Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a common and serious condition among dogs that affects the spinal cord, primarily seen in certain breeds. As a major cause of pain and paralysis, understanding IVDD, its early detection, and effective treatment is crucial for the well-being and quality of life of affected animals.

As a pet owner, it’s also important to understand the emotional and physical support that a dog with IVDD will require. The journey from diagnosis to recovery and beyond is not just a physical challenge but also an emotional one for both the pet and the owner.

Education and awareness are key factors in managing IVDD effectively. Owners should be well-informed about the signs and symptoms of the disease, the treatment options available, and the ways to prevent or minimise the risk of IVDD, especially in predisposed breeds.

What Is IVDD

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) refers to a condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst (herniate) into the spinal cord space. These discs then press on the nerves running through the spinal cord causing pain, nerve damage, and even paralysis. Primarily, there are two types of IVDD:

Type I IVDD is often seen in shorter, more stout breeds such as Dachshunds and Beagles. It is characterised by a sudden herniation of disc material into the spinal cord space and is more common in younger to middle-aged dogs. Conversely, Type II IVDD is a more gradual condition typically found in older dogs, involving a slow bulging of the disc that eventually impinges on the spinal cord.

The primary causes of IVDD include a genetic predisposition in certain breeds, age-related disc degeneration where the discs lose moisture and elasticity, and other contributing factors such as trauma, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of IVDD can range from pain and discomfort to an inability to walk or even paralysis. Dogs might exhibit vocalisation when touched, reluctance to move, or a hunched back. In cases where the limbs are affected, there might be weakness or complete loss of motor functions.

Diagnosing IVDD typically starts with a thorough physical examination where the veterinarian assesses pain response, neurological reflexes, and potential muscle atrophy. Definitive diagnosis often requires advanced imaging techniques such as MRI or CT scans, which provide detailed views of the spinal cord and discs.

Treatment Options:

IVDD treatment options vary according to the severity and specifics of each case.

Conservative Management

For mild to moderate cases of IVDD, or when surgery is not an option due to health or financial constraints, conservative management may be recommended. This approach generally includes:

Strict Rest: The cornerstone of conservative treatment is strict confinement and rest, often for several weeks. This usually means crate rest or confinement in a small, controlled space to limit movement and allow the spine to heal. Movement is restricted to short, supervised leash walks for bathroom breaks only.

Medications: Various medications are used to manage pain and inflammation. These can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, muscle relaxants, and pain relievers. The specific medications and dosages will depend on the dog’s condition and response to treatment.

Physical Therapy: Once the acute phase has passed, physical therapy may be introduced slowly. This can include controlled exercises, massage, and other techniques to help maintain muscle strength and improve mobility.

Surgical Options

Surgery is often recommended for severe cases of IVDD, especially when there is significant or sudden loss of function, such as paralysis or severe pain that does not respond to conservative management. The goals of surgery are to remove the herniated disc material pressing on the spinal cord and to stabilise the spine. The main types of surgical procedures include:

Hemilaminectomy: This is the most common surgical procedure for IVDD. It involves removing part of the vertebrae to access and remove the herniated disc material. This relieves pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Dorsal Laminectomy: Similar to a hemilaminectomy, this procedure involves removing a portion of the vertebrae, but it is typically performed on the top (dorsal side) of the spinal column.

Fenestration: This procedure involves making an incision in the annulus fibrosus (the outer layer of the intervertebral disc) to remove the nucleus pulposus (the inner gel-like substance) to prevent or reduce the chance of future herniation.

Disc Replacement: In some cases, artificial disc replacement may be an option, although this is less common and typically more expensive.

Recovery and Management

After surgery, dogs will usually require a period of rest and restricted movement, similar to conservative management. Pain management, anti-inflammatory medications, and antibiotics (to prevent infection) are commonly prescribed. Post-operative care might also include:

  • Rehabilitation Therapy: Professional rehabilitation can significantly improve outcomes. This might include hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture, and other modalities.
  • Home Care: Owners will need to provide a safe, quiet space for recovery, handle the dog gently, and possibly assist with basic functions like urination and defecation if the dog is temporarily paralyzed.

Ultimately, the goal of any treatment is to relieve pain, restore function, and improve the quality of life for the dog. With advances in veterinary care, many dogs with IVDD go on to live happy, comfortable lives post-treatment.


Recognizing and understanding Intervertebral Disc Disease is critical for early detection, effective treatment, and ensuring a good quality of life for affected dogs. Especially for owners of at-risk breeds, vigilance for symptoms and prompt veterinary consultation can lead to better outcomes. If you suspect your pet may have IVDD, it’s crucial to immediately consult with your vet, alongside taking proactive steps to care for your pet’s spinal health.