Intervertebral Disc Disease

What is intervertebral disc disease?

Intervertebral discs sit between the vertebrae in the spine and function as shock-absorbers to dissipate the force placed on the spine. Intervertebral disc disease occurs when those disks degenerate, lose water content, and calcify, causing them to rupture or protrude. Discs that herniate are known as type I intervertebral disc disease. Discs that protrude are known as Type 2 intervertebral disc disease.

How common is intervertebral disc disease in dogs and cats?

Dachshunds and other dogs with short legs and longer bodies appear predisposed, as their discs degenerate more readily than most dogs. Young to middle-aged dogs are most affected. Middle-aged to older, large breed dogs can also develop disc disease, but type 2 is most common. Dogs less than 1 year of age rarely have the disease. Disc disease is rare in cats.

What are signs my pet has intervertebral disc disease?

Signs of intervertebral disc disease include back pain, weakness in or paralysis of the limbs. The more spinal cord damage, the more severe the clinical signs. If a dog can still feel its limbs, even if it can no longer move its legs, there is an 80-85% probability it will be able to walk again after surgery.

How is intervertebral disc disease in pets diagnosed?

Intervertebral disc disease is diagnosed based on physical and neurologic exam findings, spinal X-rays, and either a CT scan or MRI of the spine.

How is intervertebral disc disease treated in pets?

Surgery is usually recommended in cases in which animals can’t stand or walk. Mildly affected animals that can walk may be restricted from physical exercise and managed medically for 6 to 8 weeks. If medical management is not working, surgery is often pursued.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.