Back pain is the bane of many people’s lives, but for those who suffer from that malady, they are in good company.
As it turns out, our four legged furry friends are also not immune to back pain.
The spinal cord is one of the most important and sensitive organs in the body. It is responsible for the transmission of the neurologic signals from the brain to the rest of the body, hence being responsible for motor skill ability, sensation and reflexes.
If it’s damaged, the nerve cells do not regenerate but are replaced with fibrous or scar tissue. Spinal cord injuries may also result in a permanent paralysis. Such injuries can be a result of trauma, arthritis of the vertebral column which leads to anatomical changes in the vertebrae, infections, or even tumors.
The most common reason for back pain in dogs is intervertebral disc disease, a condition that is rare in cats. Due to its sensitivity, the spinal cord is protected in a very special fashion. It runs through the vertebral column which protects it.
It is basically surrounded by bones everywhere except in the junctions between the vertebrae. The junctions between two adjacent vertebrae are filled by rubber-like cushions called intervertebral discs.
These discs allow the spinal flexibility and also serve as shock absorbers.
There are two types of intarvertebral disc disease. The disc material undergoes chemical changes, it loses its elasticity, and ultimately raptures (in type 1) or bulges (in type 2) causing a direct pressure on the spinal cord.
Pressure on the spinal cord results in pain and/or loss of information transmission causing partial or complete paralysis.
Type 1 of the disease is the more common form (80 per cent of cases).
This condition is genetically inherited and most common in dachshunds, beagles, Lhasa apsos, Pekingese, shih tzus, miniature poodles, and cocker spaniels.
These breeds often start to develop the condition as puppies, although the signs usually don’t appear until the age of three to six years.
The type 2 of the condition is seen most often in large breed dogs, usually older than five years of age.
Dogs with back pain will be hunched over, or have their spine twisted to one side. The dog may have trouble moving and jumping or cry when you pick it up.
Severe cases result in a partial or complete paralysis. The diagnosis of disc disease is not always very straight forward. After the initial information gathering, the vet will conduct a physical exam. It is important to distinguish between back pain and abdominal pain.
This can be challenging at times because many of the conditions that cause severe abdominal pain may appear as back pain.
Once the vet establishes a back pain diagnosis, that may lead to further x-rays. Since neither the disc nor the spinal cord are visible on x-rays, the test may suggest but cannot prove the disc herniation.
It can also help in ruling out the other causes of back pain.
Disc disease is proven by performing either a myelogram—a specialized radiographic technique that involves injection of contrast dye to the spinal cord in order to pinpoint the location of the spinal compression—or by performing a CT scan.
The treatment for disc disease depends on the duration and severity of the condition. Conservative treatment of medication and strict cage rest may help in relieving the pressure on the spine.
Surgical treatment is the only option for an actual removal of collapsed disc material. The surgery is not risk-free and is recommended only in cases of complete paralysis or if medication hasn’t worked.
Unfortunately, disc disease cannot be prevented, but if your dog belongs to the breeds that are prone to it, you should be more cautious and try to decrease any shocks on the spinal cord.
Do not encourage your dog to jump. When you play fetch, roll the ball on the ground rather than throwing it high in the air. Hold your dog in your arms when going up and down the stairs.
Take your dog to the vet when you notice the first signs of back pain.
Early diagnosis may help in affecting the prognosis of your dog.
Dr. Moshe Oz operates the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna, 2476 Westlake Rd.