Intervertebral Disc Herniation Symptoms & Treatment [Guide]

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Dogs, Veterinary Care

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common and often debilitating condition that affects many dogs, causing significant pain and mobility issues. A herniated disc, also known as a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc, can be a devastating diagnosis for pet owners, but with the right understanding and treatment, dogs can often recover and return to a good quality of life.

This comprehensive guide will explore the ins and outs of herniated discs in dogs, including the different types, causes, symptoms, diagnostic process, treatment options, and ways to help your furry friend stay comfortable during recovery.

What is a Herniated Disc in Dogs?

A herniated disc, or intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), occurs when the soft, cushioning material between the vertebrae in a dog’s spine protrudes or ruptures, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This can lead to pain, weakness, and even paralysis in the affected areas of the dog’s body.

Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae, allowing for flexibility and movement in the spine. When a disc herniates, it can cause a range of symptoms depending on the location and severity of the injury.

Types of Herniated Discs in Dogs

There are two main types of herniated discs in dogs. Understanding the type of herniated disc can help veterinarians determine the appropriate treatment approach and prognosis for the dog’s recovery.

Hansen Type I Disc Herniation:

This is the most common type of IVDD, occurring in dogs with chondrodystrophic (dwarfed) breeds, In this type, the inner, gel-like material of the disc (nucleus pulposus) dries out and hardens over time, making it more prone to sudden, explosive rupture.

Hansen Type II Disc Herniation:

This type is more common in larger, non-chondrodystrophic breeds, such as Labradors and German Shepherds. In this case, the disc material slowly protrudes or bulges, putting gradual pressure on the spinal cord.

What Happens When a Disc “Ruptures,” and How Does It Happen?

When a disc herniates or ruptures, the inner, gel-like material (nucleus pulposus) escapes from the disc’s outer, fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus). This material can then put pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves, leading to pain, weakness, and potentially paralysis in the affected areas of the dog’s body.

The rupture can happen suddenly, as in the case of a Hansen Type I disc herniation, or gradually, as with a Hansen Type II herniation. Sudden, explosive ruptures are often caused by trauma, such as a fall or sudden movement, or simply due to the natural degeneration of the disc over time.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of herniated discs in dogs:

Factors Leading to Herniated Discs

  1. Breed Predisposition: Certain breeds, such as Dachshunds, Corgis, and Poodles, are more prone to developing IVDD due to their chondrodystrophic (dwarfed) characteristics.
  2. Age: The risk of disc herniation increases as dogs age, as the discs become more prone to degeneration and rupture.
  3. Obesity: Excess weight can put additional stress on a dog’s spine, increasing the risk of disc herniation.
  4. Trauma: Sudden injuries, such as falls or accidents, can cause discs to rupture, even in otherwise healthy dogs.

Dachshunds, Corgis, and Poodles are more prone to Intervertebral Disc Herniation than other breeds.

How Fast Do Intervertebral Discs Wear Down and Potentially Rupture?

The rate at which intervertebral discs wear down and potentially rupture can vary depending on several factors:

  1. Breed: Chondrodystrophic breeds, such as Dachshunds and Corgis, tend to experience more rapid disc degeneration, with discs becoming prone to sudden, explosive ruptures as early as 3-5 years of age.
  2. Age: Older dogs generally have more degenerated discs, which are more likely to herniate over time.
  3. Lifestyle and Activity Level: Highly active dogs or those engaging in high-impact activities may experience faster disc wear and tear.
  4. Obesity: Excess weight can accelerate the degeneration of intervertebral discs.

In general, the discs in chondrodystrophic breeds can begin to show signs of degeneration as early as 3-5 years of age, with the potential for sudden, explosive ruptures occurring throughout the dog’s lifetime. In larger, non-chondrodystrophic breeds, disc degeneration, and herniation tend to happen more gradually, often in the later years of the dog’s life.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Recognizing the signs of a herniated disc in your dog is crucial for seeking prompt veterinary care and improving the chances of a successful recovery.

Recognizing the Signs of Herniated Discs

The most common symptoms of a herniated disc in dogs include:

  • Neck or back pain
  • Reluctance to move or change positions
  • Weakness or paralysis in the limbs
  • Loss of coordination or balance
  • Incontinence or difficulty urinating/defecating

The specific symptoms will depend on the location and severity of the disc herniation and the type of disc disease (Hansen Type I or II).

Diagnostic Process

To diagnose a herniated disc, your veterinarian will typically follow these steps:

  1. Physical Examination: The vet will perform a thorough physical examination, focusing on the dog’s spine and nervous system.
  2. Neurological Assessment: The vet will evaluate the dog’s reflexes, coordination, and response to stimuli to determine the extent of the neurological damage.
  3. Imaging Tests: Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, myelograms, CT scans, or MRI, may be used to confirm the presence and location of the herniated disc.
  4. Ruling Out Other Conditions: The vet may also need to rule out other conditions, such as spinal tumors or infections, that can mimic the symptoms of a herniated disc.

By following a comprehensive diagnostic process, your veterinarian can accurately identify the underlying cause of your dog’s symptoms and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment Options

The treatment approach for a herniated disc in dogs will depend on the severity of the condition, the dog’s overall health, and the specific needs of the individual pet. Treatment options can range from conservative, non-surgical methods to more invasive surgical procedures.

Non-Surgical Treatments

In some cases, a herniated disc can be managed without surgery, particularly if the symptoms are mild or the dog is not experiencing severe neurological deficits. Non-surgical treatment options may include:

  1. Rest and Confinement: The dog may be prescribed strict cage rest or confinement to limit movement and allow the disc to heal.
  2. Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and pain.
  3. Physical Therapy: Gentle exercises and rehabilitation can help improve muscle strength and mobility during recovery.
  4. Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can take pressure off the spine and support healing.

