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10 Common Dog Spine Problems

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dogs can experience various spine problems, including trauma, osteoarthritis, degenerative myelopathy, IVDD, lumbosacral stenosis, spondylosis deformans, and congenital malformations.
  • Symptoms of spinal pain in dogs can include lack of appetite, weakness in hind legs, hunched posture, pain when going to the toilet, yelping or crying when touched, paralysis, and neurological signs.
  • Trauma/injury, degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease, lumbosacral stenosis, spondylosis deformans, congenital vertebral malformations, osteoarthritis, meningomyelitis, discospondylitis, and cervical spondylomyelopathy are some of the common spinal problems in dogs.
  • Treatment for spinal problems varies depending on the specific condition and can range from cage rest and medication to surgery.
  • It's important to seek veterinary assistance if your dog shows signs of spinal problems and to manage their weight, exercise, and environment to prevent further damage.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 1 June 2022
Last updated on
Monday 10 July 2023
common dog spine problems
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Just like people, dogs are prone to back problems, too. Spinal issues in dogs can result from something as simple as injury to the back to a birth defect of the vertebrae. So, it’s important to cover 10 common dog spine problems so that you can spot the signs early.

Some of the most common spine problems in dogs include trauma, osteoarthritis, degenerative myelopathy, IVDD, lumbosacral stenosis, spondylosis deformans, and congenital malformations.

However, these are not all of the possibilities. It’s essential to get to your vet as soon as possible if your pooch shows signs of spinal problems.


The signs of spinal pain in dogs can be quite vague and non-specific. Your dog may show a lack of interest in food or may refuse to exercise. In more severe cases, symptoms can be more obvious. Your dog may be unable to raise their head, have a hunched posture, or show weakness in their hind legs. They may also experience pain when going to the toilet and could yelp or cry when you touch their back.

In the most severe cases, your dog may lose the ability to walk, become paralyzed in all four legs, or have difficulty controlling their bladder and bowels. In addition to these symptoms, spinal problems can also cause neurological signs such as head tilting, blindness, and seizures. Because spinal conditions can worsen quickly, it is essential to contact your vet right away if you observe any of these symptoms in your dog

symptoms of dog spine prioblems
Some of the most common spine problems in dogs include trauma, osteoarthritis, etc.

Common Spinal Problems In Dogs:

If your dog starts showing signs of spinal pain, it’s important to get to the bottom of why they’re struggling.

Let’s cover just a few of the many possibilities so that you’re best equipped to speak to your vet!


One of the most common causes of spinal issues in dogs is spinal trauma. Trauma can come from a fall, motor vehicle accident, or a blow to the back. Even everyday activities like jumping for tennis balls could result in spinal trauma. Spinal trauma can cause issues with incontinence, severe back pain, and an uncoordinated gait. Your dog might also shiver, yelp when picked up, drag their hind legs, or limp on one or more limbs. In milder cases, your vet might recommend cage rest and anti-inflammatory medicines for your pooch. For more severe cases of spinal trauma, however, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged disc material.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a disease affecting the spinal cord in dogs. It causes slow but progressive hind limb weakness and paralysis. These symptoms are caused by the degeneration of white matter in the spinal cord. The early clinical signs of DM in dogs include swaying in the hindquarters, falling over easily, difficulty standing up, and walking on the knuckles. As the condition progresses, these symptoms worsen, eventually leading to paralysis of the dog’s hind end. DM is most common in German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Collies, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Kerry Blue Terriers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Standard Poodles, among several others.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common spinal disease in dogs. With IVDD, the spine of a dog has less shock-absorbing capacity. This can lead to disc herniation and spinal cord compression. This disease is age-related and degenerative, meaning that it gets worse with age. However, certain at-risk breeds like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds may suffer from IVDD when they are young adults. There are three types of IVDD, namely Hansen type I, Hansen type II, and Hansen type III.

