If you have ever experienced back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Unfortunately, when dogs develop these problems, they have no way of telling us, other than exhibiting signs of pain and discomfort.
But recognizing neck and back pain in dogs can be difficult, sometimes even for veterinarians. However, proper treatment requires a prompt diagnosis to relieve acute pain, and to prevent degeneration leading to chronic pain.
Causes of Back Pain in Dogs
There are many reasons a dog may be suffering from back pain. They can include:
The spine is made up of tiny joints that may become stiff and painful for a dog as they age, affecting their mobility. Although older dogs are more prone to arthritis, a young dog that has sustained a spine injury before they are full grown can also develop spinal arthritis.
Any type of previous trauma to the spine, including jumping and landing wrong can result in a dog suffering from chronic back and/or neck pain.
Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) is a painful degenerative spinal disorder that can occur after a dog has a slipped, ruptured or herniated disc. This condition affects the spinal cord, causing a range of painful mobility issues, and making them more prone to slipped and ruptured discs.
It can occur suddenly from something as simple as your dog jumping off the couch, especially in dogs that have long backs and short legs.
While all dogs can experience back problems, spine and disc related issues are far more common in dogs with long backs and short legs. Due to their body type, breeds such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Corgis, and French Bulldogs, (just to name a few), have a far higher risk of developing IVDD.
Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Back Pain in Dogs
Signs of back pain typically include:
- Hind leg weakness
- Difficulty standing
- Walking in a hunched posture with head down
- Vocalizations of pain when moving or being touched
- Difficulty with walking and coordination
- Wobbly gait
- Shaking and spasms
- Lethargy and lack of interest in normal activities
- Mood and personality changes
Diagnosing and Treating Back Pain in Dogs
The first step for a dog experiencing back/spine/neck issues is receiving a proper diagnosis. Diagnosing the cause would include a physical exam, possibly along with additional testing, including an MRI.
Treatment will depend on the condition and its severity. Some back pain may be alleviated with anti-inflammatories and a temporary reduction of activity, while others may require surgery with extended crate rest, along with a much more restrictive lifestyle to prevent re-injury. In these cases, providing your dog with ramps and short pet stairs can be very beneficial.
Preventing Back and Spine Problems in Dogs
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, preventing back injuries like a slipped disc, as well as recurring back issues can be difficult.
Some suggestions include:
Maintaining A Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is incredibly important, not only because excess weight can lead to injury, but it can also reduce your dog’s energy level and desire to be active. Keeping your dog active at a proper level for their age will help to prevent joint stiffness.
Whether it’s up on the bed or couch, or into the car, dogs prone to back problems should not be allowed to jump up on anything.
Using Ramps and Stairs
Thankfully, there are many options available to help your dog gain access to your bed, couch, or car. Ramps and stairs are available in many different sizes and inclines.
Disc and Spine Chews for dogs were developed specifically to provide back and neck support by combining beneficial supplements and vitamins essential for normal spine and disc function.
The combination of ingredients in these chews work together to reduce inflammation while promoting healthy connective tissues and nerve function needed for spine stability and mobility.
Glucosamine helps support healthy development of cartilage to slow joint and disc deterioration
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is incredibly instrumental in restoring and repairing body tissues
MSM provides a natural anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling of discs and joints
Chondroitin helps to reduce stiffness and pain
Turmeric fights inflammation to improve circulation and boost immunity
L-Taurine, an amino acid found in the spinal cord, can help support nerve growth
Because IVDD is a very common cause of spine issues and back pain in dogs, we thought we would share with you, “Henry’s Story”…
When the Owner and Founder of Under the Weather rescued a young Basset Hound mix, despite being aware of the potential problems he may have due to his body type, she was not quite prepared for him developing IVDD, or the difficulties of treating a dog with degenerative disc disease.
From her experience came the inspiration behind developing a product specifically formulated to target disc and spine health, something that has been largely overlooked in the dog supplement industry.
She is passionate about educating everyone, (especially those with dogs that have long backs and short legs), not just about treatment for IVDD, but equally important, how taking certain steps can actually prevent this debilitating disease.
Hers is a cautionary tale, but also a powerful one full of ups and downs, with incredibly valuable information that anyone dealing with an IVDD dog should know!
"In May of 2016, our local humane society called me. One of the dogs we sponsored to be transported up from Tennessee to Vermont was failing horribly in the shelter and shutting down. He was considered un-adoptable and he was being transported back to TN. My husband and I decided that no way would we allow that to happen and decided to adopt him. Henry is a Basset mix. He has a very long back and is low to the ground. We were warned that a dog with this shape could inevitably develop back problems. We went into the adoption with our eyes open.
Everything went very well for about 3 years. It was a beautiful September day in 2020 and we had just returned from a walk. I noticed that Henry was acting odd. I could tell something was wrong. He was still walking and eating and we went to bed that night not terribly concerned. By 3am I knew we were in very big trouble. Henry was in excruciating pain and couldn’t move his hind legs. We rushed him to the vet where we were told this is an emergency. Henry has IVDD and his disc had ruptured and is impacting his spinal cord. There are no Neurologists in the entire state of VT so we had to race him 3 hours away to a neurology hospital in Latham, NY, where they whisked him away from us as we stood dazed in the parking lot, straight into a massive surgery. This was peak Covid and we never even met the surgeon. We got a hotel room nearby and began the torturous wait for the call from the doctor. His MRI showed exactly what we had feared. Henry had Stage 5 IVDD, (no feeling in back legs), needed surgery and may never walk again. We drove home to VT in disbelief. Our beautiful healthy boy who was just trotting through fields the day before, was now fighting for his life.
We weren’t able to pick him up for 5 days. He had survived the surgery and was being cared for at the hospital. It was time to bring our boy home. We weren’t prepared for what we saw. His staples/sutures were along the entire length of his back and his rear was dangling from a sling. It was the scariest time because we weren’t trained on how to do this! We got home and started immediately researching and learning what we needed to do to help our boy regain his ability to move.
Along with a serious amount of medication and steroids we began acupuncture and laser treatments. We did massage and physical therapy at home by moving his feet, ankles, knees, and hips in walking movements to increase blood flow. We kept him strictly enclosed in a play pen so he couldn’t hurt himself or move around too much. I barely left his side for almost 8 weeks and to our absolute joy his feet started moving, his tail started wagging, and he started to be able to stand up. Our boy came back!
We had a wonderful 6 months. Henry was his old self again. To our horror, just 6 short months later he went down again. I couldn’t believe it. We were devastated. How could we go through this again so soon after the first episode! We wound up right back in Latham where we were told it was inoperable because the newly ruptured disc was too close to the previous disc. We took our boy home and started all over. Weekly acupuncture and laser started again. We were back to square one but this time he was regaining his nerve function without the surgery! We started looking into wheelchairs just in case. We only used the wheelchair a few times before we decided he doesn’t need it. He was walking!
It has now been over a year since his 2nd bout with IVDD. We took some new measures to protect him. We never allow him to do stairs. We have ramps for him and rugs so no slipping on hard wood floors. We feed him a very hydrated and nutritious food mixed with lots of healthy vegetables. We slimmed him down as much as possible so he has zero excess weight. We also started him on Under the Weather’s Disc and Spine supplement which we developed specifically for dogs with IVDD.
Every day we deal with our boy’s handicap and every day we live for the moment because anyone with dogs with IVDD know that fear we feel every day. I hope they know they are not alone!"
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If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.