Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs
Today we are joining the Caring for Critters Round Robin. Yesterday’s entry from Rescued Insanity was some great advice on being prepared for a sudden illness or injury. Tomorrow, be sure and visit I Still Want More Puppies for a post on kidney disease.
We are sharing our experience with Spondylosis Deformans with our dog Becca. For our post, we talked with Dr. Kenneth Bruecker of Veterinary Medical and Services Group. Dr. Bruecker specializes in orthopedic issues in animals and treated Becca.
We adopted Becca when she was nine years old. She was an owner turn-in and had lived her life as a service dog. Becca’s service was carrying a pack for her owner. Our understanding from the rescue organization was that her owner was a student and the pack contained books. It didn’t take long for us to recognize she had some severe spine and knee injuries as a result of her service life. We could see the arthritis in her paws and we could see the weakness and deformity of her knees. We didn’t know about the severity of her back issue until we had what we came to call an “incident”. We’ve written a Tale of Tail’s series about Becca and you can read more about her there.
What is Spondylosis deformans?
Dr. Bruecker: Spondylosis deformans or “natural” fusion of spinal segments is generally associated with instability or micro-instability between two vertebrae. The typical cause is inter-vertebral disk degeneration causing a destabilizing of the ligament we call the inter-vertebral disk (or disc). Typically it affects only a single or few disk spaces especially in the low back.
What causes it?
Dr. Bruecker: Presumably disk degeneration is genetic (familial), with dogs from certain breeds (not uncommon in Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs) or certain families in a breed more susceptible. It in and of itself is not a painful condition, however the underlying disk instability might be a source of chronic pain/discomfort. Likewise, if the spine is fused over a long segment (multiple vertebrae), stresses are concentrated at the remaining disk space at the end of the line, presumably causing an acceleration of instability at that space, too.
Dietary insufficiency or excesses can cause unusual spinal conditions as well, especially during growth.
What are the symptoms?
Xrays revealed that Becca’s total spine was fused from her neck to her tail bone with only the very last disks at the two ends still having movement. As noted by Dr. Bruecker, the length of her fusion created greater instability.
Dr. Bruecker: Rarely do we ever see spondylosis as severe as Becca. In these severe cases, we lean toward calling it Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH). It does not appear to be the same as DISH in people, but similar underlying circumstances may be at play.
As I mentioned, Becca would have these “incidents” where she would go to lie down and yelp, and we knew she had pinched the nerve. At times, it would happen only once and then she would be fine, but sometimes it would happen each time she went to lie down, so eventually, she would refuse to lie down. It was the cause of many sleepless nights as I tried to get her comfortable. Strong pain medication that knocked her out was our only resort. And once rested, she would usually be okay.
Spinal issues are difficult to detect in your dog as many of them are good at masking pain or injury. Some things to watch for:
- Weakness in the hind end or rear legs. A dog that walks away while in the process of pooping may be experiencing lower back pain.
- Reluctance or refusal to turn their head could indicate neck involvement.
- A tendency to lie down more than usual. Becca would almost fall into her down – there was no graceful easing into a lying down position, it was a plop and she always laid on her side – straight out, no curling around into a fetal position – she couldn’t bend like that.
- Difficulty holding a sit. Becca never sat – she was either standing or lying down, she just could not get into that position.
- Difficulty in rising from lying down.
- Incontinence. Due to the nerve impingement, Becca had incontinence issues that we treated with Pronin.
What is the treatment?
Given that surgery to correct Becca’s condition was out, we had to take extra special care of Becca to help strengthen her muscles in her back and try to prevent an incident. We treated Becca with light exercise, rest, Gabapentin (to relieve neuropathic pain) and Tramadol, a pain reliever. She was on varying levels of gabapentin and tramadol for years to control her pain and keep her comfortable. Rest was essential, but so was exercise and Becca loved her daily walks and when she was doing well she would even run 1/2 mile or so with us. She loved her fetch and we would toss the ball almost every day at least of couple of times for her.
It was important to keep her mobility and strength up and we found that as she grew stronger, the incidents decreased.
We also treated Becca with physical therapy and acupuncture. She would walk on the water treadmill as well as receive massages and electrotherapy. These treatments were good for her knees as well as for overall strengthening. We frequently treated Becca with acupuncture and she loved that. She would come right over and lie down for her Dr. and just completely zone out in relaxation.
With lots of love and care Becca’s Spondylosis Deformans proved to be a minor issue for her. She was a strong and determined dog who honored her service roots with her stoicism. She still walked with me everyday – maybe shorter and shorter walks, but she went everyday and she’d even get in a few good games of fetch whenever we let her. Unfortunately, her spinal issues prevented us from being more aggressive with her bone cancer she developed a few years later since we couldn’t amputate, but she managed both issues with grace and dignity. She was a true lady and a wonderful dog.
NOTE: We are NOT veterinarians and don’t intend for our advice or experience to take the place of your own veterinarian’s diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect a spinal issue in your dog or cat…get yourself to the vet ASAP.
We’re participating in the Caring for Critters Round Robin hosted by Heart Like a Dog. Caring for Critters is a community of pet owners who are sharing their experiences dealing with their dogs (or cats) health issues. Be sure and check out the Community Page for lots of first hand information and also check the next post in the Round Robin at I Still Want More Puppies tomorrow.