Canine Intervertebral Disk Disease

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Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), also known as intervertebral disk degeneration, is a common health condition in dog breeds with short legs and long bodies, such as Dachshunds and Basset Hounds. IVDD can be genetic or develop when a spinal disk is damaged, which then leads to the improper absorption of shock. The condition can be extremely painful and greatly affect a dog’s ability to move. It can also cause paralysis if prompt treatment is not provided or if the condition is severe.


There are many symptoms associated with canine intervertebral disk disease, each varying from dog to dog. Some of the common signs of IVDD are:

  • Stiff and painful neck
  • Back pain characterized by lying in the fetal position or sitting with back crouched
  • Painful or tender abdomen
  • Unusual aggression upon touch
  • Incontinence
  • Decreased activity
  • Inability to use one or multiple legs
  • Trouble getting up after sitting or lying down for some time
  • Balance problems
  • Complete or partial paralysis (dragging lower body or not getting up at all)


A neurological evaluation is one of the first things most vets perform when IVDD is suspected. Blood work, urinalysis, and other tests may then be ordered to rule out other health problems that may be causing the symptoms. Once this is taken care of, there are various tests that can help diagnose IVDD in dogs, including CSF evaluation, EMG, and X-rays.

Spinal X-rays are usually the first diagnostic test recommended by vets in order to make a more informed diagnosis. X-rays allow the vet to check the spine for unusual things, such as a tumor, cancer, broken bones, and degeneration. The X-rays may also reveal small spaces in between the vertebrae, which is a characteristic of IVDD. However, this does not confirm an IVDD diagnosis.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis may also be performed; it involves obtaining a fluid sample from the spine to check for inflammation, cancer, and other health problems. Lastly, an electromyogram (EMG) is a test that can help detect abnormalities through electrical signals the muscles create.


Dogs with a mild case of IVDD have a high chance of recovery as long as strict rest and anti-inflammatory/pain medication is provided as instructed by the vet. More serious cases of IVDD are usually treated with surgery. However, not all dogs are good candidates for the procedure. Some pets fully recover after surgery, while others remain paralyzed or even experience side effects from the surgery, which is why you and your vet will need to analyze the risks and benefits before making a decision. Keep in mind that the sooner the surgery is performed, the higher the chances of recovery are for your dog.

If you are not satisfied with your regular vet or just want a second opinion from an expert, you can also ask for a referral to a veterinary orthopedic or neurologist.


There is no way to fully prevent IVDD in your dog, but there are things you can do to minimize the risks. Some of these things include:

  • Maintaining your dog at a healthy weight to avoid excess pressure on the spine
  • Providing sufficient exercise so that the back muscles can fully support the body
  • Avoiding dangerous activities that can result in a back injury such as diving, rough playing, and jumping
  • Feeding a high quality dog food that contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and other supplements that promote healthy bones and joints