Clinical signs are one of the main ways that veterinarians can diagnose IVDD, but the signs can mimic other conditions like a fibrocartilaginous embolism. Therefore, imaging is another important diagnostic tool. The spinal cord and discs will appear invisible on x-rays. However, sometimes mineralized disc material and compression between vertebrae can offer clues. If your vet is able to use contrast media, amyelogram can be performed to show where the spinal cord is being pinched. Often, more advanced imaging like CT or MRI is necessary to definitively diagnose IVDD and locate the exact lesion.
Treatment will be based on the stage of IVDD. Early stages may require rest and oral medications such as steroids and muscle relaxers for the pain. If your pup has mild to severe pain for longer than a week, he will need to have advanced imaging and possibly surgical correction. Dogs with paresis have better odds of full recovery when they have surgery, and dogs with paralysis cannot go more than 24 hours without surgery. Otherwise, their paralysis will be permanent.
Surgical correction involves the removal of a small section of bone from the vertebrae that are impinging upon the affected region of spinal cord compression. This type of surgery should be performed by a veterinary surgeon or neurologist. Your pup may still be a little uncomfortable and need strict rest for the first one to two weeks. After that, rehabilitation and physical therapy is necessary to help your pup move well again. Intermittent use of pain medications may be necessary, and long term use of joint supplements is important.
Intervertebral disc disease can be a painful condition for dogs. It starts out very slowly and gets to a point where a certain movement or trauma results in the acute onset of clinical signs. IVDD can be extremely painful. It is important to get to your vet’s office right away to assess your pup and quickly determine what kind of treatment will be necessary to get him feeling well again!