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Spinal, Nerve, Muscle Conditions and Spina Bifida


Intervertebral Disc Disease (slipped disc)

The dog's spine is made up of numerous small bones called vertebrae. These extend from the base of the skull all the way to the end of the tail. The vertebrae are interconnected by flexible discs made of cartilage - the intervertebral disc. These discs provide cushioning between each bone and permit the neck, spine and tail to bend, allowing changes in position and posture. Above the discs and running through the bony vertebrae is the spinal cord, which is made up of a mass of nerve fibers that run back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. What is intervertebral disc disease?

As a disc becomes weaker with age or trauma, it may rupture, or herniate, causing a portion of the disc to protrude upward and place pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure typically prevents or inhibits nerve transmission along the spinal cord. The effect on the spinal cord will depend on the amount and severity of the pressure. Effects can include pain, weakness and paralysis. The location of the "ruptured disc" will also affect the cord. A disc herniation in the neck area may affect the entire body, while one in the middle of the dog's back may only affect the actions of the rear legs and abdominal organs.

Dogs with very long backs, such as dachshunds and Basset hounds, understandably have a greater incidence of disc disease in the middle of the back. In fact, This is the area most often affected in all dogs, regardless of the length of the dog's back. It seems that this area formed at the union of the chest and abdomen, suffers from the greatest amount of torsional stress and is more prone to injury.

In most cases we never find exactly when or what caused the disc to rupture. Surprisingly, this injury is rarely associated with severe trauma such as being hit by a car or falling from heights. In the smaller breeds, many believe it occurs when these dogs jump down off furniture.


When a disc first ruptures, it causes intense pain. When this occurs in the middle of the back the dog will arch its back up in pain. When the herniation takes place in the neck, the dog is unwilling to turn its head, and may not even want to lower it to eat and drink. Some dogs will shiver from the pain and walk very carefully and slowly. In severe herniations the back legs will be partially or completely paralyzed. This may be temporary or permanent. The nerves affecting the bladder and colon may also be affected making it difficult for the dog to urinate or defecate on it's own. This can obviously be a very serious condition and it is imperative that you seek veterinary care immediately.


Treatment almost always includes the use of anti-inflammatory medications such as cortisone (a steroid). These products help shrink the herniated disc and swollen tissue, and at the same time relieve any inflammation that may have occurred within the spinal cord. Painkillers such as buffered aspirin, Rimadyl or Etogesic may also be used in addition to the cortisone. Today more than 90% of all ruptured disc cases in this area of the back are handled with medical therapy alone. Surgery to either remove the protruding disc material or cut away a portion of the bone that surrounds the spinal cord is sometimes necessary. To be effective, however, surgery must usually be done within the first day or so following the injury. Whether medical, surgical or a combination of the two treatments is used, it may be several weeks before the actual outcome of the case can be determined. Long term prevention

It may take months before affected dogs heal completely. Restricting jumping activities is very important in preventing reoccurrence. Using a glucosamine and chondroitin product supplement is also highly recommended to help speed recovery and strengthen the damaged cartilage. More disc Information at the bottom of this page.

Lumbosacral Stenosis (Cauda Equina Syndrome)

Lumbosacral stenosis has also been termed lumbosacral instability, lumbosacral malformation, lumbosacral malarticulation, lumbar spinal stenosis, lumbosacral spondylolisthesis, lumbosacral nerve root compression and cauda equina syndrome. All these terms describe arthritis of the joint between the last lumbar vertebra and the sacrum, which is one of the bones that makes up the pelvis. This arthritis narrows the canal through which the spinal cord and nerves pass through. The intervertebral disc between the vertebra and the sacrum is often abnormal as well, further narrowing the canal. The arthritis and disc disease put pressure on the nerves coming off the spinal cord. The symptoms of lumbosacral stenosis, then, are a result of nerve injury.

What are the symptoms of lumbosacral stenosis?

