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Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) - Thoracolumbar Area in Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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T-L disc disease is the most common spinal disorder that occurs in dogs. It is particularly common in three- to seven-year-old chondrodystrophoid breeds. Your dog's breed, combined with the history of clinical signs and initial examination findings, will alert your veterinarian to the possibility of a spinal problem.

Other conditions that might cause similar clinical signs include:

  • Fracture or dislocation of the spine. This is nearly always associated with severe trauma such as falling from a high place or being hit by a car. The symptoms depend on the severity of the fracture and its location. Severe disruption of the cord results in total paralysis; however, some fractures can be repaired so that there is gradual return to normal.

  • Congenital abnormalities of the spine. Young dogs can develop hind leg neurological abnormalities due to congenital deformities of the spine. Such deformities are typically visible on radiographs (X-rays). The severity of the signs depends on the abnormality and its location.

  • Spinal infections. Infections within the disc space or of the spinal bones can produce back pain and weakness or paralysis. These infections occur more commonly in young, growing dogs and usually produce changes that can be seen on X-rays.

  • Tumors of the spinal bone or cord. Tumors that compress the spinal cord tend to occur in very young animals or old animals. These tumors may or may not be visible on a radiograph. Myelography or a CT scan may be needed to define the lesion, particularly if the tumor is within the spinal cord or canal and not arising from the vertebral bone.

  • Fibrocartilaginous emboli. Dogs can have a "stroke-like" disorder of the spinal cord called a fibrocartilaginous emboli or FCE. A small piece of disc material is thought to block the blood vessels supplying an area of the cord. This may result in cord damage and problems like weakness or paralysis in the back legs. This disorder is normally not progressive and is not painful. Additionally, one leg may be more severely affected than the other depending on which blood vessels are damaged.

  • Orthopedic conditions. Some orthopedic disorders of the back legs such as simultaneous rupture of the cruciate ligaments in both limbs can produce signs similar to a T-L spinal cord disorder because the animal may not be able to walk.

  • Toxicity. During the history and general physical examination your dog will likely be evaluated to ensure that no poison or other toxic substance has been ingested that could be causing a "drunken" hind leg gait.

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