Just like us, our dog’s spinal column is composed by several vertebrae, and just like us, dogs may suffer from several problems such as misalignment, pinched nerves and herniated discs. Not surprisingly, there are also chiropractors for dogs to help get relief from achy neck and back problems! Getting more acquainted with a dog’s spine is not only interesting, but also educational so we can understand what may be going on when dogs develop neck and back pain. So let’s let our dog’s spinal column do the speaking so we can get to know “him” better.
Introducing the Dog’s Spinal Column
Hello, it’s your dog’s spinal column talking! I am also known as vertebral column or simply backbone, and as mentioned, I am structured in a quite similar fashion to your own spinal column.
I am a tubular structure, running from the base of your dog’s skull to the end of his tail, but I am not at all rigid, I am actually quite flexible courtesy of several irregular bones known as vertebrae.
For ease of explanation, I am divided into five regions: the cervical (composed of 7 neck vertebrae ), thoracic (composed of 13 chest vertebrae), lumbar (composed of 7 abdominal vertebrae), sacral (composed of 3 pelvic vertebrae) and coccygeal (composed of 6 to 23 highly mobile tail vertebrae).
In between my vertebrae are several intervertebral disks that provide cushioning and act as shock absorbers so your dog’s vertebrae aren’t rubbing against each other. Other than making your dog’s back flexible, the vertebrae also protect your dog’s spinal cord, a bundle of nerves responsible for relaying information between your dog’s brain and his body.
When all goes well, I am well aligned and allow your dog to make fluid and smooth movements. Your dog is a happy camper with no signs of problems. However, things can sometimes go wrong, either because of aging, trauma or hereditary conditions.
To get an idea, imagine your dog’s intervertebral discs as jelly donuts, with the dough being the fibrous covering and the inside being the gelatinous nucleus, suggests veterinarian Dr. Fiona.
As the dog ages, the jelly substance becomes chalky and hard. All it takes is a bit of force for the disc to herniate, extruding its chalky contents, in what’s known as a herniated disc. A herniated disc is painful as it compresses the soft tissues and nerves (hence the term dog “pinched nerve”) of the dog’s spinal cord.
The condition where the discs of a dog’s neck, middle back, or lower back degenerate, is generally referred to as “intervertebral disk disease” 0r “IVDD.” Some dog breeds with long backs and short legs such as dachshunds, basset hounds, beagles and Corgis are particularly predisposed to back problems due to their “chondrodystrophic“conformation which causes their vertebrae to degenerate prematurely.
When my discs herniate, I cause symptoms in dogs which are often confused with other conditions. Affected dogs will be reluctant to move, and when they move, they’ll assume unusual postures and their movements are often not well-coordinated.
Pinched nerves in the dog’s neck cause lots of pain and affected dogs may vocalize as they get up or turn their head. When the nerves of the dog’s back are affected, dogs may be unable to walk on their hind legs and may even lose control of their bladder and bowels.
Fortunately, when treatment is sought in a timely manner, there are chances that I may recover. Surgery can help remove the disc material that has herniated and is compressing me. If the vet thinks, it’s worth a shot, he may skip the surgery and try to handle things conservatively by allowing the dog to rest and recover. This means strict confinement and cage rest for several weeks so to give my discs time to heal.
To help the dog cope with the pain and reduce inflammation, pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) are often prescribed. More and more veterinarians are offering chiropractic care and acupuncture for dogs suffering from the chronic effects of pinched nerves in their neck and spine.
As seen, I am a very important structure! To sum it all up, I support your dog’s body and skull, I allow flexible movements of your dog’s head, neck, back and tail. I protect your dog’s spinal cord and all those internal organs enclosed within your dog’s rib cage. I offer a place where your dog’s muscles, ligaments and tendons may attach and my vertebral discs act like shock absorbers.
With all these important functions, it’s important that you take good care of me! Here are a couple of ways you can help me out, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
Four Ways to Help Prevent IVDD in dogs:
- Feed your dog a balanced diet.
- Keep your dog lean so to reduce stress on the neck and backbone.
- Invest in a harness rather than a leash to put less strain on the dog’s neck.
- Prevent jumping by keeping steps next to the bed or couch.
So do your best to take good care of me and report to your vet at once should you notice any signs of neck or back trouble in your dog. Respectfully yours,
Your Dog’s Spinal Column
- UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, Disc Disease, retrieved from the web on March 7th, 2016.
- Pet Education, Intervertebral Disc (Ruptured Disc) Disease in Dogs, retrieved from the web on March 7th, 2016
- Veterinary Practice News, Non-Surgical Options For IVDD? Keeping Hope, And Dogs, Alive, retrieved from the web on March 7th, 2016,
- College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs, retrieved from the web on March 7th, 2016
- Vertebral column of a goat. By Ruth Lawson, CC BY 3.0
- Stages of spinal disc herniation, public domain
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