My Dog Has a Disk Problem, Now What?

Disk problems in dogs are very common!  We see “slipped disks” in many breeds ranging from Dachshunds and Frenchies to Labrador Retrievers and Pitbulls and all the breeds in between.  Without a doubt, it is more common in the short dogs with long backs, also known as “chondrodystrophic” breeds.

Commonly, disk problems are over-diagnosed/misdiagnosed based on the signs you bring your dog in to see your vet for.  It is often thought that any dog with back pain, trouble walking and paralysis may have a disk problem.  However, that is not always the case!  Any dog presenting to their veterinarian with these signs can have a problem affecting their spinal cord, but it may or may not be a disk.  We often see infections, inflammation, problems from the blood vessels, cancers (spinal cord tumors and tumors that can spread from other areas to the spinal cord) and of course disk problems!!!

The first step in determining what is wrong with your dog is a neurological examination.  This is a special part of the physical examination that determines where the underlying problem is in the nervous system, how severe it is, and what the most likely causes are.  From that point, the doctor often makes recommendations regarding treatment options.  Sometimes, it is OK to wait and try medical treatment without knowing the exact cause, sometimes it is in your pet’s best interest to know more.

We diagnose disk problems by doing an MRI.  The MRI is a way to look at the spinal cord and see where the problem is and what the problem is.

Disk problems can be fixed, often cured, with surgery, but can sometimes be treated without surgery.  We often try medical management first.  This can consist of pain medication, physical therapy and rest!  Sometimes, this is not enough!  We always worry about dogs that are having trouble walking or are paralyzed, we also worry about dogs that are still painful even after treating with pain medications and rest.

An MRI on a dog is a test that is done under general anesthesia.  It is important to look more closely at your dog’s organ functions through blood work and also look for things (like infections or cancer) that may be diagnosed with x-rays alone.  These tests are done without anesthesia, so we always recommend these first, to try to limit any increased risks to use anesthesia and to avoid an MRI whenever possible.

Please call (508) 921-1018 to schedule an appointment if you think your dog has a disk problem, or any problem that could be affecting his spinal cord.  We are here to help, in any way possible!

-Stephanie Kube, DVM, DACVIM (neurology), CVPP, CCRP