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What is IVDD in Dogs? Answers About Surgery, Cost & Recovery

IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) is one of the most commonly seen neurologic disorders in dogs, leaving terror and heartbreak for afflicted dogs and their owners in its wake; generally, treatment is required early to combat IVDD, so in today's article our Richmond vets discuss IVDD surgery and its costs.

What is IVDD in dogs?

IVDD, or Intervertebral Disc Disease, is a spinal disorder that follows from the herniating of an intervertebral disc inside an afflicted dog. A gelatinous substance that is surrounded by a thick outer layer can be found between the bones and spine in dogs. This substance constitutes the intervertebral disc, and it serves as a shock absorber for the spine. When the intervertebral disc herniates, it can result in concussion or compression of the spinal cord, causing lasting and debilitating damage. There are two types of IVDD, known as Hansen Type I and Hansen Type II.

Hansen Type I is more commonly seen in chondrodystrophic breeds (dachshunds, corgis, beagles, etc.) and involves an acute rupture of the disc. While wear and tear calcifies and damages the disk over time, the rupture generally occurs suddenly as the result of a forceful impact (jumping, landing, etc.). A ruptured disk causes compression of the spinal cord and can result in pain, difficulty walking, paralysis, and/or the inability to urinate.

Hansen Type II is more commonly seen in large breed dogs. Examples of dog breeds more vulnerable to Hansen Type II IVDD disorder are Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, or Dobermans. With Type II, the discs become hardened over a longer period of time, eventually bulging or rupturing to cause spinal cord compression. This type is slow onset, there likely won't be any particular moment or action that can be identified as having caused the damage.

While a disc can bulge or herniate anywhere along the spinal column, 65% of accounted disc ruptures occur in the thoracolumbar (midback) area, while 18% occur in the cervical (neck) region.

What are the signs and symptoms of IVDD?

Common symptoms of IVDD include, but are not limited to:
  • Pain in the neck or back region
  • Unwillingness or inability to walk
  • Difficulty urinating and/or defecating
  • Shaking or trembling (usually in response to pain)
  • Knuckling on paws

How is IVDD diagnosed?  What dog breeds are at risk?

If your veterinarian suspects IVDD may be ailing your dog, they will usually begin with a physical exam to check your pet’s orthopedic and neurologic condition. Once IVDD is confirmed, and its severity determined, your pet will either begin conservative treatment to try and prevent further damage without surgery, or they will be referred for x-ray imaging in preparation for surgical intervention

Owners should be aware that these breeds of dog are predisposed to IVDD:

  • Dachshund (45-70% of IVDD cases)
  • Shih Tzu
  • Beagle
  • French bulldog
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Corgi
  • Basset hound
  • Poodle
  • Chihuahua
  • Cocker spaniel
  • Labrador retriever
  • German shepherd
  • Doberman pinscher

Can a dog recover from IVDD without surgery?

In its early stages, the symptoms of IVDD disorder are mild.  If the IVDD is caught early enough in your dog, your veterinarian may recommend non-invasive treatments like pain medication and strict exercise confinement instead of surgery. Dog owners should be aware however that, while this is sometimes sufficient, many of these patients may require surgery further down the road should their condition continue to deteriorate.

Three critical components to non-invasive treatment for IVDD are strict crate rest, sedatives to promote relaxation, and pain medication. 

Crate rest is mandatory for the IVDD to heal, if your dog's lifestyle does not include crate rest, or if they are otherwise very active and rarely slow down, your vet may prescribe medications to relax the dog and promote a more laid back lifestyle.  We understand the trepidation some dog owners may have with medicating their pets in this way, but it is completely necessary in some cases to prevent energetic dogs from hurting themselves.  With IVDD, a dog who does not get enough crate rest is at a hugely elevated risk of doing further damage that requires emergency surgery or, in some cases, incurable paralysis.

Pain medications will be prescribed if your dog is in discomfort.  having a slipped disk hurts--it hurts a lot.  If surgery is not the best path forward to correct the problem, pain medication will likely be required to keep the pain manageable while the injury heals.

What is IVDD surgery's success rate? 

IVDD is graded on a 1-5 scale based on the severity of symptoms.  Anywhere from 1-4 on the scale, and a patient who receives surgery should be expected to make a full recovery 90% of the time.  This number plummets to 50% or 60% when operating on grade 5 cases of IVDD in dogs, and even that number presumes surgery occurred within 24 hours of grade 5 symptoms beginning, the number drops further when surgery is performed more than 24 hours after grade 5 symptoms start.  IVDD gets worse over time, so while noninvasive options are preferred for dogs with a positive prognosis, it is also important not to wait too long before scheduling surgery if it is the right option for your pet.  Your veterinarian will make a recommendation for surgery based on each individual patient's situation

Patients who undergo surgery will have the bone overlying the spinal cord, and the disc material compressing the spinal cord, removed. This will be followed by several days of hospitalization, pain management, physical therapy, and possible bladder management. Owners will need to continue physical therapy and exercise restrictions for a specified amount of time after the pet is discharged from the hospital.

How much does IVDD surgery cost?

IVDD surgery itself can cost anywhere from $1500 to $4000, and that does not include costs for x-rays and other imaging techniques that will be required to properly prepare for the surgery.  All-inclusive, the cost of surgical treatment for IVDD can land anywhere within a range of $3000-$8000 dollars.  If you own a dog breed that is particularly susceptible to IVDD, it may be a good idea to keep a savings fund or purchase pet care insurance in case the day comes where they need surgery.  IVDD is considered a very treatable disease, and so it is best to make sure you're prepared for the financial burden it can present in order to keep your canine companion living a long and happy life.

What is the prognosis for dogs with IVDD?

For most dogs, the prognosis is very good!  Except for in the most severe cases, most dogs who receive treatment for IVDD will make a full recovery.  IVDD is one of the many reasons It is important to make annual regular checkups with your vet, as catching the condition early will reduce the costs and risks of surgery--or may even prevent the need for surgery all together

With IVDD, the sooner treatment begins the better. If your dog is currently exhibiting any of the above-mentioned IVDD symptoms, or if you want advice for preventative measures you can take to protect at-risk breeds from developing IVDD, contact our vets at Broad Street Veterinary Hospital to make an appointment today.

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(804) 353-4491