Although surgery is not always necessary to treat IVDD, for dogs experiencing difficulty walking due to Intervertebral Disc Disease, surgery is often the best treatment option. IVDD surgeries aim to restore mobility, reduce pain and prevent more disc problems. Here's more from our New Hope vets on treatment options for IVDD in dogs.
What is an Intervertebral Disc?
The intervertebral disc, which gives your dog's spine flexibility and cushions the load during movements like running or jumping, is a gelatinous inner substance surrounded by a ring of fibrous tissue.
What is IVDD?
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) can also be described as a ruptured, slipped, bulging, or herniated disk that can be situated in your dog's neck or back. This condition is often seen in certain breeds of dogs like beagles, dachshunds, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, and basset hounds, but may also occur in dogs of any size or breed.
What causes IVDD in dogs?
Intervertebral Disc Disease is a gradual degenerative condition related to aging. The process affects the spinal cord of the dog over a period of time, often undetected.
IVDD occurs when the shock-absorbing discs between your dog's vertebrae gradually begin to harden until they are unable to cushion the vertebrae properly. The hardened discs will typically progress to bulging and compressing the spinal cord, often interfering with or damaging the dog's nerve impulses such as those that control bladder and bowel control. In other cases, a simple movement like a jump or poor landing can cause one or more of the hardened discs to burst and press into the nerves of the dog's spinal cord causing pain, possible nerve damage, or even paralysis.
Can a dog recover from IVDD without surgery?
If your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD and is still able to walk, non-surgical treatments may be able to help your dog recover. However, if your dog has a severe case of IVDD and has lost their ability to walk, urgent veterinary treatment is required.
Non-surgical treatment for IVDD is also called conservative treatment or management, and the goals of these treatment options are to help relieve pain and discomfort, to get your dog standing and walking again, and to help restore lost bladder and bowel control. Non-Surgical treatments for IVDD in dogs include:
- Strict Rest - If trying to relieve your dog's IVDD symptoms without surgery, being consistent about your dog's rest is going to be essential and is going to require patience! Your dog will need to be strictly confined to a small room or crate for at least 4 weeks in order to give their body sufficient time to try and mend the damage.
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications - Non-surgical treatment of IVDD in dogs is likely to include steroid and anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce pain and swelling. These medications are used along with restricted activity and crate-rest.
- Dietary Care - Your vet will carefully calculate the precise number of calories required by your pet in order to manage weight and help to prevent added pressure on their spine.
- Physical Rehabilitation (Physical Therapy) - A rehabilitation practitioner will assess your pet's condition and recommend a treatment plan which will include a combination of at-home treatments and professional treatment. Rehab can work wonders for pets suffering from mild to moderate cases of IVDD, as well as those recovering from surgery.
Surgical Treatment of IVDD
Surgery is considered the best and in some cases the only treatment for severe cases of IVDD in dogs. The aim of IVDD surgery is to remove the diseased intervertebral disc in order to relieve the pressure on your dog's spinal cord, restore normal blood flow, and prevent disc problems in the future. In order to treat severe IVDD in dogs, a combination of surgeries may be performed.
Which surgeries are used to treat your dog's IVDD will largely depend upon the location of the diseased disc. There are a number of different IVDD surgeries including hemilaminectomy, laminectomy, fenestration, and ventral slot. In some cases, a vertebral stabilization (fusion) procedure may also be recommended, particularly large breed dogs. How much IVDD surgery for your dog costs is impacted by many factors, but the procedure usually costs between the low- to the mid-thousands.
IVDD Surgery Success Rates
Typically, IVDD surgery is very successful in the majority of cases. Outcomes are most successful in dogs that have not lost their ability to walk, but dogs that have had ongoing symptoms of IVDD can have atrophy of the spinal cord, which could lead to less successful outcomes.
If IVDD surgery is not successful in returning your pet to normal mobility, a dog wheelchair can help your pup to enjoy a happy and active life while living with Intervertebral Disc Disease. Recovery from IVDD surgery requires 6 - 8 weeks of restricted activity combined with appropriate medications to help with pain management and swelling. Your vet may also recommend physical rehabilitation (physical therapy for dogs) to help your pet recover.
Should I consider euthanasia for my dog with severe IVDD?
If your dog has been diagnosed with severe IVDD, you are likely facing some very difficult questions regarding treatment for your beloved pet. Your vet will carefully explain the treatment options that are available, and the likely outcome for each. Caring for a dog that is recovering from IVDD can be time-consuming and costly, regardless of whether you opt for surgical or non-surgical treatment.
Every pet is different. Your dog's prognosis will depend on a number of factors including their age, the severity of the spinal injury, where on the spine the diseased discs are located, and the length of time between symptoms appearing and treatment. Your vet will carefully and compassionately explain your dog's likelihood of recovery so that you are able to make an informed treatment decision with your and your dog's best interests in mind. If you are considering euthanasia for your dog following an IVDD diagnosis, speak to your vet openly and honestly; they have are experienced and trained to help you make the best decision for you and your pet.