How Much Does IVDD Surgery Cost for Dogs?

The cost of IVDD surgery for dogs can vary widely depending on several factors, including:

  • Geographic location
  • Veterinary hospital or specialty clinic
  • Type of surgical procedure
  • Complexity of the case
  • Pre-operative and post-operative care

On average, the cost of IVDD surgery for dogs cost can range from $8,000-$10,000 for smaller dogs and $10,000-$14,000 for larger dogs. It’s important to discuss the specific costs and payment options with your veterinarian, as they can provide a more accurate estimate based on your dog’s individual needs.

Post-Surgery Recovery

Recovery from IVDD surgery can be a lengthy process, and it’s essential to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely to ensure the best possible outcome for your furry friend.

After surgery, your dog may need to remain hospitalized for several days or even weeks, depending on the severity of the injury and the surgical procedure performed. The veterinary team will closely monitor your dog’s progress, provide pain management, and begin rehabilitation during this time.

Once your dog is discharged, you’ll need to continue the recovery plan at home, which may include:

  • Strict confinement and rest
  • Gradual reintroduction of gentle exercise and physical therapy
  • Ongoing pain management and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Careful monitoring of your dog’s progress and any changes in symptoms

The timeline for a full recovery can vary, but it’s not uncommon for dogs to take several months to regain their full strength and mobility. With patience, dedication, and the guidance of your veterinary team, most dogs can make a successful recovery and return to a good quality of life.

Which Other Conditions Might Be Confused with Intervertebral Disc Disease?

While intervertebral disc disease is a common cause of spinal pain and neurological symptoms in dogs, there are other conditions that can present similar signs, including:

  1. Spinal Tumors: Growths or masses in the spinal cord or surrounding tissues can put pressure on the spinal cord, leading to pain and neurological deficits.
  2. Spinal Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections in the spine can cause inflammation and swelling, which can mimic the symptoms of a herniated disc.
  3. Degenerative Myelopathy: This progressive neurological disorder primarily affects the spinal cord and can cause weakness, loss of coordination, and paralysis.
  4. Trauma: Injuries to the spine, such as fractures or dislocations, can also cause symptoms similar to a herniated disc.
  5. Arthritis: Degenerative joint disease in the spine can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

To ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, your veterinarian must thoroughly investigate the underlying cause of your dog’s symptoms through a comprehensive examination and diagnostic testing.

How Can Pet Insurance Help You if Your Dog Got Herniated Discs?

Pet insurance can be a valuable tool in managing the costs of treating dog herniated discs and other veterinary expenses. By having a pet insurance policy in place, you can have peace of mind knowing that you can provide medical care for your furry companion without worrying about the financial burden. Pet insurance can help cover the costs of veterinary consultations, diagnostic tests, medications, and even specialized treatments if required.


This method is the most common for pet insurance companies. You pay out of pocket for the veterinarian bill, and then the insurance company reimburses you for what’s covered under the insurance plan. The steps look like this.

  • You pay the vet bill after your dog’s visit.
  • You fill out the pet insurance claim form.
  • Submit the claim form and other required documentation to the insurer. 
  • After the claim is approved, you will be reimbursed for eligible expenses. 

What Does Odie Pet Insurance Cover?

Pet insurance covers various veterinary expenses, providing financial protection and peace of mind for pet owners. Here are the details of the coverage options offered by Odie Pet Insurance:

Illness & Injury Plan

The Illness & Injury Plan is an all-inclusive insurance plan designed to cover a wide range of medical needs for your pet. This plan includes comprehensive coverage for various illnesses, injuries, and veterinary services. Some of the covered items include:

  • 24/7 Televet Chat
  • Emergency vet visits
  • Overnight hospital stays
  • IV Fluids & Medications
  • Medical Supplies
  • Surgeries
  • MRI/CAT Scans
  • Rehabilitative Care
  • Prescription Medications
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Laboratory Tests

Accident-Only Plan

The Accident-Only Plan is designed for pet owners seeking coverage specifically for accidents. This plan provides financial protection for emergency veterinary care resulting from accidental injuries. It includes 90% reimbursement up to $10,000 each year, with a $250 annual deductible. 

Here’s an overview of the Accident-Only Plan:

  • Coverage for broken bones, sprains, eye injuries, and traumatic dental fractures.
  • Coverage for wounds, including bite wounds, lacerations, snake bites, and bee stings.
  • Veterinary treatments covered for accidental injuries include X-rays & ultrasounds, laboratory tests, emergency care, hospitalization, CT scan & MRI, and surgery.

The Wellness Add-on Plan

The Wellness Plan is an add-on for routine care coverage you can purchase with an insurance policy. It focuses on preventive care and covers routine veterinary services. Odie has two wellness plan options available: 

 Basic Plan:

  • Covers services such as spay/neuter and teeth cleaning, rabies vaccination, flea & tick prevention, heartworm prevention, vaccination/titer, wellness exam, heartworm test or FELV screen, blood, fecal, parasite exam, microchip, urinalysis or ERD, and deworming.
  • Reimbursement up to $305 per year.

Plus Plan:

  • Ideal for puppies and kittens.
  • Covers services such as spay/neuter and teeth cleaning, rabies vaccination, flea & tick prevention, heartworm prevention, vaccination/titer, wellness exam, heartworm test or FELV screen, blood, fecal, parasite exam, microchip, urinalysis or ERD, and deworming.
  • Reimbursement up to $535 per year.

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