The most common sign of cauda equina syndrome is pain. The pain may occur in the back, in one or both hind legs or the tail. The dog usually has difficulty rising from lying down but once he begins to walk about he works out of the stiffness. There may be muscle loss in one or both rear legs. The dog may have difficulty urinating or defecating because of the pain, may become incontinent, or may be unable to urinate. Some dogs are unable to move their tail, or have severe pain if the tail is moved. Often dogs will have a shuffling gait, and scuff their toes. Some dogs will chew on their pelvic area, hind limbs or tail, sometimes creating considerable damage by this self-mutilation. Many of the signs seen with lumbosacral stenosis can mimic those of hip dysplasia, and the two conditions need to be differentiated.

Which animals are at risk of having lumbosacral stenosis?

Lumbosacral stenosis occurs most commonly in large and medium breed dogs. The condition can be acquired, meaning the dog started out normal and then developed this condition. Or lumbosacral stenosis can be a congenital condition, meaning the dog was born with the abnormality. Either way, the symptoms generally do not occur until the dog is between 3 and 7 years of age.

How is lumbosacral stenosis diagnosed?

The veterinarian will ask the owner for a history of when the symptoms developed, etc. A physical exam will then be performed. The hind limbs will be manipulated in various ways to determine which positions are painful. The veterinarian will also do a neurological exam, including testing the reflexes, to determine which nerves may be injured. Radiographs (x-rays) are taken to evaluate the spine and pelvis. The findings can be very suggestive of lumbosacral stenosis, but are not sufficient to make the diagnosis. To achieve a diagnosis, special procedures must be performed by injecting dye into the affected area and re-radiographing. Depending on where the dye is placed, the procedure is called myelography, epidurography, or diskography. These procedures must be done under anesthesia. Displacement of the dye by the abnormalities in the bones and intervertebral disc confirms the diagnosis of lumbosacral stenosis.

How is lumbosacral stenosis treated?

Depending on the severity of the condition, amount of pain the animal is experiencing, overall health of the animal, financial restrictions, and other factors, lumbosacral stenosis is treated surgically or nonsurgically. Nonsurgical treatment: If the condition is mild, dogs may be treated with strict rest for 6 to 8 weeks. Anti-inflammatory medications such as prednisolone are given. In many cases this can relieve the symptoms. However, when the dog becomes more active, the symptoms can return. Surgical treatment: There are two different surgical techniques used to treat lumbosacral stenosis. In the first, the bones are fused together in as normal a position as possible. This prevents abnormal motion between them, and reduces the risk of further arthritis. In the second technique, part of the bone and the intervertebral disc are removed to reduce pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. In either case, dogs must be confined for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery, and may also be placed on prednisolone therapy. For dogs who have difficulty or are unable to urinate, the bladder must be manually expressed several times a day.

What is the prognosis for dogs with lumbosacral stenosis?

The outlook for dogs with lumbosacral stenosis is dependent on the severity of symptoms before treatment. Dogs who are mildly affected may be able to return to normal function. For those who are incontinent or unable to urinate prior to treatment, the prognosis is much poorer. Spina Bifida

Not much has been documented regarding spina bifida in dogs, but there is a ton of information out there regarding humans. It is a congenital condition, and there isn't much you can do about it. This can be slight or bad. In the slight case there is a dimple near the end of the spine and that is just about it. In the worst case scenario the dimple is usually there but the poor pup cannot control its bladder or BM's and always has diaper rash. These pups never can control their elimination's and really should be put down by the breeder before they are 6 weeks old or younger. Then there are all phases in-between. There is a problem in the spine where the spinal cord is not connected right.

The best thing you can do in most cases is put the pup down at a very early age, if moderate to severe spina bifida is detected. Some Mild cases can be managed ony. There was an article about it in The Bulldogger Digest (no longer in print).

A vet will examined the pup, take x-rays, and do a complete exam to concur that it is probably spina bifida. He would need to be re-evaluated in another month or so. Other signs may be a rough "cowlick" like spot on his back over the spine near the tail, hair different in a small patch than the rest of the coat, or hair growing in reverse order as the rest of the coat, limping, loss of control of bowel and bladder, soreness,etc. See a vet if you need further help on this matter. Thanks Melanie for the information.

