Dogs are susceptible to the same back problems as people

A couple years ago, I bent over my sock drawer and “threw my back out.”

Actually, I ended up herniating a disc. It was so severe (I did such a bang-up job just bending over my drawer) that I was beyond steroid shots and physical therapy. I needed surgery (a laminectomy with microdiscectomy, for those of you who have traveled the same path) within a month.

Two years later, I am doing great, but the experience will be with me forever. What an ordeal.

It never dawned on me that dogs can get slipped or herniated discs, but they sure can.

My co-worker’s dog, Murphy, is experiencing the symptoms of this condition right now.

While surgery can be an option for some dogs, including Murphy, his vet said in his experience the outcome may not be promising for Murphy due to the location of the injured discs.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), sometimes referred to as a slipped or herniated disc, refers to a syndrome of pain and neurological problems that accompany degeneration of one or more intervertebral discs, according to, one of the most easy-to-read-and-understand sites on the web when researching IVDD.

They used common terminology that was easier to understand than some of the other medical sites.

These discs are pillow-like pads that act as shock absorbers between adjoining vertebrae — the bones that make up the backbone or spine.

Intervertebral discs can become displaced, deteriorate, collapse, bulge out (protrude), rupture or herniate in dogs as a result of gradual degeneration due to conformational abnormalities, obesity, genetics, repetitive trauma or other factors. This compresses the spinal cord and nerves at the damage site.

Dogs with IVDD have symptoms ranging from mild pain (lowered head, reluctance to move, stiffness, sensitivity to touch) to severe pain (arched back, lameness, dragging legs, inability to stand, crying when touched or moving, trembling, staggering, collapse) to partial or complete paralysis.

IVDD is one of the most common neurological disorders in companion animals and reportedly affects 2 percent of the domestic dog population, according to

Murphy, an 80-pound mixed breed, was rescued by my co-worker.

The rescue guessed his age to be 3 to 4 years old, but that’s about all they knew about his past. So, for him to have IVDD, could mean it came from a past trauma to simply being born with the condition.

My co-worker noticed something was not right with Murphy the moment she brought him home. He was more lethargic than most dogs and he seemed to whimper frequently.

She chalked it up to a new home/new environment and was giving him time to adjust.

Recently, he started avoiding the four steps off the porch when he went out to do his business and hesitated even squatting or lifting his leg. He also started dragging his back foot and standing with an uneven gait.

My co-worker was smart enough to videotape Murphy with her phone as he attempted to walk the steps and sent the video to her vet.

It was back for more testing and extensive exams. That’s when the vet took a closer look at his spine with x-rays and was more certain than ever that Murphy had IVDD, affecting several vertebrae from the bottom of his neck to the middle of his back.

He was given a laser therapy treatment, put on steroids, pain medications and muscle relaxers. We’re now waiting to see what relief these treatments and meds can hopefully give him.

Some breeds — such as the dachshund, Shih Tzu, Pekingese and beagle (dogs with shorter stubby legs) — are more prone to IVDD, but any breed is susceptible. IVDD can affect any part of the canine spine.

Many years ago, good friends of mine had a wild, little dachshund who jumped off a tree stump and herniated discs in her back. At the time, I had never heard of IVDD or knew it could affect dogs.

Murphy will have to go on brief walks now using a harness rather than a collar that can more easily agitate his neck and back by the pulling action of the leash.

He won’t be allowed to jump off of objects or run through the yard. He will soon have a ramp in place of those four steps into the house and car.

For now, my co-worker will keep Murphy as calm as possible, use the medications prescribed by the doctor and go from there.

Hopefully, her diligence in pursuing Murphy’s odd behavior with the vet means they caught the condition in time to at least give him some relief from his pain. We’ll keep you posted on Murphy.

Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode can be contacted at ahanna or by mail: Paws and Reflect, c/o Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode, Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.