What Are the Chances of a Dog Walking Again After a Ruptured Disc?

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Dachshunds, with their long backs, are prone to degenerative disc disease.
Dachshunds, with their long backs, are prone to degenerative disc disease. (Image: Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

A disk rupture is a significant injury for a dog. Many dogs recover fully from the condition, while others lose the use of their hindquarters permanently and need to be fitted with a “wheelchair” in order to get around. The chances of your dog walking again after a rupture depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the injury, the age and fitness of the dog when it occurs, and the success of the treatment provided.

How Ruptures Occur

Degenerative disc disease causes the breakdown of the outer shell of the disc, which allows the central disc material to escape, putting pressure on the spinal cord. This is a genetic condition, and certain breeds are particularly vulnerable, with dachshunds, poodles, pekinese, lhasa apsos and cocker spaniels at greatest risk.

Most owners whose dogs have had a rupture report that it happened after a trauma, such as a jump or a fall; however, ruptures usually occur in cases where the dog already has the disease.

Diagnosing a Rupture

The veterinarian will determine whether the dog has degenerative disc disease based on the breed of the dog and whether it has previously shown signs of back or neck pain or difficulty in walking. He will conduct a physical examination to find out whether the problem originates from the spinal cord, and will begin treatment based on his assumptions. If the dog does not respond to treatment and the veterinarian believes surgery may be required, a myelogram is done. This is a type of X-ray that requires a dye to be injected around the spinal cord while the dog is anesthetized. It will indicate whether the spinal cord is under pressure.

Treatment

The veterinarian will base treatment on the severity of the situation. During stage one, the dog feels only mild pain, and this usually goes away in a couple of days. In stages two and three, it will experience a higher degree of pain and partial paralysis, and may stagger or display uncoordinated movements. The veterinarian will prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and pain relief, and you will have to limit the dog’s exercise. Once the condition reaches stages four and five, the dog will be paralyzed, but will still experience pain. A few dogs recover without surgery, but at this point, your veterinarian will likely recommend operating within the first 24 hours of paralysis setting in.

Success Rates

In stages one to three, up to 90 percent of dogs recover fully with surgery, especially if done within the first week, and up to 60 percent will recover without surgery. In stages four and five, the recovery percentage without surgery is much lower, and even with surgery, a dog in full paralysis has only a 20 percent chance of recovery. If your dog was paralyzed before surgery, it may take weeks to recover full mobility, and will require physical therapy and motivation to do so. Some dogs do not recover mobility and need to be fitted with wheelchairs or carried, and some remain incontinent after the illness.

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