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Dog just about to have an MRI.

What are the most common spinal injuries in dogs?

Two of the most common spinal injuries in dogs are fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) and acute non-progressive nucleus pulposus extrusion. Both conditions cause temporary paralysis and weakness, particularly in the hind legs. The disorders are mainly seen in large breed dogs but can occur in miniature schnauzers and shelties. Both disorders are treated through physical therapy.

Fibrocartilaginous embolism occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the spinal cord becomes blocked by a piece of cartilage that originates from the intervertebral disc. Similar to a stroke, this results in a lack of blood flow to the spinal cord, causing it to malfunction. 

During an acute non-progressive nucleus pulposus extrusion, a portion of healthy intervertebral disc suddenly collides with the spinal cord at a high velocity, causing bruising and sometimes bleeding within the spinal cord.

What are the symptoms of spinal conditions fibrocartilaginous embolism and nucleus pulposus extrusion in dogs?

Dogs with these spinal injuries often have been exercising, playing, or have had some mild trauma such as a fall. They may initially yelp and cry out in pain when the incident occurs but show no signs of pain afterward. The onset of signs is sudden, and many are not able to walk immediately after the incident. In some cases, only one hind leg may be affected, or one hind leg may appear worse than the other. 

How are spinal injuries diagnosed in dogs?

Since many spinal cord diseases and intervertebral disc disease may show similar signs, a thorough examination by a neurologist and advanced diagnostics such as an MRI and spinal tap are often needed to distinguish between conditions. Treatment for spinal cord disorders varies depending on the cause and the severity so it is important to determine the underlying cause of the neurologic symptoms.

How are spinal disorders fibrocartilaginous embolism and nucleus pulposus extrusion treated in dogs?

Physical rehabilitation is the primary treatment for both conditions, and it is proven to improve the chances of a full and timely recovery. Since the main cause of the neurologic dysfunction is due to lack of blood flow, surgery does not improve the condition. Additionally, no medications have been shown to improve or speed recovery.  Most dogs with a fibrocartilaginous embolism will show improvement within a few days of the incident and most regain the ability to walk within two weeks. Rarely, severely affected patients may not recover, but the vast majority do well given time.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of a spinal injury?

If your dog is experiencing what appears to be a spinal injury or a similar painful condition call your veterinary clinic or schedule an appointment with one of our small animal veterinarians at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital by calling 509-335-0711.


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.

Golden retriever being prepped for acupuncture therapy.

What is integrative veterinary medicine?

Integrative veterinary medicine is a comprehensive approach to animal health, guided by the best available evidence, that combines complementary therapies with conventional care. 

What therapies are used for pets in integrative medicine?

Hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and laser therapy are three of the more common therapeutic services offered for your pet. All three treatments have been shown to be beneficial in treating a variety of chronic conditions, including osteoarthritis.

What is hydrotherapy and how does it benefit my pet?

Hydrotherapy uses an underwater treadmill to ease pain, increase range of motion, and improve blood flow.

Being in water takes weight off joints and helps the patient move easier. This puts less stress on the joints of a pet that has suffered an injury or is recovering from an operation. For older, arthritic patients, the underwater treadmill can help ease those painful stiff joints and increase mobility.

Hydrotherapy can also be used for weight loss, conditioning, and mental stimulation. Most pets, even those scared of the water, can become comfortable on the underwater treadmill. Animals that are weak from a nerve problem, spinal cord injury, or degenerative condition can often gain or maintain strength using the underwater treadmill.

What is acupuncture and how can it benefit my pet?

Acupuncture can benefit a variety of conditions in pets, including functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, pain, and inflammation.

Acupuncture, a technique practiced in China for thousands of years, involves inserting needles at points where nerves and blood vessels come together to produce a healing response in humans and animals. Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated.

The technique has also proven beneficial for animals with arthritis, degenerative joint disease, cancer, metabolic disease, and chronic and neurologic conditions. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture is one way of aiding in the flow of Qi (chi). Thought of as vital energy or life force, Qi flows through the body along channels called meridians that run up and down the body.

What is laser therapy and how can it benefit my pet?

Laser therapy is a non-invasive procedure beneficial for osteoarthritic pets. Laser therapy can increase blood flow, limit pain, decrease inflammation, and stimulate and improve healing. Therapy lasers use light energy (photons) to cause beneficial changes within unhealthy cells through a process called photobiomodulation. Without damaging tissues, the laser sends photons into the tissues. This stimulates the cells and repairs damaged cells and tissues. The procedure may take anywhere from 1-10 minutes. Most conditions take four to eight sessions for the best effects, and chronic conditions may require periodic maintenance sessions.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of osteoarthritis?

If your dog is experiencing osteoarthritis or a similar painful condition call your veterinary clinic or schedule an appointment with one of the integrative medicine veterinarians at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital by calling 509-335-0711.


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.