What is IVDD in dogs?

What is InterVertebral Disc Disease?

I have been and am treating several elderly dogs that have a weakness in their hind quarter, usually just from old age, with Bowen Therapy. They get a monthly or two monthly treatment to improve their quality of life, so they can keep enjoying their walks and are not in too much pain.

However, I have had a few cases recently where the dog was a lot younger and not able to walk anymore. The causes in these cases included a traumatic injury and IVDD (intervertebral disc disease). The dogs still have feeling in their legs and do move their legs, but are not able to stand, balance or walk. So, they just walk on the front legs and dragging the hind of their body around.


IVDD in dogs is a condition where the cushioning discs (which function like shock absorbers)  between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst into the spinal cord space. This is commonly called a herniated disc or slipped disc.

These discs then press on the nerves running through the spinal cord, causing pain, nerve damage, and even paralysis.

Symptoms of IVDD in dogs may include: 

  • Paralysis
  • Abnormal walking
  • Unwillingness to jump
  • Pain and weakness in rear legs (lameness)
  • Crying out in pain
  • Anxious behaviour
  • Hunched back or neck with tense muscles
  • Reduced appetite and activity level
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control or unwillingness to posture to eliminate

Causes for IVDD

Common in the mid-back region of smaller breeds, discs develop a hardening (or calcification) of the outer layer. This damages the disc, allowing it to break down easier. Any forceful impact such as jumping and landing, or even just stepping the wrong way, can cause one or more disc(s) to burst and the inner material to press on the spinal cord.

This is most common in small dog breeds with long backs and short legs.

More common in older and larger breeds is the discs becoming hardened and fibrous over a long period of time and eventually break down, bulge out, and compress the spinal cord.

Which breeds are more susceptible?

Certain breeds are more likely to get IVDD due to a disorder of their cartilage formation called chondrodystrophy, which occurs at age 3 to 6 years old. Typical breeds include:

  • Bassett Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Bulldogs
  • Corgis
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds (most common)
  • Pekingese
  • Poodles
  • Shih Tzus

Non-chondrodystrophy breeds that are often affected by IVDD include:

  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Doberman Pinschers

Overweight dogs in any breed are more likely to get IVDD.

Diagnosis and treatment

A veterinary examination will generally include a neurological exam, X-rays, and/or special imaging (myelogram, CT scan, MRI) to locate the source of spinal injury.

If the diagnosis reveals mild to moderate injury, treatment may include the administration of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain, with confined rest required for four to six weeks or so.

In more severe cases, surgery may be advised to open up the space around the spinal cord. Surgery has a better chance of being successful if the dog has not lost the ability to walk and if surgery is done very soon after diagnosis (within 24 hours). If a dog has already lost the ability to walk before surgery, the prognosis is not optimal.

Post-surgical physical rehabilitation is often recommended for muscle strengthening. If a surgery is not successful, a dog wheelchair is often recommended, which can give the dog a healthy, active life despite the disease.

IVDD recovery is a long process, be patient and follow your Veterinarian’s guidance to help your dog heal.

Physical therapies that can help rehabilitation include: Bowen Therapy, Hydro therapy and acupuncture.

Ref: Handicappeddogs.com / Petmd.com


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The information contained in this website is not intended to replace guidance from your veterinarian. Bowen Therapy and Homeopathy are complementary to veterinary treatment and the general care of the animal.