Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is the most common neurologic condition in dogs. It is a spinal condition that can have a very dramatic and immediate onset with a wide range of symptoms.


If you suspect that your dog has a spinal injury, to include IVDD, you should seek qualified veterinary care immediately. Your dog may require emergency surgery to save them from permanent impairment.


Fortunately, CANINE PHYSICAL THERAPY can effectively address some of the lasting effects of spinal injury. For example, in human medicine, patients who suffer strokes or spinal injuries almost always utilize physical therapy to strengthen neural pathways or “muscle memory” allowing them to “relearn” movements that were once natural and effortless. This same treatment can be just as effective in dogs. Even some dogs who have suffered paralysis can regain control and function of their limbs through physical therapy treatment.

What is IVDD?

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IVDD is typically caused by the rupture or swelling of a spinal disc causing herniation, most commonly in the lower back but occasionally in the neck. IVDD occurs when disc herniation impinges on the spinal cord, and without immediate treatment, it can cause permanent damage.


IVDD is common in long-back dogs. If such dogs have weak core muscles their back will sag and put constant pressure on the portions of the spinal discs that are on the topside of the back. Commonly affected breeds include the following:

  • Dachshund 

  • Shih Tzu

  • Beagle

  • French bulldog

  • Corgi

  • Basset hound

  • Poodle

  • Chihuahua

  • Labrador retriever

  • German shepherd

  • Doberman pinscher

In smaller dogs, the onset of IVDD is typically more sudden. In larger breeds, it may be more gradual. In all cases, the symptoms are a result of nerve signals being impaired or blocked by the herniated disc.


You may be able to guard against IVDD in your long-back dog by doing exercises that will strengthen their core muscles. This is particularly important if they are unable to keep their back straight or if you notice a constant sagging of the back.

Spinal injuries MUST be treated IMMEDIATELY!

In most cases, surgery is necessary within 48 hours of symptom onset. Without prompt treatment the symptoms of IVDD can become permanent and even worsen over time. Evaluation and surgery should be performed by a board-certified veterinary neurologist (look for the letters ACVIM after their name). In Nebraska, there is only one practicing neuro vet, Dr. Donaldson at VCA Midwest in Omaha. Alternatively, Kansas State and Iowa State Universities have Veterinary Hospitals that staff board-certified neuro vets.


Spinal injuries should not be treated with chiropractic techniques prior to evaluation and referral by a neuro vet, if at all. While chiropractic can be used to treat other conditions, neurologic conditions could be worsened by chiropractic treatment.


Whether your dog had surgery or not, CANINE PHYSICAL THERAPY will be instrumental in your dog’s recovery. Physical therapists are uniquely qualified to help patients recover function and mobility in the wake of neurologic injury. If your dog has surgery, they will need physical therapy to help regain correct motor function and mobility. If not, physical therapy will help you and your pet to manage and cope with their symptoms. In many cases, even dogs with permanent disabilities can regain partial function through physical therapy.