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  • Writer's pictureCristina Macke

5 Signs of IVDD in Dogs


After your dog is evaluated by your veterinarian for a neurologic condition, physical therapy is often recommended as part of the recovery process. Guided rehab can help your dog reduce pain, improve mobility, and restore as much function as possible.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), often referred to as disc herniation, is a condition in which a spinal disc herniates and impinges on the spinal cord. This issue can result in a variety of symptoms and must be treated as soon as possible to avoid permanent injury. The following symptoms could indicate IVDD or another neurologic condition.


1. Hind limb paralysis

Many owners report hearing their dog yelp while participating in physical activity and discover immediate paralysis to the hind limbs. However, this is not always the case. In larger breeds, disc herniation can be more gradual, and paralysis can occur even in the absence of trauma. In either case, paralysis is a definite sign of spinal injury and should be addressed immediately.

2. Incontinence

Although incontinence can stem from a number of conditions unrelated to the neurologic system, there is a possibility that incontinence may be related to a neurologic condition. This is why veterinary assessment is key! Damage in certain areas of the spine can affect your pet’s ability to control their bladder or bowels, leading to involuntary elimination. Anytime a dog is experiencing incontinence, it is worth checking in with your veterinarian.

3. Knuckling

Knuckling occurs when a dog drags the top of their paws along the ground or walks by stepping with top side of their paw on the ground. This can be subtle, if resulting from a mild neurologic injury, but may become more apparent as time progresses. If left untreated dogs can develop wounds on the top of the toes. Knuckling occurs because your dog loses the ability to properly position and place their foot, often as a result of spinal injury.

4. Back or neck pain

If your dog exhibits obvious back or neck pain, it could be a sign of a neurologic condition or IVDD. If your dog has a strong response to touch, or experiences spasms in the muscles that run along the spine as you touch their back, this could be a sign of neurogenic compromise. While back or neck pain can result from other conditions, IVDD is one possible cause.

5. Uncoordinated gait or walking

A sudden change in your dog’s gait, or ability to walk, could be a result of a neurologic condition or IVDD. While short of paralysis, the inability to coordinate normal movements could occur if a disc is pressing on a particular section of the spinal cord. Some refer to this type of movement as “drunken gait.”


How can physical therapy help your dog’s IVDD?

CANINE PHYSICAL THERAPY can be a vital component of your dog's recovery from IVDD, just as it is in humans. If your dog requires immediate surgery, physical therapy will likely be a part of the post-operative regimen. If surgery is not an option, physical therapy will help your dog manage their enduring symptoms and restore as much function as possible. In serious cases in which function does not return, our provider can evaluate, recommend, and fit your dog for an appropriate assistive device such as a cart, to help your dog achieve independence and improved mobility, even if their legs do not regain function.

Even after injury and surgery, your dog can continue to live an active, healthy, pain-free life, and you can get back to doing what you love with your best friend.

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