Spinal compression in dogs most typically occurs when one of the intervertebral discs -- the fibrous capsules that act as shock absorbers for the spinal cord -- becomes calcified and pushes into the spinal canal, or when the disc itself completely degenerates. Recommended treatment depends on severity and quality-of-life implications but may include medication, physiotherapy and surgery.
Dogs with short legs and long backs, such as dachshunds, beagles, shih tzus and cocker spaniels are predisposed to calcification of discs, leading to sudden onset of spinal compression. Large dogs such as German shepherds and Labrador retrievers are predisposed to complete disc degeneration. This type of intervertebral disc disease has a gradual onset. Although some breeds are bio-mechanically more susceptible to spinal compression, it can occur in a specimen of any breed.
Causes and Risks
Aside from genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors can put a dog at risk of spinal compression. Repeated jumping and landing -- for example if a dog is in the habit of leaping off the sofa or the stairs -- puts a dog at heightened risk of spinal compression. But any forceful impact, be it a tumble or a road traffic accident, can lead to movement or degeneration in spinal discs, causing spinal compression.
Signs and Symptoms
An unwillingness to jump or run may be among the earliest signs you'll see that a dog is experiencing spinal compression. Dogs are good at improvising and modifying their habits to account for discomfort, so you may not notice your dog experiencing a problem until the pain becomes pronounced. Any sudden or unexplained changes in behavior or routine should warrant investigation. Other symptoms include lameness, anxiety, weakness, altered gait, limping, incontinence, and yelping or whining in pain. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is in pain.
Treatment and Management
Depending on a few factors -- the severity of the condition causing the spinal compression, the age of your dog and the extent to which her condition impacts her quality of life -- your vet may recommend simple lifestyle modifications such as exercise restriction, mobility aids like a wheelchair, and medications including steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs. In very severe cases, surgery is performed to correct the position of the disc relative to the spinal column.
Preventing Spinal Compression
Don't let your dog jump from elevated surfaces -- train her, or make long leaps an impossibility by modifying your home. Train your dog not to pull on her leash when you're walking to reduce stress on her neck. Your vet may recommend against breeding your dog if she is predisposed to spinal compression.