Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) is a condition that develops due to deterioration of or injuries to the shock-absorbing disks that are located between the bony vertebrae of the spine. Abnormal disks can bulge or rupture into the space that surrounds the spinal cord. This disorder most commonly affects breeds of dogs with long backs and short legs (e.g., dachshunds) and may also be called degenerative disk disease or a disk herniation.
Individuals with mild intervertebral disk disease have back pain but are otherwise normal. More severely affected dogs can also have weak and unsteady rear legs or may develop complete paralysis of the hind end and be unable to urinate or defecate on their own. Many cases of intervertebral disk disease can be diagnosed based on an animal's breed, clinical signs, and spinal x-rays. In some instances, more advanced imaging techniques (e.g., an MRI) may be required for diagnosis or to identify the exact location of the problem disk(s) prior to surgery.
Treatment for mild to moderate cases of intervertebral disk disease includes medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation and strict cage rest. Most of these animals will recover adequately over the course of several weeks to months. When an individual's neurologic function is severely compromised, surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord becomes necessary. Some animals that undergo surgery will fully recover while others may still have difficulty walking or remain paralyzed. Dogs with intervertebral disk disease that develops because of their anatomy frequently have reoccurrences of the condition throughout their lives. The frequency and severity of the flare-ups can be reduced by keeping dogs at a healthy weight and putting a stop to activities that greatly stress the spinal column (e.g., jumping off the bed).
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008