Slipped discs are less common in dogs than in humans, but herniated discs are one of the most common neurological diseases in dogs. A herniated disc is a disease of the spine in which parts of the disc protrude into the spinal canal or spinal nerve canal.
The intervertebral discs act as a buffer between the bony vertebrae of the spine. They consist of a ring of connective tissue and a gelatinous core. As coarse, elastic cushions, they cushion shocks. But they also serve the mobility of the spine.
There are basically two different types of herniated disc:
The connective tissue ring tears and the gelatinous nucleus presses on the spinal cord.
The connective tissue ring loses its strength and the gelatinous nucleus pushes it towards the spinal cord.
The pressure on the spinal cord causes the symptoms of the herniated disc. If the spinal cord is injured, depending on the location and severity of the injury, important bodily functions are disturbed. In the worst case, it comes to complete paralysis.
Herniated discs are divided into five grades. Different symptoms occur depending on the severity of the disease.
1st degree herniated disc
2nd degree herniated disc
3rd degree herniated disc
4th degree herniated disc
5th degree herniated disc
Long backs make you prone to problems. © shutterstock / Anna_Bondarenko
The severity of the symptoms is decisive for the dog’s chances of recovery.
The veterinarian can get a first and second degree herniated disc under control without surgery. To do this, he prescribes strict rest in the cage for up to two weeks. The cage rest is the decisive measure in the treatment. Failure to do so can worsen the incident. After resting in the cage, the dog must not jump or climb stairs. That means short walks on a leash and physical therapy exercises.
Dogs with third- and fourth-degree herniated discs need surgery.
With a fifth-degree herniated disc, the dog’s chances are slim. Even with immediate surgery, many remain paralyzed and have to be cared for by their keepers for life if they do not opt for euthanasia.
Dogs with short legs and long backs can have problems with their intervertebral discs from as little as a year. Therefore, the herniated disc in dogs is often referred to as “dachshund paralysis”. Although other breeds of dogs can have a herniated disc, Dachshunds are particularly at risk of developing this back problem. Like Pekingese or French bulldogs, they belong to those breeds whose physique is the result of a deliberate developmental disorder of the skeleton.
Dogs of other breeds are generally only at risk of developing a herniated disc from the age of five.