Lumbo-Sacral Disease in Dogs

Overview of Canine Lumbo-Sacral Disease

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 in dogs. 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

Signs of Lumbo-Sacral Disease in Dogs may include:

Diagnosis of Lumbo-Sacral Disease in Dogs

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:

Treatment of Lumbo-Sacral Disease in Dogs

Treatment for lumbo-sacral disease in dogs can be either medical or surgical and depends on the severity of the disease.

Medical management may be most helpful where the compression occurs secondary to infection and may include:

Surgical treatment may be recommended after spinal X-rays, a myelogram, epidurogram, CT or MRI. A fracture or dislocation usually needs to be stabilized with surgery. Other surgical treatments may include:

Home Care and Prevention

Regardless of whether your dog has medical or surgical management of the problem, an initial period of rest and restriction is usually important. Your dog may require assistance to get up, to go outside, or even to urinate. Your veterinarian will usually demonstrate supportive care and physiotherapy techniques when necessary. Follow your veterinarians recommendations carefully to avoid exacerbating the condition.

Excessive weight gain may predispose some dogs to increased stress upon their lower spine. Therefore, do not allow your dog to become overweight.

Most spinal fractures and spinal dislocations are caused when dogs are hit by cars. Common sense and judicious use of a leash should help prevent this occurrence.

The remaining causes of lumbo-sacral disease, for the most part, cannot be prevented. Certain activities such as jumping and twisting to catch a flying disk might tend to jar or twist the lower spine. However, there are no specific long-term recommendations to prevent lumbo-sacral nerve root compression.

It is important that you recognize hind limb weakness or back pain early. Once the disease has progressed to the point where urinary function is affected (urinary incontinence or urine dribbling) the prognosis for recovery is worse than if it is caught and treated earlier, before these signs develop. Early evaluation by your veterinarian for suspected lower back pain, clumsiness, reluctance to go up or down stairs or similar limitations is strongly recommended.

In-depth Information on Lumbo-Sacral Disease in Dogs

There are other causes of back pain and hind limb weakness that must be differentiated from lumbo-sacral disease. Thus, if your dog has back pain, your veterinarian will try to localize the pain to a specific segment of the spinal cord.

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests are necessary to recognize lumbo-sacral disease and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include the following:

In-depth Information on Treatment

Treatment for lumbo-sacral disease in dogs may include medical management or surgery. The severity of the disease helps determine the best course of treatment.

Medical management is commonly used when bone infection or infection of the disc space is the cause of the lumbo-sacral disease. This will include strict confinement of your dog and administration of anti-inflammatory medications and specific antibiotics.

In milder cases of lumbo-sacral disease due to nerve root compression, or where cost of surgery is prohibitive, strict rest and anti-inflammatory medication may be tried for four to six weeks.

Surgical management is indicated for the repair of most lumbo-sacral fractures and many other causes of nerve root compression. Surgical treatments may include:

Follow-up and Home Care for Dogs with Lumbo-Sacral Disease

All dogs, whether they have surgery or not, require strict confinement and rest. Because many affected dogs are large, it may be easier to section-off a portion of a room, such as the kitchen, rather than using a carrier or cage.

Assistance may be required to get your dog up and walking. A towel slung underneath your dog’s abdomen can help.

Many dogs, even those with dramatic back pain and horrible spinal fractures, can make a remarkably fast recovery. Nerve root pinching can be extremely uncomfortable and many dogs feel much better after surgical removal of the compression. It is important that these dogs do not exercise too soon.

Do not allow your dog to jump on or off furniture or go up or down stairs. When your dog needs to go to the bathroom, take him outside on a leash so that he cannot run around.

Medication may be necessary to assist your dog with normal urination; particularly to help prevent accidents in the house. It is important to provide plenty of soft padded bedding to avoid the development of pressure sores.

After surgery, the incision should be checked daily for swelling, redness or discharge. Your veterinarian should remove the stitches or staples in two weeks.