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Disc Herniations in Dogs

Dogs and cats do get slipped discs. The disc normally is made of a soft “jello” like nucleus and the outside fibrous ring, and acts as a shock absorber between the vertebrae.

In small dogs that have long bodies and short legs (Beagles, Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, Basset Hounds), the nucleus calcifies and loses its capacity as a shock absorber. It can easily herniate (Type I disc) following minor shock such as running, trotting or jumping. Neurological signs occur when the spinal cord and nerve roots are compressed by the hard disc material. The disc can herniate as early as 6 months of age. Usually, the herniation is in the mid back or in the neck. The clinical signs the owners note are sudden and can progress, including pain, hunched back or lowered head and neck, weakness in the legs, wobbliness, inability to stand. It is very important that you see your veterinarian right away for care. Sometimes, anti-inflammatory drugs and strict cage rest can help healing, but if your dog cannot walk, surgery may be needed right away. Prior to surgery, a myelogram is done to find out where the disc is herniated. These are advanced procedures that must be performed by a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon trained in the field.

In larger middle-aged or older dogs, Type II disc problems occur and the disc slowly and progressively bulges against the spinal cord and nerve roots. Here the disc does not herniate but the center dehydrates. The annulus loses its consistency, becomes deformed and protrudes in all directions including against the spinal cord and the nerve roots. The most common sites are in the lower back and the lower neck. For these dogs, either a myelogram or an MRI should be done and surgery may be needed to decompress the spinal cord and nerve roots, relieving pain and helping to restore normal neurological function. An MRI is the best test to run to image the lower back and diagnose lower back discs. It is safer than myelograms and non-invasive.

Presented by Dr. Anne Chauvet at Veterinary Neuro Services, L.L.C. at

3900 Clark Road, Bldg.M Unit 4, Sarasota, 941-929-1818.


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