What Are Intervertebral Discs?
The spinal cord allows your dog to move and communicates from the brain to the rest of the body. This is an extremely sensitive organ. Nerve cells do not regenerate in the spinal cord. Rather they are replaced by scar tissue or fibrous material, which can result in irreversible damage. A bony canal inside of your dog spine protects the delicate spinal cord. The only places that don't have bones are where the vertebrae join together. At these junctions, rubbery cushions called intervertebral discs allow your dog's spine to move sideways and up and down while protecting the bones of the spinal column from rubbing.
What is Intervertebral Disc Disease, or IVDD?
There are two kinds of in-vertebral disc disease.
In type 1 a rupture in the middle part of the disc tears into the outer part of the disc, causing the outer part of the desk to rupture or hernia. This is known as a slipped disc. The rupture often occurs after a small traumatic event, especially short falls or jumps.
In type 2 there is abnormal degeneration of the middle part of the disc. The disc loses its water content and becomes firm, or calcified. Calcified disc material is evident on x-rays in many dogs.
Which Dogs Get IVDD?
IVDDis much more prevalent in some breeds than others, but any type of dog may be affected. Chondrodystrophic dogs, or dogs that have genetic differences resulting in skeletal disorders, have much higher risk. This is because the disc tends to degenerate earlier in these dogs. Breeds prone to IVDD include the Corgi, dachshund, French Bulldog, beagle, miniature poodle, and Basset Hound.
Can IVDD Be Prevented?
Experts agree that reducing stress and trauma both due to small repetitive movements and large jumps can delay or prevent the symptoms of IVDD from developing. Even after IVDD develops and your dog has an episode, following the following recommendations may make it less likely that the symptoms will recur. There is debate as to whether it is better to give your dog rest and restrict exercise or have surgery performed after an incident of IVDD. Here are a few things you can do to prevent IVDD in your dog or make them less likely to have a recurrent injury, whether your dog is not yet symptomatic, has had an episode, or is recovering from surgery.
Harness instead of leash
Always use a harness instead of a leash so that your dog will not pull on their neck, which can cause an abrupt injury to the discs. This is especially important if your dog tends to lunge at the end of the leash. Train your dog not to lunge, even on the harness, and never use a neck lead.
Avoid high octane sports
As much as your dog loves an intense game of fetch or frisbee, these may not be the best activities for dogs prone to IVDD. The sudden jumps and catches required are likely to antagonize the disease. Instead, encourage your dog to do low impact sports like swimming or obedience.
Use ramps in your home
Veterinarians do not want dogs prone to IVDD to jump off your couch or bed. Training your dog to use a ramp is the best way to keep them from suffering small shocks throughout their life as they jump off the sofa. Ramps will also save you from the frustration of constantly picking up and putting down your dog so that they will not jump.
IVDD Prevention Training
It is best to place ramps in your home when your dog is still a puppy, long before symptoms of IVDD develop. Put ramps wherever your dog may otherwise want to jump, including down short flights of stairs, onto the sofa, onto the bed, and onto favorite perches like wide window sills. Teach your puppy to ALWAYS use the ramp, both going up and down. It is wise to keep a harness with a leash on your puppy at the beginning so that you can catch them if they try to jump. Don't leave your puppy unsupervised on any elevated surface until they are at least six months to a year old. You need to wait for your puppy to develop the self-control to make good decisions and use the ramp rather than taking a flying leap.
Choosing a ramp
The best ramps will be adjustable so that your dog will feel very comfortable with the incline. A ramp that is too steep may encourage dogs to jump off as they get to the bottom. The ramp you decided on should also look nice in your home. The truth is that you'll be tempted to put it away when visitors come over if it's not attractive, which is likely to be just the time that your dog decides to take a leap and hurt themselves. Since you are likely to need more than one ramp for your bed, sofa, and anywhere else your puppy may want to get onto, choose a ramp that is affordable enough that you can invest in more than one.
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