Intervertebral Disk Disease

Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) is a form of severe spinal cord trauma. Disc extrusions are primarily a problem in the dog and among the most common neurologic conditions seen. The cat may also have spontaneous extrusion and/or protrusion of intervertebral discs, more commonly seen in the lower lumbar spine. The predominant signs are pain and weakness. In many cases, the signs start suddenly and may not even be associated with any activity. Severe weakness leading to paralysis can happen very quickly, necessitating rapid diagnosis and treatment to prevent irreversible paralysis. Many affected dogs will return to normal activity with early intervention and proper care.

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 What causes IVDD? The intervertebral disk is composed of an outer fibrous portion (the annulus fibrosus) and a gelatinous center (the nucleus pulposus) (Figure 1). With normal ageing, the nucleus is slowly replaced by fibrocartilage, but in chondrodystrophoid breeds (such as Dachshunds, Beagles, Shih Tzu, Pugs) the nucleus ages prematurely, degenerates and mineralizes. As a result of these degenerative changes, affected dogs are prone to rupture of the mineralized disk into the spinal canal, causing severe spinal cord trauma and compression directly above the disk or migrating to the side of the spinal cord (Figures 2, 3, and 4).

How is IVDD diagnosed? The diagnosis of IVDD is made by imaging the spinal cord. MRI scanning is particularly helpful in these patients as a non-invasive and highly accurate method of diagnosis. Sometimes a myelogram with a CT scan of the spine is done to evaluate large portions of the spinal cord quickly or changes due to trauma or spinal instability.

How is IVDD treated? The most important aspect of treatment is surgical decompression, and is indicated in animals with severe pain, weakness, or paralysis. Surgical results are typically very good, with over 85% of patients regaining the ability to walk over several weeks or sooner if pain sensation is present prior to the surgery.. The key to a successful outcome is having your dog evaluated quickly so that a determination for appropriate treatment can be made.