Although every dog can be susceptible to developing spinal issues, some breeds are at a higher risk than others. As a dog parent, it can be helpful to learn the signs and causes of canine spinal issues and what can be done to prevent and treat these conditions.
What Causes Spinal Problems in Dogs?
Unfortunately, there are a number of items that can cause spinal problems for dogs, but the good news is that there are preventive steps and treatment options for nearly every issue. Some of the most common causes include trauma, injury, inflammatory and infectious diseases, degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), spondylosis, syringomyelia, and tumors.
When it comes to trauma, one of the best preventive steps is to keep your dog safely away from cars and traffic. This means never letting your dog off their leash outdoors unless they are in a securely fenced-in area. Even if your dog is in your driveway or garage, be sure to keep a watchful eye on them when cars are being moved.
Injuries are often accidental, and their symptoms may not begin to reveal themselves until years down the line. Although there are no guaranteed ways of preventing accidents, you can help prevent possible issues by being mindful of how tough you play with your dog.
Inflammatory or infectious diseases can be brought on if your dog has contact with an infected animal or if they don’t have access to clean drinking water. Most of the common diseases can be treated with an antibiotic.
Degenerative myelopathy refers to a chronic spinal cord disease. This gradual disease, which generally arises in older dogs, is thought to be painless, though the side effects will continually increase as your dog ages. Since this issue is genetic, there is no way to prevent it, though you can research which dog breeds have a higher chance of developing degenerative myelopathy.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
IVDD can be seen as the canine equivalent of a “slipped disc.” Although this is one of the most common dog spine disc issues, it can still be tricky to diagnose. You may notice that your dog is walking in a new or odd manner, or they may begin to hold up one paw constantly. Thankfully there are many treatment options, especially for the different severities of IVDD, though recovery is based on your pup’s particular condition.
Spondylosis is a degenerative condition of the spine that mainly affects older dogs. It involves bone spurs forming along the vertebrae. Although senior pups are typically affected most, some dogs with injuries may also be affected. Technically, any dog breed can be diagnosed with spondylosis, but larger dogs may be at a higher risk. There is not much that can be done to prevent this issue, but there are many successful treatment options available.
Syringomyelia is a condition where there are pockets of fluid build-up in the spinal cord. This issue is caused by a mismatch in the size of a dog’s skull (too small) compared to their brain size (too large). Smaller dog breeds, typically those part of the toy group, are at a higher risk of developing this issue. Common signs of syringomyelia can include your dog yelping when jumping or running, frequent scratching around their face, not wanting to be picked up, and hesitation to being touched around their shoulders, ears, or back of the neck.
Tumors that affect the spine can be in various spots, including the spinal cord or vertebral column. Larger dog breeds are more susceptible to developing these types of tumors. While the exact cause of these tumors isn’t known, it is believed that you can lower your dog’s chances of developing one by feeding them a nutritious diet and keeping them at a healthy weight. Treatment options for tumors usually involve radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or surgery.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Spine Problems?
Although there are many different types of spine problems dogs can get diagnosed with, dogs with spinal issues often show similar symptoms. Common indicators to keep an eye out for are stiffness in the neck or back, loss of mobility, limpness, poor or unusual posture, and pain.
Is your dog’s spine protruding or curved up? These could be additional signs that your dog has a spinal issue. As more wear and tear is put on your pup’s spine and as they naturally age, spinal problems occurring are not uncommon.
If you notice these or similar symptoms, it is essential that you take your dog to their veterinarian as soon as possible. Additionally, if you believe your pup is in pain from a back-related issue, it’s crucial that you don’t give them any human medication—there are deadly consequences to dogs ingesting medicine meant for humans.
Common Questions About Dog Spinal Issues
As a concerned and caring dog parent that wants what is best for their pup, it’s pretty common to have questions about your dog’s wellbeing. Common questions concerning the topic of dog spinal issues include,
Should I Be Able to Feel My Dog’s Spine?
Being able to feel your dog’s spine is a good thing. When running your hands over your dog’s back, you should be able to feel the bones, but they shouldn’t be protruding.
Depending upon how your dog’s spine feels, the issue may be weight-related. For instance, if you can’t feel any bone and it’s hidden below a thicker layer of fat, then your dog could be overweight. If your pup’s spine is very pronounced with little to no fat or padding on their back vertebra, then your dog may be underweight.
You may find it beneficial to talk with your veterinarian about what a healthy weight looks like for your dog. They can talk you through how to check if your pup is above or below their preferred weight.
Why Do Older Dog’s Spines Stick Out?
In general, most older dogs have an increased chance of developing spinal issues, and a symptom of multiple spinal conditions is a protruding spine. With senior dogs, in particular, when their spine sticks out, it could mean that they have spondylosis.
If you believe your pup has a spinal problem, even if it is caused by old age, it's crucial that you take them to their veterinarian for a check-up.
What Does It Mean If My Dog Has a Dip in His Spine?
There are many reasons why your dog could have a dip in their spine. These could include an old injury, abnormal weight, a specific health condition, or just wear and tear from years of playing and running.
Depending upon your dog’s breed, it is also quite possible that the slight dip in their spine is natural. However, like any other medical issue your dog may experience, it is recommended to keep track of any changes you notice in their physical appearance or behavior. Of course, it is also recommended that you take your pup in for an examination if you see a new or unusual dip in their spine.
Thankfully, there are many treatment options for most dog spinal issues and some preventive measures for dog parents to consider.
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.