Spondylosis deformans (spondylitis) is common in middle-age and older animals, including dogs. Like all aging joints, the spine can get arthritic. Spondylosis deformans is similar to arthritis, with bone spurs forming on the vertebrae. Many dogs have no symptoms, but if the condition progresses the vertebrae can fuse together, causing pain and stiffness. Although spondylosis deformans is incurable, there are both medical and home-care options to allow the dog a pain-free, active life.
Dogs with spondylosis deformans can be asymptomatic for many years and usually shows up in mid-life or the senior years. This can depend on the size of the dog. A small or toy dog is not considered middle-aged until 7-9 years old, while a large or giant breed dog is middle-aged at about 4, since their average life expectancy is typically 10 years or less.
If your dog is stiff after getting up, appears to be limping (especially after exercise) or begins snapping or licking her lower back, take her to a veterinarian. Occasionally, a bony spur or fusing of the vertebrae will cause loss of bladder control and the dog will become incontinent.
Spondylosis deformans is usually diagnosed by x-ray of the spine. If the x-ray is inconclusive, a myelogram can check for compression of spinal nerves, or an analysis of the joint fluid can rule out bacterial or fungal inflammation of the spine.
Treatment of spondylosis deforman depends on the symptoms. If the dog shows no signs of pain or limping, treatment is unnecessary. The most common medications used for pain and inflammation are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Rimadyl, Deramaxx and Etogesic. If the dog does not respond well to NSAIDs, the vet may inject cortosteroids into the lower spine. An injection is typically effective for six to eight months.
Surgical procedures are not usually recommended, as surgery to remove the bone spurs simply result in rapid regrowth of the bone spur. However, several veterinary researchers are working toward different surgical procedures to effect long-term relief. A board-certified veterinary orthopedist will be able to tell you about the latest surgical findings.
Complementary and holistic veterinarians may use other treatments to ease the pain of spondylosis deformans. Acupuncture may help dogs with spondylosis and arthritis. If a dog responds well to acupuncture, gold bead implants provide long-term relief by surgically implanting small gold beads at acupuncture points.
Chiropractic adjustments may help by realigning the vertebrae and easing inflammation caused by pressure from the bony spurs. See Resources below to find a holistic vet experienced in alternative treatments for spondylosis.
There are many things you can do in conjunction with veterinary care to keep your dog comfortable. The most important factor is weight control; excess weight keeps pressure on the spine and arthritic joints and keeping your dog lean at any age minimizes or eradicates a lot of pain and stiffness.
Since strong, toned muscles can compensate for weak joints and stiffness, mild daily exercise as tolerated helps keep a dog with spondylosis deformans limber. Swimming is particularly good exercise for any dog. Ask your vet for a referral to a physical therapy clinic that offers controlled swimming in warm water for dogs.
Natural anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil, glucosamine and chrondroitin may help a great deal.