  • Hansen type I disc disease is most common in small breed dogs. The signs of this disease tend to come on suddenly. Clinical signs range from pain to paralysis.
  • Hansen type II disc disease is most common in medium to large dog breeds. It may come on suddenly or progressively with symptoms like reluctance to exercise, stiffness, and a hunched back.
  • Hansen type III disc disease commonly occurs after heavy exercise or trauma. Dogs with this type present with poor control of the hind end, difficulty walking, or complete paralysis.

Lumbosacral Stenosis

Lumbosacral stenosis is a spinal condition in dogs that resembles a “slipped disc” or “sciatica” in humans. For dogs with lumbosacral stenosis, the last disc in the lower back may become dehydrated, leading to it bulging and compressing regional nerves. Larger dog breeds like German Shepherds and Border Collies are more commonly affected by lumbosacral stenosis than smaller breeds. As for the symptoms, the most common symptom s back pain. Typically, dogs with the condition are reluctant to climb and jump. They may also have difficulty standing up, become incontinent, and have reduced tail movement.

If your dog has this condition your vet will construct a treatment plan for them. It will largely involve cage rest or reduced activity. Your vet will prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain relief medicines for your pup. Some dogs with this problem do well on this treatment plan, but others may require surgical intervention. During surgery, a vet will relieve the pressure being put on the nerves in the spinal cord.

Spondylosis Deformans

Spondylosis Deformans is a spinal condition characterized by bone spurs along the edges of the spine. While one dog might develop just one bony spur, another will develop multiple bone spurs in several places along the spine. The most common places for these lesions to develop are at the junction between the ribcage and the abdomen, in the lower back, and around the hips and hind legs. This is a chronic condition that can be associated with age, but it may also develop as a secondary condition related to another degenerative spine disease. In most dogs, the condition develops at around 10 years of age. Fortunately, most dogs with Spondylosis Deformans do not have any worrying symptoms. Occasionally, though, dogs with the condition might become stiffer and lose their flexibility. If a spur grows near a nerve root, it may cause pain and lameness.

Congenital Vertebral Malformations

A congenital vertebral malformation is a spine issue that is present from birth. Often, the exact cause of these malformations is unknown, though there is likely some genetic link as certain types of malformation are more common in specific dog breeds. There are four main types of congenital vertebral malformation; block vertebrae, butterfly vertebrae, hemivertebrae, and spina bifida. With block vertebrae, your dog’s spine develops with a fusion in two neighboring vertebrae. A butterfly vertebra is a vertebra with a cleft. Next, a hemivertebrae is a vertebra that forms in a wedge shape. The last malformation is spina bifida, which is perhaps one of the most well-known deformities. This deformity develops with the absence of vertebral arches, or the presence of a cleft in a vertebral arch.

The treatment for a spinal birth defect largely depends on the type of defect. For example, surgery may be useful if your dog’s spinal canal is narrow. It may be possible to relieve compression on the spinal cord this way. In many cases, dogs with spinal defects at birth show no symptoms of disease, such as those with block vertebrae.


Osteoarthritis is a very common form of arthritis in dogs, affecting 20% of the canine population. It is a chronic condition characterized by loss of joint cartilage, limb dysfunction, and pain. Many cases of OA in dogs occur secondarily to other diseases like hip dysplasia, luxating patella, and cranial cruciate ligament disease. The most common signs of spinal arthritis include struggling to stand up, difficulty moving up and down the stairs, and pain when the back is touched. To manage osteoarthritis in dogs, your vet might prescribe NSAIDs and physiotherapy. While osteoarthritis is not fatal, it’s important to manage your pup’s quality of life as the disease progresses.


Meningoencephalitis is the inflammation of the brain and meninges. The meninges envelop the central nervous system of the dog, so inflammation can cause neck pain and neurological deficits. This potentially devastating condition can be caused by viral, protozoal, fungal, or bacterial infections. It’s most common in small-breed dogs, suggesting a genetic basis for the condition.

Clinical signs of the condition include seizures, muscle tremors, head tilt, blindness, and dizziness. As well as this, some dogs will show abnormal behaviors like compulsively walking in circles. These signs may come on suddenly or progress over a few weeks. Because meningomyelitis typically involves an autoimmune condition, dogs with this disease typically receive immunosuppressant drugs. Additionally, your vet might prescribe antibiotics.

dog with spine problems
Clinical signs of Meningoencephalitis include seizures, muscle tremors, head tilt, blindness, and dizziness.


