then become dry and brittle. With this the top of the annulus fibrosus is thinner than the rest of the annulus fibrosus, and dogs that herniate (or ‘slip’) a disk, the nucleus pulposus extrudes from the annulus fibrosus and may then strike the spinal cord and/or cause the spinal cord compression causing pain/immobility/paralysis depending on the amount of compression.

Signs of IVDD can include back pain, rear limb weakness, and wobbliness, inability to stand, inability to move the rear legs or even inability to feel the back legs. With pain, only symptoms dogs will normally walk naturally, moving in certain ways or jumping, shivering, crying, a tense belly, and muscle spasms should alert you that your dog needs a vet’s attention.

At the ambulatory paraparesis stage dogs will still be able to walk but are weak and wobbly in the rear legs and their back legs might cross over when walking they could even stumble or knuckle over. Next is a non-ambulatory paraparesis where the dog is still able to move their legs, wag the tail, but cannot get up and support their weight to walk on their own.

When dogs are at the paraplegia stage they cannot move the rear legs but can still feel their toes in the rear paws. When the IVDD is so serious you are looking at paraplegia with no pain so in addition to not being able to move the back legs they cannot feel the toes on their paws either.

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How is IVDD Diagnosed?

All the above symptoms is not a clinical sign that your dog is suffering from IVDD other diseases including meningitis/myelitis, spinal tumors, trauma, infection, malformations, vascular problems, and others could be a possibility for the pain or symptoms your dog is displaying.

Getting your pet to the vet as soon as symptoms start is the best advice anyone can give you so the following tests can be performed to rule out what the exact cause of your dog’s pain is.

  • Neurological Examination – Will give the veterinarian an idea of which of the above problems are more likely than others, but proper tests are necessary to determine the cause of the pain.
  • Spinal Radiographs – useful for screening for disk infection and bony tumors, but are insufficient to diagnose IVDD. Sometimes x-rays can support a diagnosis of IVDD showing a narrowed disk space or calcification, but cannot be used to make a clear diagnosis.
  • Myelography – Involves injecting a dye contrast around the spinal cord to visualize it on radiographs. This is an older technique still used but most vet’s have more modern ways to diagnose IVDD.
  • Myelography
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan – Can be useful (combined with a myelogram) it allows the body to be visualized in ‘slices’. At times a CT scan can be used to diagnosis intervertebral disk disease but is also possible to miss other causes that may look similar to IVDD.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – The MRI is considered today to be the imaging modality of choice when visualizing the soft tissues of the body and includes the nervous system. This is the best test high-field MRI offers the best advantages over low-field MRI, CT and/or myelography in the diagnosis of IVDD.

How is IVDD in Dogs Treated?

IVDD can cause severe signs, symptoms can occur quickly causing irreversible damage. Dogs showing symptoms of IVDD should be evaluated by a neurologist as soon as possible, especially if they are dragging their rear limbs or cannot walk.

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and diagnosis, but can be divided into two options:

  • Non-Surgical – Dogs with a first episode of back pain or mild pelvic limb ataxia, a conservative approach of cage rest and medications may be recommended. By cage rest they are talking strict crate confinement of at least four weeks, considering your dog needs to be crated means leaving them out to urinate and defecate. But other than coming out for this they should be in the crate resting. The vet may recommend some physical therapy you can do with your dog to help the condition and when they are finished then go back to the crate to continue to rest. Pain medications and at times anti-inflammatory medications are necessary depending on the prescribing veterinarian and dogs condition.

dog in crate

  • Surgical – The dogs with more severe signs that could be recurrent or persistent back pain which did not respond to rest and medications are then best managed with surgery to decompress the spinal cord. Performing the surgery will remove the disk material that is compressing the spinal cord causing the pain and paraplegia. The surgery known as hemilaminectomy is where a window is made in the side of the backbones to remove the herniated disk material and then a procedure will be performed that will make is less likely the pet will even have IVDD again.

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What are the chances of my dog walking again with IVDD?

The prognosis with intervertebral disk disease depends on several factors, including the severity of the symptoms, how quickly the signs came on, how much compression there is, how quickly the signs are addressed by a neurologist and the surgical skill and experience of the neurosurgeon.

support for dogs with IVDD
Support for dogs with IVDD
  • With conditions ranging from pain through the non-ambulatory paraparesis stages – Chances of success are about 95% in the hands of an experienced neurosurgeon. The dogs that they try to manage non-surgically, chances of regaining the ability to walk are about 50-60%. Please note that dogs that are managed without surgery have a much higher risk for recurrence, may take longer to improve, and are at risk for worsening should symptoms reoccur than those that are treated with surgery, with the chance of no reoccurrence ever.
    • Once conditions have reached the paraplegia stage – The dog has reached a surgical emergency. Chances of recovery are significantly lower in this stage than those that can still feel their back legs. For surgery to be successful, it needs to be performed as soon as reasonably possible and definitely within 48 hours of losing the feeling in the back legs. When dogs that are paraplegic with the absence of nociception (severe pain) they are at risk for myelomalacia, a highly serious condition that is progressive and fatal.

In Closing

This is not a disease that only affects the breeds that I listed above those are just the most common known breeds to have the IVDD, any of the low-slung long back breeds can become a candidate of this disease.

Other breeds due to injuries or trauma to their backs can herniate a disk just like any human can, watching out for our pet’s health is very important due to the seriousness of this disease and timely medical attention required.

Has anyone of my readers out there had a dog diagnosed with IVDD?

What did your veterinarian prescribe for your pet?

Did they have to go thru the surgical procedure to have it repaired?

I am sure the other readers would like to hear your experience with IVDD and how things went for you and your dog, knowing if they recovered fully and could walk again.

Please leave your advice for others below along with any comments, suggestions, or questions you have for us here at Delightful Doggies 4 U in the space provided below.

Thank you so much for visiting today and please bookmark the site we will be adding many more helpful articles in the future,



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