Intervertebral discs are the cushions between the vertebra (the bones between the spinal column). Their anatomy is often compared to that of a jelly doughnut with a gelatinous center surrounded by an outer shell. Intervertebral discs function to (1) hold the spinal column together, (2) allow it to bend and (3) cushion the bones to prevent them from banging into each other. Over time, the center (the nucleus pulposus) will lose its gelatinous consistency, causing the intervertebral disc to become less elastic. This loss of elasticity, also known as Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), predisposes them to herniation/rupture.

The dog spine is very capable of side bends and twists, but not as tolerant of compression. The activity that causes the most trauma to the spine is jumping down from an elevated height. For instance, think of Slinky Dog from Disney’s “Toy Story.” If he jumped off the sofa, his front legs would hit the ground first, causing the rest of his body to accordion in. The pressure can force a disc to “pop” or herniate.

Post-op dachshund

Post-op dachshund

The sensitive spinal cord resides in a canal directly above the discs. Because of the close proximity, a herniation may cause catastrophic damage in the form of two injuries. The first type of injury is the initial concussion or bruise on spinal cord itself. The second type of injury is compression where the herniated disc material pushed on the spinal cord depriving it of blood flow.

Breeds Who Are More Prone To IVDD

Dachshunds fall into a group of breeds that are known as “chondrodystrophic” breeds. This translates to “faulty cartilage.” Essentially, chondrodystrophic breeds have the equivalent condition that causes human dwarfism. Their cute little legs and longer backs come at a consequence: they are more prone to IVDD. Dachshunds aren’t the only breed, however. Beagles, basset hounds, Shih Tzus, French bulldogs and Lhasa Apsos are also more susceptible.

In normal humans and dogs, the intervertebral disc center doesn’t become firm and clay-like until their senior years. Unfortunately for chondrodystrophic breeds, the disc degeneration occurs at the age of three. Again, think back to Slinky Dog.

Clinical Signs

Spinal cord injury follows a specific set of symptoms based on the severity of the injury. Minimal injuries cause back and/or neck pain, which can be quite debilitating. More severe injuries lead to uncoordinated walking and weakness. This ultimately leads to the inability to stand, move limbs and eventually to feel the feet, even when toes are pinched forcefully.

Treatment of IVDD

We often treat pain and initial incoordination conservatively. Strict cage confinement and a combination of anti-inflammatories and pain medications often effectively help to remedy pain while the body tries to heal itself.

However, if the conservative therapy does not work and symptoms either do not improve or worsen, IVDD becomes an emergency. If the dog has trouble walking, surgical intervention should be considered immediately to restore blood flow to the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a sensitive structure that if deprived of blood flow will eventually, irreparably, die.

That being said, time is certainly of the essence. At CARE, our neurosurgical team is available 24/7/365. We will diagnose signs, discern the best type of therapy required and assess urgency.

If your pet requires emergency treatment, call ahead and let our staff know to expect you. Upon your visit, our highly-trained emergency vets will tend to your pet, complete with a neurologic examination to determine the best course of action. If warranted, the neurosurgical team will be called in for a more thorough evaluation to determine the best treatment and maximize the patient’s prognosis.

CARE Neurosurgical Veterinarians

Our neurosurgical department is comprised of two internationally acclaimed board-certified veterinarians committed to treating your pet as if he or she were their own.

Drs. Amy Fauber and Fred Wininger met as founding members of the Veterinary Neurosurgical Society, a group dedicated to improving the quality of care for dogs and cats with brain and spinal disorders. There they developed a friendship based on a passion for their veterinary careers and shared love of animals. At the time both were professors in academic universities, teaching veterinary students and accelerating the field through clinical research.

In the CARE neurosurgical team you will see a level of commitment and expertise above that of standard specialty medicine. Our doctors practice state-of-the-art, cutting edge care with an emphasis on continued improvement for optimal outcomes.

Dr. Amy Fauber

Double boarded in both surgery (ACVS) and neurology (ACVIM), Dr. Fauber is amongst an elite group of veterinarians. She has written several peer reviewed articles and is the current president of the Veterinary Neurosurgical Society. Because of her extensive training in both specialties, she is regarded as an expert in the field with an aptitude for spinal stabilizations. Though a successful academician and highly awarded teacher, the opportunity to serve a region in need with local ownership and community commitment was too great. Eventually, she left the world of academia to become a founding owner of CARE.

Dr. Fred Wininger

Dr. Wininger is a board-certified neurosurgeon (ACVIM) and imaging specialist. He is recognized internationally for combining MRI technology to improve surgical outcomes. He helped develop a neuronavigation system, which made once-impossible brain surgeries possible, facilitating gene therapy of genetic diseases in animal and humans. Dr. Wininger is the founder of 3D Veterinary Printing LLC, creating both pre-designed and animal specific models of skulls, spines and long bones. He has a particular interest in emergent neurosurgery of the neck and back. Following an academic career, he served the St. Louis metropolitan area as their sole neurosurgeon for 6 years. Subsequently, Dr. Wininger joined CARE to realize his joint vision with Dr. Fauber: an elite neurosurgical practice to lead the nation in effective and compassionate care.

How CARE Can Help

As mentioned before, if your dog is unable to walk, please call us at 704-457-2300 to seek emergency care. If your pet seems to have milder symptoms, consult your family veterinarian for an initial evaluation and ask for a referral to CARE’s neurology/neurosurgical team.

Want to receive monthly notifications when we post on our blog? Subscribe here.