Intervertebral discs are flexible structures between individual vertebrae. Disc prolapse describes the pathological changes of intervertebral discs and their overall negative effect on the spinal chord.
Affected dogs often show difficulties leaping onto higher ground, i.e., the couch, or any act that places strain on the vertebral column. Climbing stairs or jumping in general may also be impaired. Being handled along the spine or lifted from the ground is often painful. A dropped head is a common sign of dogs with disc problems. In very severe or advanced cases the dog’s hindquarter can become paralyzed. As a result, affected dogs collapse onto their hind legs and lose control of their anal sphincter, which causes an involuntary bowel movement to occur. Paralysis of the front legs may also develop if the prolapsed disc is located in the neck.
As a result of the degenerative processes the intervertebral discs lose flexibility. As a consequence of losing flexibility, they may rupture as a result of physical strain or trauma. The fragments from ruptured discs then apply pressure to the spinal cord, and this may damage nervous tissue. Spinal segments under high mechanical strain are more prone to prolapse. Causes of the condition are often breed-related. Dachshounds, Pekinese, Scottish Terriers, Springer Spaniels or Poodles are commonly affected. Even in early years they may develop prolapsed disc. Otherwise, the condition is often a result of the aging process and is often seen in older animals.
Some pathological processes of the spinal chord may be detected by an x-ray. However, definite diagnosis can only be obtained from an MRI. Conservative treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs is curative in mild cases. However, a severe disc prolapse requires surgery and the removal of problematic disc fragments.
If you suspect that your dog has a prolapsed disc, consult a veterinary clinic. Dogs suffering from a prolapsed disc should be lifted carefully into cars, onto couches, or over stairs. For a harness or restraint, chest gear should be used in favor of a collar. Excessive weight is putting extra pressure on the vertebral column and should be reduced as much as possible.