SlimDoggy Health Check: Nervous System | Spinal Column

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The canine nervous system is comprised of the central nervous system (CNS) made up of the brain and the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system, the nerves that run from the brain and spinal cord throughout the dog’s body. These peripheral nerves carry the signals from the brain to command movement and function in the dog. There is also the autonomous nervous system which is responsible for involuntary motor function like breathing and digestion.

Given the duties of the nervous system, it’s proper function is imperative. Primary signals that something is amiss with a dog’s CNS could be behavioral, seizures, tremors, pain, lack of coordination or paralysis.
A disorder or injury to the spinal column would likely manifest in pain, weakness, paralysis at or below the injury site. Becca had a fused spinal column and her entire back was sensitive. A brain injury may manifest in a behavioral change, confusion, seizures or tremors.
SlimDoggy Health Check Nervous System

There’s a lot to cover on this topics, let’s first take a deeper look at disorders of the spinal column. Dogs may develop some of the same conditions of the spine as humans:
Stenosis is a painful condition caused by the narrowing of the spinal column from age or genetics. This narrowing is caused by calcification of cartilage between the spinal disks and creates pain to the spinal column. A dog’s horizontal anatomy protects them from this condition to a greater degree than humans, but they can still develop it. Symptoms may include change in urinary or bowel habits and incontinence, difficulty in getting up and down, fatigue and pain. This is normally a disease of senior dogs, so it may be difficult to diagnose and separate from other senior disorders. Diagnosis is usually made through xrays, myelogram (dye-injected CT-scan), and/or MRI. Severe cases may require surgery to open up the area and allow freer movement, but typically treatment with NSAIDs, steroids and movement restriction are recommended. Some dogs have even responded well to the wearing of a back brace to provide added support to the area. Understandably, controlling your dog’s weight has a significant impact on the development and treatment of this disease.

Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) is a herniated disk or a slipped disk. Onset could be gradual or acute. Just as in humans, it is caused by the rupture or bulging of the intervertebral disks that act as a cushion between the vertebra of the back or spinal column. These cushioning pads are comprised of cartilage and are subject to wear and tear, aging and of course genetic malformations. When they bulge or herniate, they cause pain to the nerves running through the spine. Symptoms include: pain and weakness in the rear legs, reluctance to jump, crying out in pain, muscle spasms, incontinence, loss of appetite and possibly a hunched back. Symptoms may vary depending on where in the spinal column the IVDD occurs.
There are two types of IVDD, Type I is an acute episode of disk herniation or bulging and Type II is a progressive disintegration and protrusion of disk material.
A precursor to IVDD is spondylosis. When Jack was sick with pancreatitis, he had a series of xrays and the vet noted a bit of spondylosis in his back. It’s not severe enough to do anything other than treat with glucosomine, but it is something we will watch closely.
Diagnosis can be made with xrays, myelogram and possibly a spinal tap to examine the spinal fluid to rule out other diseases. Treatment options depend on the severity of the disease. Pain relief is the main objective of any treatment options with the goal of returning mobility and normal activities. Surgery may be an option and typically physical therapy is also recommended.
Our Becca had severe IVDD and spent many hours on the water treadmill as well as receiving ultrasound therapy, acupuncture and massage. All seemed to help tremendously.

Some of the Bacterial or Fungal diseases we have examined previously in our Health Check Series may also affect the spinal column. These include:

  • Canine distemper encephalomyelitis
  • Rabies
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptococcus neoformans

There are so many possibly causes of spinal issues in your pup and diagnosing them is a veternarian’s responsibility. If your dog shows any signs of weakness or discomfort get in to see your vet as soon as possible. In our next Health Check post, we will take a look at brain disorders.

Additional Readings:
Anatomy and Physiology of Animals/Nervous System
The Nervous System of Dogs
Nervous System Anatomy & Development in Dogs
Spinal Stenosis in Dogs – Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
When Good Discs Go Bad

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  1. Katie has some arthritis in her spine which causes some issues, but it isn’t a big concern these days as she has other bigger problems.
    Emma recently posted…Time For Our Heartworm Preventative And Check UpMy Profile

  2. Had no idea bacterial or fungus diseases could be a cause – interesting. Hows Maggie doing these day Hugs to her and Jack…
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…THE PET FRIENDLY WENTWORTH MANSION® #THEDOODLESPOTMy Profile

  3. Strength to Jack!
    Pawsome article! Quite informative!
    I have heard from some of my epi warrior furiends that they have successfully managed their seizure episodes using massage & acupuncture. My huMom is a big fan of both treatments.
    <3 nose nudges <3
    CEO Olivia
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  4. Whoa, fascinating info! Yes, acupuncture is very helpful with managing pain, especially spinal pain. Hope both Maggie and Jack are doing better.

  5. So much good information. I love learning about puppy health.
    Julie recently posted…Stuff and ThingsMy Profile

  6. Bassets are prone to back problems so we are very careful with Bentley.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB NETWoof Dog News March 7, 2016My Profile

  7. Great informative post! Disk problems are so not good. But it is amazing what can be done for them if caught in time.
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