A herniated disc is a known condition in humans, being one of the common causes of back pain. This condition also exists in dogs and can be responsible for paralysis and pain. Herniated disc in dogs is also common.
Definition and causes
A herniated disc is the displacement of an intervertebral disc causing compression of the spinal cord.
The spine consists of several elements. The spinal cord is protected by the vertebrae. Between each vertebra are the intervertebral discs, real shock absorbers or shock absorbers of the spine. When one of these discs moves, it compresses the spinal cord and it is called a herniated disc.
Dogs with long backs (Dachshunds, Basset Houns,…) or breeds of dogs with vertebral malformations (French Bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles, Pekingese, Shih-tzu,…) are predisposed to herniated discs.
Types and symptoms
Symptoms depend on the location of the hernia and whether it is acute or chronic.
In the event of an acute herniated disc, the displacement of the intervertebral disc occurs immediately, during a jump from the top of a table or a sofa for example. The symptoms then appear suddenly and clearly.
In the case of a chronic herniated disc, the displacement is more progressive, when the intervertebral discs become less flexible, with aging more often. The symptoms then appear more slowly.
Symptoms of more or less intense pain are generally present, manifested by a decrease in physical activity with reluctance to move or jump. The animal can keep the back arched, the port of the head low. It may even manifest a decrease in appetite.
Neurological symptoms may also be present, such as total or partial paralysis. They depend on the location and the regions innervated by the spinal cord at the level of the hernia and downstream:
- The most frequent hernias are located in the thoracolumbar region. The animal then presents a paralysis of the hind legs and sometimes of the tail; it may have difficulty getting up and its claws may drag on the ground causing a noise of rubbing and wear of the claws. Loss of balance on the rear end may note with a dog crossing its hind limbs while moving or losing balance on turns or on the floor. Urinary and / or fecal incontinence may also be present.
- At the cervical and scapular level, all four limbs can be affected. The animal cannot present only a violent pain at the level of the neck (one speaks of “neck pain”): the dog cannot turn its head to the sides or raise it.
- Subsequently, at the caudal level, the paralysis only concerns the tail of the animal, possibly with the presence of urinary and / or fecal incontinence, or on the contrary an inability to empty the bladder. We speak of “cauda equina” syndrome.
To make a diagnosis of a herniated disc, your veterinarian will first perform a complete clinical and neurological examination of your pet. This will allow him to specify the location of the hernia on the spine; the severity of the herniated disc, depending on the importance of the clinical signs, will also evaluate. This will allow a “scoring” to evaluate ranging from 1 (painful animal without neurological disorder) to 5 (paralyzed animal, without perception of pain ).
Additional examinations will then be necessary to establish a definite diagnosis. Your veterinarian will often suggest taking x-rays, necessary to check for the possible presence of another pathology: they are often not sufficient. To better visualize the spinal cord, he may recommend one or more specific additional examinations:
- Myelography: this involves injecting a contrast product into the space around the spinal cord, then taking x-rays
- A scanner
These exams require general anesthesia.
Knowing the precise location of the hernia is essential to consider surgical treatment.
Treatment and Prognosis of Herniated Disc in Dogs
Depending on the severity of the hernia and the damage caused, treatment may be drug and / or surgical.
If the animal does not show signs of paralysis, a period of strict rest combined with drug therapy may sufficient. These are most often corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids to reduce the swelling around the hernia and relieve pain.
If the symptoms are more severe, surgery may be necessary. The intervention consists of lifting the compression and freeing the spinal cord by removing part of the vertebra in question. The recovery period thereafter lasts several weeks and rest is essential.
The prognosis and recovery are variable and depend on several factors:
- the evolution of the hernia: acute or chronic context
- the location of the hernia: cervical, thoracolumbar, …
- the severity of neurological signs: scoring from 1 (good prognosis) to 5 (poor prognosis)
- speed of intervention
- the general condition of the animal (presence of other concomitant diseases, obesity, osteoarthritis, etc.)
For example, a dog with an acute thoracolumbar disc herniation, stage 5 for more than 48 hours, has between 5-20% recovery compared to more than 90-95% if the herniation is only stage 1.
Thus, some animals recover completely without any after-effects. But sometimes others do not fully recover because the damage caused can be irreversible. Generally, acute herniated discs often have a better prognosis than chronic hernias. The sooner the animal is taken care of by a veterinarian, the better the prognosis will be.
Prevention of herniated disc
Certain measures can be put in place to prevent the risk of hernias, especially in predisposed breeds.
The first is to prevent the dog from getting off a piece of furniture, such as a sofa or bed, by jumping. Better to carry it when possible, or provide it with a ramp or a step.
In addition, a suitable diet will prevent overweight which can be a factor in pain in the spine. Likewise, wearing a harness instead of a leash prevents too much strain on the neck, especially if your pet pulls a lot on its leash.