Discospondylitis is a bacterial or fungal infection of the intervertebral disks. It can occur at one location, or it may occur at multiple sites. The condition can result from direct contamination through a bite or puncture wound, a migrating foreign body, or when blood containing bacteria or fungi flows through the intervertebral disc space. Some dog breeds are more prone to the condition than others, and chronic infections and immunosuppression can make it more likely to occur. It’s most common in Great Danes, German Shepherds, Boxers, and Doberman Pinschers. Discospondylitis causes stiffness, reluctance to jump, muscle weakness in the limbs, and weight loss.

Cervical Spondylomyelopathy

Cervical Spondylomyelopathy is also known as wobbler syndrome. It’s a disease of the spine (in the neck) that causes poor transmission of nerve signals between the brain and the body. This condition is primarily genetic, but dietary factors may also play a role. Fitzpatrick Referrals suggests that Doberman Pinschers may be more prone to this condition than other breeds due to the reduced size of the neck spinal canal. However, large and giant breeds are most often affected. The most common clinical sign of wobbler syndrome is an uncoordinated gait that might involve stumbling and scuffing the feet. Over time, this can progress to paralysis of the four limbs.

Common Dog Spine Problems: FAQ

How can I help my dog with spinal damage?

The first thing to do is to take your dog to the vet right away. Damage to the spine can easily worsen, so it’s vital that your pooch gets emergency treatment to minimize the damage as much as possible. Once your vet establishes the cause of your dog’s spinal problems, they can guide you on how best to support your pup as they heal. For dogs with milder issues, a vet may recommend cage rest, anti-inflammatory medicines, and muscle relaxants. For more severe cases, such as those in trauma, surgery may be required to release pressure on the spinal cord.

Can dogs recover from a spinal injury?

While some dogs can and do recover from a spinal injury, the prognosis of spinal injuries in dogs varies massively. A dog with spinal pain and no paralysis may recover with cage rest and pain relief, within 2 to 4 weeks. If your dog is off their feet altogether due to disc disease, 80-90% of dogs who are still able to sense deep pain at the time of their surgery should walk again after surgery. If the deep pain response has been gone for more than 48 hours, the chance plummets to 5%. For spinal fractures that cause bruising to the spinal cord, healing is possible if the fracture is repaired with pins or plates. In contrast, recovery may not be possible if the spinal cord is too badly damaged.

How do I know if my dog has spinal problems?

The symptoms of spinal problems in dogs include shivering, incontinence, weakness in the hind legs, a lack of appetite, and pain when the back is touched. Your dog’s gait may change, becoming wobbly and uncoordinated. In the worst cases, paralysis of all four limbs is a possibility.

How can I help to relieve my dog’s back pain?

One of the most important things to do is to monitor your dog’s weight. Excess weight puts extra strain on your pup’s back which can cause additional problems. As well as this, it’s important to monitor your dog’s exercise. You may need to restrict your dog’s exercise with less running, jumping, and shorter walks.

In some cases, it’s best to restrict your pup to cage rest to encourage healing. Also, it’s important to avoid slippery surfaces. Dogs with back pain might struggle to walk on slippery surfaces, and slipping on them can worsen their injuries. Consider using rubber mats or carpets wherever your dog goes in the house. Lastly, always check with your vet about medicines that can alleviate your dog’s discomfort. Your vet might prescribe NSAIDs to provide relief for your dog.

How long can a dog live with degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is not life-threatening. It is, however, progressive, and the latest stages can cause paralysis and loss of feeling. While this stage is not fatal, it does raise the question of a dog’s quality of life, and surgery is necessary within 24 hours of paralysis to have a chance of relieving these symptoms.

While many spinal problems can afflict your dog, it’s helpful to be knowledgeable about 10 common dog spine problems. By being aware of the signs of each problem, you’ll be able to spot disease early, giving your furry friend the best prognosis. As always, if you have any concerns about your pup’s health, always talk to your vet.

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