Lumbar IVDD & disc herniation: finding relief, healing, and prevention.
Updated: May 23
I see a lot of dogs that suffer from disc injuries. Now that your dog has been diagnosed, you might be wondering: what are my options? What do I do? How can I prevent this from getting worse?
What is a disc injury?
A typical disc injury occurs in dogs when they have a sudden acute injury (Hansen type 1) or a chronic degenerative problem (Hansen type 2). A sudden injury could be as simple as a wrong landing after jumping down from the bed and a chronic issue could be as complicated as long term arthritic changes. Every dog is different. The result is, however, the same: spinal cord compression.
What you need to know is that discs act as shock absorption between the bones. The discs are to bones what tennis shoes are to a runner; they protect from concussive force of constant gravity. When you squish a disc too hard, it's like squishing all the moisture out of a sponge or the jelly out of a jelly donut. The soft squishy material is no longer where it should be and is instead pressing backward and into the spinal canal, irritating the spinal cord and also choking off all of the vital communication from the brain. (Not to mention, it is also VERY painful due to reactive inflammation and muscle spasm.)
Spinal cord compression occurs on a spectrum: light pressure (chronic changes over time) to severe pressure (complete rupture from acute episode.)
RULES OF IVDD: An acute injury is much more likely to be surgical and a chronic problem is much more likely to respond with conservative management.
Breeds at risk of developing this condition: weenie dogs, bulldogs, basset hounds, pugs, and etc.
The series of events in discal change
If your dog has a disc problem, things generally happen according to the size of nerve tracts. Large tracts are affected first, then small. If you suspect your dog might has a disc problem, these are the series of events things will occur. (If in recovery, this list backwards is the order in which things will come back.)
1. Your animal will start to lose motor control AKA they slip, trip, knuckle, or walk around like they are drunk. They may also have muscle spasms, fatigue, weakness, or tightness.
2. Your animal will start to lose organ function AKA they cannot control their urine or feces. They will become incontinent and will be unaware of their bowel movements due to cord compression.
3. Your animal will lose all sense of pain AKA they won't have reflexes, won't feel their toes when you pinch them, will have no sense of temperature, and won't consciously be aware of how to control their limbs and/or tail. (If you dog is here, the problem is 95% likely surgical.)
4. Your animal will have complete paralysis AKA they need to be in a wheelchair and have their bowels expressed manually. (Little to no chance of recovery, even with surgery.)
If you looked at the series of events and your dog is past stage 3, you need to have a surgical consult. Unfortunately, severe spinal cord compression classically responds best to decompressive surgery.
In any case, your vet will likely give your pet muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, and a steroid to decrease as much swelling, spasm, and pain as possible.
((If medication or surgery is not an option due to finances, age of your pet, or some other reason, keep reading.))
Now, if you pet is stage 2 or below, you can consider alternative and conservative managements such as:
A. Acupuncture: uses pressure, needles, and/or electric current to stimulate pressure points in the body which will cause restorative flow (Chi) in your pet's circulation and lymphatics to generate healing.
B. Massage: hands on muscle work with the goal to reduce muscle spasm, work out trigger points, and restore circulation.
C. Physical rehabilitation: guided physical therapy and exercises to restore nerve stimulation, muscle tone, and body balance in order to regain lost function.
D. Adjustments: manual therapy with the goal to restore proper motion to joints, improve alignment, minimize abnormal pressure on the discs, and decrease barriers to brain-body communication.
E. Cold laser: high powered laser that goes down to a cellular level and tells the mitochondria to generate more energy for healing
F. All of the above: pets do best when their care is multifaceted. All of the above therapies compliment the others in different ways for a well rounded approach to your pet's care.
Commonly, I see veterinarians offering only limited options to disc dogs:
1. Pain killers/ anti-inflammatories/ muscle relaxers that help mask the pain from the problem but never truly fix the biomechanical issue of the disc pressing on the nerves.
2. Maybe your vet is on the cutting edge and offers cold laser or rehabilitation therapy which will help to stimulate healing and regain proper muscle tone, but again, is not addressing the biomechanical issue of a disc pressing on a nerve.
3. Spinal surgery with a price tag of $3,000-5,000. This doesn't even include post op care.
4. Euthanasia because the other options failed and/or are too expensive.
Whenever I hear about a disc dog, I am usually a last resort before surgery. However, many pet owners AND vets don't know that adjustments are researched and proven to be ONE OF THE BEST therapies for this condition.
Dogs that receive manual therapy (adjustments + massage), anti-inflammatories (medicine/cold laser), and some physical rehabilitation often heal from their disc herniation WITHOUT ever needing surgery.
No euthanasia required. Animal owners, don't you wish your vet knew about this holistic and complementary therapy? Me too! Healing from a disc injury can take anywhere from 2-8 months depending on the therapies you choose.
So concerned animal owner, it's time to find yourself a certified provider that will work with your vet to maximize the healing capability of your animal. You can look up providers on animalchiropractic.org or ivca.de
Once you found a course of treatment that works for you, there is also things you can do at home to help things along the way. Here's a couple good tips:
A. Invest in a pet ramp and DISCOURAGE jumping. I do NOT recommend pet stairs.
Pet ramps are very helpful for those dogs that like to jump on and off the bed. I prefer the ones that are lined with carpet or some type of material that give your dog more traction. It is very important to minimize aggravating activity such as going from different levels (like bed to ground or getting out of the car). I do not recommend stairs because your animal has to use a lot of core and shoulder muscle strength to climb stairs and this is also irritating to the muscles that will undoubtedly go into spasm concurrently with a disc pathology.
B. Invest in toe grips. I do NOT recommend pad sticker, socks, or booties.
For those older dogs that have difficulty getting around due to weakness, pain, or paw knuckling, I recommend toe grips. These can help dogs get traction on those hard to grip wood, tile, or laminate floors. This can help to prevent further injury by cutting down the incidence of slip and falls. You can get pad stickers/socks as well, but I find most dogs are less likely to rip off toe grips. Save yourself of buying all those rugs and find some of your own at toegrips.com
C. Use two hands to pick up and set down your dog.
I see a lot of animal owners pick up their small dog by simply putting one hand under their dog's chest and scooping them up. This is a big no-no with a disc dog. ALWAYS make sure you have a hand under the chest and a hand under the waist or bum of your dog. This will minimize pressure put onto their spine by gravity and will alleviate a lot of unnecessary pain.
D. If you have a big dog, help them lift their hind end.
If your dog is having a flare up, please assist them with stairs, potty time, getting up, and getting in and out of the car. I am partial to this sling (gingerlead.com) , but you can also use a towel or a cut up reusable shopping bag. You can see a how to video on how to use such devices here: (https://youtu.be/TP2AVGtxzd0)
E. Crate rest
If your dog is having a hard time getting around and you are worried about re-injury, it is better to cage your pet to have peace of mind. I recommend small dogs be crated at night to prevent jumping off the bed and all dogs be crated while you are away if they are accident prone
An IVDD success story:
Big take-away's from this article: a disc diagnosis is NOT a death sentence. Please call me before you elect to do that spinal surgery. It might just save your pet's life.
Don't give up, don't lose hope... your pet is family. I look forward to being a part of your pet's health care team!
I want to let you know you came to the right place for integrative therapies for your pet!
We are certified by the AVCA which is a top notch and rigorous certification program of 200+ hours class time followed by a written and practical board exam. We take 10 yearly hours of continuing education because we value knowing the most in order to provide the best.
When choosing adjustments for your pet, choose someone licensed, trained, and certified.