For dogs suffering from Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) that is affecting their ability to walk, surgery is often the best treatment option. IVDD surgeries aim to restore mobility, reduce pain and prevent further disc problems. Here's more from our Long Island specialist vets on surgery for IVDD in dogs.
What is IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease)?
The intervertebral discs are found between the vertebrae and are comprised of a gelatinous inner substance surrounded by a ring of fibrous tissue. Intervertebral discs give the spine flexibility and help to cushion the load to the spine whenever your dog is doing movements such as running or jumping. There are different forms of IVDD that can affect one or more of your dog's intervertebral discs.
Type 1 IVDD
Type-I intervertebral disc disease is most common in smaller breeds aged 2 years and older, although in some cases larger breeds can be affected. This form of IVDD typically happens suddenly with no prior warnings or symptoms. Type 1 IVDD is often described as a 'slipped disc".
If your dog experiences Type 1 IVDD the center of the diseased disc becomes hard and is no longer compressible. Consequently, normal movements put excessive strain on the disc and can cause the center contents to explode or ooze out, compressing the spinal column above. This form of IVDD often causes sudden pain and an inability to walk.
Type 2 IVDD
Type 2 intervertebral disc disease is caused by a chronic bulging of the outer part of the disc which puts pressure on the dog's spinal cord. Type 2 IVDD is progressive but tends to develop slowly. It is most commonly seen in large-breed dogs that are middle-aged or older. Chronic spinal cord compression caused by this form of the disease often causes atrophy of the spinal cord. You may notice that your dog appears to have a stiff back, or is reluctant to exercise or climb stairs.
Surgery to Treat IVDD in Dogs
While non-surgical treatments such as strict cage rest combined with medications may be helpful for dogs suffering from less severe IVDD, many cases require surgical intervention in order to help the dog return to pain-free movement. The goal of surgery for IVDD is to remove the diseased intervertebral disk material in order to relieve the pressure on your dog's spinal cord and nerve roots, restore normal blood flow, and prevent disc problems in the future. There are a number of surgeries that may be used to treat dogs with IVDD, depending primarily on the type and location of the diseased disc.
For a herniated thoracolumbar disc (a diseased disc in your dog's mid-back region) a hemilaminectomy is the most commonly performed. This procedure involves the removal of the joint surfaces between vertebrae and clearing away the bulging from around the dog's spinal cord.
A laminectomy is a surgical procedure in which a portion of the bone of a spinal vertebra is removed, creating a window to allow access to the spinal canal and/or to achieve decompression of the spinal cord. This surgery is commonly performed on small breeds of dogs with long spines, such as dachshunds.
A ventral slot is a form of decompressive surgery which can be performed if a dog has a slipped disc in their neck.
Fenestration surgery is performed to remove the material from the center of the vertebral disc through a small window created in the vertebra just above the disc. This form of spinal surgery is used along with laminectomy or hemilaminectomy surgery to help correct a herniated disc and reduce the possibility of surrounding discs from herniating in the future.
Recovery From IVDD Surgery
Following IVDD surgery your dog will require several days for the swelling in the spinal cord to decrease. The length of hospital stay following spinal surgery will vary between dogs and will depend on the dog's comfort, functional movement, and urinating ability. Generally, dogs will stay in the hospital until they can urinate independently, typically 3 -10 days. If surgery has been successful movement should gradually return to your dog's legs during that time.
Once your dog has returned home, four to six weeks of restricted activity (crate rest), pain medications, and gentle physical therapy will be required. Physical therapy for dogs is called physical rehabilitation and can provide dramatic benefits throughout your dog's recovery and beyond. Rehabilitation practitioners teach pet parents to use simple techniques, such as massage and passive range of motion, as part of helping their dog recover from surgery.
Acupuncture, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, and dietary supplements may also be recommended by your vet or veterinary rehabilitation practitioner as complementary therapies that can be used in conjunction with conventional medications to help your dog achieve their best possible outcome.
The speed of your dog's recovery and the success of the surgery depends upon three main factors: the extent of injury to your dog’s spinal cord, the length of time between injury and surgery, and post-operative care. The more severely your dog was affected by IVDD and the longer the time between injury and surgical decompression, the worse the prognosis will be. That said, most dogs do very well with surgery and recover normal function relatively quickly.
Long-Term Recommendations for Pet Parents of IVDD Survivors
If your dog has undergone successful IVDD surgery there are a number of basic lifestyle modifications that may benefit your dog:
- Speak to your vet about the precise number of calories your dog needs to thrive. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for ongoing optimal health.
- Provide your dog with ramps in order to avoid stair climbing or jumping.
- If your dog's diseased disc was located in the neck, switch from a collar to a body harness for walks.
- Exercise is important for joint mobility, speak to your vet about appropriate exercise for your dog. Low-impact, controlled activity is typically recommended.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.