Living With A Mild Spina Bifida Dog
Daily Life And Needs
by Carrie

Raising a dog with mild Spina Bifida requires special care in some areas, more so than with a dog without SB. My boy does have urine control, but is fecal incontinent at times, mainly when he is asleep. I try to keep his stool firm through diet. If his stool is firm enough, he is aware 95% of the time that he has to go, and he will posture and void. If his stools get too loose, he has no control over his bowels at all. If that is the case, I give him canned pumpkin or yams to help firm up his stools. When he has to wear diapers, it's very important to keep him as clean and dry as possible, as SB dogs are prone to UTI's. I change his diapers frequently, as not to keep him in soiled diapers for too long. I wash all areas thoroughly with warm water and soap, I like Dial antibacterial. I dry all areas very well, and apply a diaper rash cream, such as Desitin, which forms a barrier against the skin, to help protect the skin from wetness. I also apply some powder, I like Gold's Bond the best.Although my boy has pretty good strength in his legs, he does have quite a bit of stiffness in his legs and backend. I make sure he gets regular exercise to maintain his strength. Before bedtime, I give him a nice massage on his legs and backend. With some extra time, dedication, and TLC, a Spina Bifida dog can live a very normal happy life.
Thanks Carrie for the advise!

Water ( Walrus ) Puppies (picture below)

While this is not in itself a vertebral column defect, it is most commonly seen associated with a combination of vertebral column defects. It appears that various combinations of two or more of the following: brachycephalic head, short body length and/or abnormal tail length, leads to a higher than incidence of walrus "fluid" -Water- (anasarca) puppies in breeds so affected.

Walrus puppies are nearly twice the size of a normal puppy due to enormous fluid retention under the skin. Often these puppies have further abnormalities particularly cleft palates. These puppies, invariably by their size, result in caesarian births. In breeds where there are high incidences of walrus puppies, a simple recessive inheritance pattern has been postulated. Walrus puppies can still appear randomly in other breeds but the incidence is usually low.

The terms "water",or "walrus", puppies refers to newborn pups afflicted with edema varying from mild to severe. These huge, swollen, waterlogged puppies are about twice the size of normal pups, often born alive, but are weak and limp, they are heavy and look as though someone blew them up like a balloon. Bulldogs seem to have a higher than normal incidence of this affliction. Other breeds have also reported having walrus puppies, the Shar Pei, Bullmastiff, Basset, Boston Terrier and Chihuahuas. In the past, the puppies afflicted with this were put down by the vet, or failed to be resuscitated. The cause of this condition is not known at the time of this writing.

Some veterinarians have recently had great success using Lasix in the treatment of this problem. Lasix is the brand name of the chemical Furosemide. Furosemide is a diuretic-saluretic. What it does is, it inhibits the reabsorption of sodium. The drug is administered intravenously immediately after birth of the water pup. It is important that you consult your veterinarian if you should suspect that your female dog may deliver water puppies.

Some signs for you to watch your pregnant female for are: drinking large amounts of water, nipples and surrounding tissues have a shiny look.

This condition is primarily in flat-face breeds, such as, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, French Bulls, and Pugs, it has been seen in other breeds to a limited degree. At birth, the pups are larger than normal, because of fluid under the skin. This can be in varying degrees from barely detectable or a pup may be twice the size of a normal mate.

Water pups are born alive (most of the time) because their oxygen and nutrition is being delivered from the dam, through the umbilical cord. After birth, the pup's lungs should start functioning, however, when they are full of fluid, they often suffocate soon after birth. You may see one water pup in a litter, or an entire litter being involved. The mild to medium effected pups that survive the first 2 - 3 days, seem to become normal.

Treatment needs to be immediate and intense for a water pup. First, elevate the head and extend the neck for a more clear air way. Take one or two fingers and rub the genitalia to encourage urination. Administer furosemide(Lasix) .1 to .2 ml intramuscularly, to increase urination, this can be repeated every 30 to 45 minutes for three injections. Caution: more than three could cause dehydration. Keep the pups warm and stimulate urination as described above every 2 - 3 minutes. Do no give up: mildly effected pups can take 30 to 90 minutes to breath normally. Moderately effected pups take 90 minutes to 4 hours to breath more normal. Severely effected pups are difficult to save, they usually drown before 30 minutes have passed.

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