Spondylosis Deformans (Arthritis in the Back) in Dogs

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Overview of Canine Spondylosis Deformans

Spondylosis deformans, commonly referred to as simply spondylosis, is a disease that is characterized by the formation of bony spurs (osteophytes) along the margins of the vertebrae in dogs. It may affect one area or multiple areas of the spine. The bony spurs can bridge from one vertebrae to another in some pets and occur in one or multiple intervertebral disk spaces. 

Spondylosis is chronic a condition that occurs most commonly in females than males. Predisposed are large breed middle-aged to older dogs like German shepherds, Boxers, Cocker spaniels and Airedale terriers. Spondylosis is more common in middle-aged to older dogs but any pet can be affected.

Spondylosis is more common in the parts of the spine with the most motility which is the thoracic, lumbar and lumbosacral spinal segments. This is the area over the ribs down to the tail. 

What to Watch For with Spondylosis

Most pets are not symptomatic with this disease; however the following can be noted:

  • Lameness
  • Back pain
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Diagnosis of Spondylosis in Dogs

    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize spondylosis deformans and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination.
  • A thorough orthopedic examination. Spondylosis deformans is usually no symptomatic in most patients, however severe formation of the bony spurs can compress the spinal canal or spinal nerves causing neurologic deficits.
  • Radiographs (X-rays) of the spine. These will show evidence of the bony spur formation. Changes in dogs are most common in the caudal thoracic, lumbar and lumbosacral spinal segments.

    Other tests may be completed to determine other conditions that may cause pain and lameness.

  • Myelogram. If compression of the spinal cord is suspected, a myelogram is indicated.
  • Force plate analysis. A computer measures the amount of weight placed on a flat surface and can be used to evaluate subtle lameness.
  • Joint fluid analysis. This test can help differentiate between degenerative joint disease and other causes of more inflammatory joint disease, such as canine rheumatoid and infectious (bacterial, fungal etc.) arthritis.
  • Treatment of Spondylosis in Dogs

    Treatment for spondylosis deformans is often unnecessary as the pain can be minimal and the disease rarely causes compression of the spinal cord. Supportive care may include one or more of the following:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may be used in pets that are painful. All drugs have potential side effects; however, the newer NSAIDs seem to have less side effects than aspirin in animals.
  • Surgical treatment to remove the spurs if spinal cord compression is evident based on the myelogram.

    Home Care and Prevention of Spondylosis

    After your dog’s surgery, follow your veterinarian’s specific instructions concerning medications, care and recheck examinations. In most pets with spondylosis deformans, treatment is not indicated. 

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