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Lumbo-Sacral Disease

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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Lumbo-sacral disease is a term used to describe compression of the nerve roots and spinal cord as they pass through the lumbo-sacral portion of the lower spine, which is the lower back near the hips. It may also be referred to as "cauda equina" syndrome by your veterinarian.

There are a variety of causes of lumbo-sacral disease. It can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (developed after birth); thus, dogs may show clinical signs at any age. Lumbo-sacral disease is most common in large breed dogs, particularly German shepherds, and males and females are equally affected.

The disease is characterized by marked back pain, which can become excruciating and severely debilitating, and hind leg weakness. Because the nerves that supply the bladder, rectum and anus pass through this region, urinary and fecal incontinence can result.

What to Watch For

  • Pain when lying down and getting up
  • Reluctance to move
  • Worn nails
  • Inappropriate urination


    Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize lumbo-sacral disease and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Diagnostic tests may include the following:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination. Affected dogs are typically painful on palpation or manipulation of the lower spine. If your dog has a history of trauma, and/or a fracture or dislocation of this region is suspected, then minimal and careful manipulation of this region will be done prior to stabilization of your dog for shock and confirmation of the injury with radiographs (X-rays).

  • A neurological examination

  • X-rays can be helpful to define some congenital abnormalities of the spine, some bony tumors and bone and disk related infections.

  • Further diagnostic tests may include an electromyogram (EMG), myelography and epidurography. A CT scan or MRI may also be helpful.

  • Routine blood tests

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