Herniated discs in dogs, like humans, are very common, cats are rarely affected. Small or large amounts of disc material protrude in the spinal canal and press on the spinal cord and nerves. This is very painful and severe compression can quickly cause irreparable damage to the spinal cord.
Dogs of all breeds can get sick. This disease occurs preferentially in chondrodystrophic dog breeds, because these breeds have a congenital cartilage defect and therefore tend to degenerate intervertebral discs. Therefore, the herniated disc often occurs at an early age; chondrodystrophic breeds include the short-legged dogs, such as the Dachshund, Jack Russel Terrier, French Bulldog, Beagle, Shi Tzu, and many more. The disease is popularly known as ‘dachshund paralysis’. But large dogs (the so-called non-chondrodystrophic breeds) also suffer from herniated discs. Similar to humans, the cause for them is mostly to be found in signs of wear and tear. Common breeds here are the German Shepherd, Labrador and Golden Retriever.
The symptoms can range from pain to complete paralysis with loss of deep sensitivity, they can develop slowly or within a few minutes.
A detailed neurological examination is required to make a diagnosis. The suspicion that a herniated disc is the cause is then confirmed by means of imaging diagnostics. As a rule, a computed tomography (CT) is performed with or without a contrast agent; in selected cases, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be necessary. Whether CT or MRI is done must be decided for each patient individually, sometimes even a combination of both examinations is necessary.
The therapy must be decided depending on the symptoms and the type and size of the herniated disc. In general, analogous to humans, an operation is necessary when neurological deficits occur. If animals are “only” painful, conservative therapy with rest and painkillers can be carried out. If the pain cannot be controlled with rest and painkillers alone, these animals may also benefit from an operation.
The prognosis is very good with timely intervention.
When should you contact the vet?
In the event of acute signs of paralysis (dragging of the legs, unsteady gait, loss of the ability to stand and especially walk, loss of bladder function), a veterinarian must be contacted immediately.