If your pet is showing signs of neurological dysfunction, including not being able to walk or losing the ability to move its limbs, this is a surgical emergency and should be seen right away!
Intervertebral Disk Disease: What Is It and Who Gets It?
One of the most commonly seen neurological issues in veterinary medicine is intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). The intervertebral disk is the “shock absorber” that sits between each bone in the spinal column. When the disk is diseased, it either bulges or ruptures into the spinal canal and puts pressure on the spinal cord. The compression of the spinal cord leads to impairment in motor abilities and pain sensation.
Any dog or cat can suffer from a ruptured intervertebral disk, but chondrodystrophic breeds (Dachshund, Pekingese, Beagle, Lhasa Apso, etc.) account for a vast majority of cases. Most dogs present between 3–6 years of age. Large breed dogs may also be seen for IVDD, though less commonly than chondrodystrophic breeds, and tend to be older when they present.
If your animal presents for potential IVDD, general health screening (complete blood count, serum chemistry, urinalysis) may be performed to ensure that there are no other issues and that your pet is healthy for anesthesia. Imaging of the spine is the most important diagnostic step for determining if your pet has a ruptured disk and may include one or more of the following:
- Radiographs (x-rays) of the spine or chest
- Myelogram, which is an x-ray series taken after dye is injected around the spinal cord to highlight any compression
- Computed tomography (CT) scan of the spine
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study
Our board-certified surgeons will determine which tests are most appropriate for your pet. All of the advanced imaging and surgery require anesthesia.
Treatment and Postoperative Care
Conservative treatment with cage rest, confinement, and pain medications may be offered to patients only showing mild neurological deficits. In chronic cases or animals showing more progressive neurological deficits, surgery is often recommended. Multiple surgical procedures and approaches exist, but most surgeons perform either a hemilaminectomy or a dorsal hemilaminectomy. Both approaches aim at decompressing the spinal cord by removing the ruptured disk material.
Most pets are discharged 3–7 days after surgery. At-home management of patients after undergoing surgery may include:
- Bladder expression 3–4 times daily until the pet can urinate without assistance
- Physical rehabilitation for muscle strength and flexibility
- Exercise restriction to “bed rest” for at least 4–6 weeks
Prognosis varies significantly with the degree and location of the injury. Most patients that have any motor function in their limbs at the time of surgery will regain normal function. However, if pets have lost the ability to sense pain in their legs before surgery is performed, they may never walk again.
If left untreated, disk rupture can lead to permanent loss of the ability to walk. Most dogs will also lose control of their urinary bladder and are at risk for chronic urinary tract infections, urine scald, pressure sores, and wounds.
If your pet cannot walk or is rapidly losing its ability to move, please call to see one of our surgeons, Dr. Greg Marsolais, DVM, MS, DACVS or Dr. Mike Dearmin, DVM, MS, DACVS, at 831-899-4838 immediately.