Oh, My Dog's Aching Back!

By Kathryn Waide

Oh, My Dog\'s Aching Back!

An overenthusiastic night of boogying down, an exercise move that went wrong or even just sleeping in a funny position can all result in back pain. Imagine what might happen to your dog when it turns around too swiftly when you call, takes a too-sharp left turn to avoid the cat or does something else to aggravate its back. Add to that the fact that many dogs are prone to back problems, even without prior injury, due to their breeding and genetics and you'll understand why back troubles are so common in canines.

Dogs can suffer from slipped disks, called intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). These may lead to muscle spasms, as well as pinched nerves. "They do not get sciatica, per say, but often face vertebral malformations, vertebral luxations (dislocations), fractures, cancer of the vertebrae and even pain-causing changes in structure of the vertebrae," says Aaren DuMont, DVM, a veterinarian practicing in Raleigh, N.C.

Dogs Most Prone to Back Problems
Back problems are most common in low, long dogs. Very active dogs are also prone, especially those that do a lot of jumping. Some specific conditions are more readily seen in certain breeds. For instance, Dachshunds are the most common breed to develop back problems, usually facing intervertebral disk disease, according to Dr. DuMont. Basset hounds can also develop this disease.

Great Danes and Rottweilers are prone to Wobblers disease, marked by changes in vertebral structure in the cervical region or neck. "This disease causes them to have a wobbly gait, which is how it got its name," explains Dr. DuMont. Toy poodles are more apt to develop vertebral malformation in their neck, which unfortunately is difficult to treat and therefore carries a poor prognosis. Large breeds, especially German Shepherds, are likely to get lumbosacral disease - a change in the lumbar region of the vertebral canal, which causes painful pinched nerves.

Signs Your Dog Is Experiencing Back Pain
How are you to know if your dog is having back troubles? Dr. DuMont suggests that you look for these possible symptoms:

  • Gait changes
  • Looking uncoordinated, such as if your dog is carrying its tail differently, knuckling its paws, and/or arching its back when walking or laying down
  • Acting uncomfortable when sitting or laying down (for instance, they may constantly fidget and adjust their position, as if they can't get comfortable)
  • Having trouble urinating or defecating

Action to Take When Your Dog Is Hurting
As soon as you notice any of the possible symptoms, restrict your dog to a cage or obstacle-free room as soon as possible and seek veterinary care. Until you and your vet can determine what could be wrong, Dr. DuMont recommends, "Try and prevent your pet from jumping on furniture or running up stairs. Leash walk only, and make sure your animal gets plenty of rest."

Treatment For a Dog with Back Pain
As with humans, how back pain is treated in dogs varies from patient to patient. Sometimes the course of action may be conservative, while other times it may be aggressive, according to Dr. DuMont. In some cases, simply confining your canine to a cage for a few days or more may do the trick. In other instances, using anti-inflammatory medication and/or muscle relaxants may be necessary. Or your vet may tell you that your dog needs to lose some weight to alleviate the pain. If this sort of intervention does not help, surgery may be considered, but it depends on the condition and severity of your dog's problem.

Preventing Doggy Back Troubles
The number one cause of back problems in dogs is most likely obesity, so keep your pet well exercised and don't overdo it on the food, treats and especially table scraps. Many experts believe that vitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective and can actually upset the delicately balanced nutritional requirements of your dog. Instead, buy a reputable pet food that is nutritionally complete and balanced. Calcium and phosphorous are often linked to bone and back issues, so check these out on labels to make sure the balance is right. There should be 1.1 to 1.4 parts of calcium for each 1 part of phosphorus in your dog's chow.

Kathryn Waide writes about pets, health, nutrition and fitness. She's also the owner of Elmo, an 18-month-old black Labrador.

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Posted on April 2, 2009

tracy says: hi my rottweiler has just been diagnosed with a fractured lumbar vetabre, and i have been advised just to let him rest & take drugs and it will heal eventually!! is this correct or would surgery be best? he seems to be coping ok with it

Posted on July 22, 2009

Michelle says: Abby, our 5 year old beagle was diagnosed last year with Interverbral Disc Disease, the vet gave her steroids and she came out of it within a month. Well, now her back is acting up again and along with her IVDD, she got a pinched nerve in her right hind leg,so now the vet has her on 3 medications: steroids, muscle relaxer, and one for pain. Is there anything or anyway we can help her up & down the stairs without her yelping in pain?

Posted on January 7, 2009

a. says: My dog had this and was seen by the DVM. He is now on the anti-inflammatory drug the muscle relaxant and the pain med. I though he had an ileus or trouble deficating but it was a slipped disc an xray was done but to tell for sure an mri needs to be done. he is a Jack russell about 9-11 yrs old rescued from a shelter. He is doing better but like the article he was walking around funny and looked like he was in pain not his normal loving self.

Posted on January 7, 2009

a. says: My dog had this and was seen by the DVM. He is now on the anti-inflammatory drug the muscle relaxant and the pain med. I though he had an ileus or trouble deficating but it was a slipped disc an xray was done but to tell for sure an mri needs to be done. he is a Jack russell about 9-11 yrs old rescued from a shelter. He is doing better but like the article he was walking around funny and looked like he was in pain not his normal loving self.

Posted on March 16, 2008

beverly frost says: My dog is a loso mix (terrior looking), weighs 22#, 8yrs old. She has a line run for exercise and toilet needs. I had let her out one morning, Minutes later she was back inside walking on three legs, favoring her right hind leg. I check her leg, foot, pads, toes and nails. Also, cut hair from the foot and found nothing evident causing a limp. This was December 23, 2007. She appeared to be getting better, reaching a plateau with occasionmal limping. I took her to a Vet in January. The vet said she has a back injury and gave her an injection of cortesone and gave me steroid medication. She appeared to get better, BUT, started having multiple urine accidents and drinking excessive water. Two days after completing the 10 day perscription, she started limping and favoring the leg again. The vet did no exrays. He use a tool which had a small rubber end and had a spring loaded action, which he said was a vertebre adjustment tool for back injuries. The vet used this tool on each individual vertebre on her entire back. It is now mid-March and she has not improve. Although, she does not appear in pain. I keep her confined and walk her on a leash now to prevent her from becoming over zellous over squirles etc. Is there anything I can do to improve or releave her situation? Is there any special message therapy?. Steroids, I understand may shorten her life span and possibly cause earlier cateracts. Thank you for any help you may have for me. Beverly

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