My dogs aching back

Like humans, our canine friends can suffer back pain. It is especially prevalent in small breeds like Dachshund and Lhasa apso, but bigger breeds like German Shepherds and Great Danes can also suffer. Additionally, dogs that are overweight are more likely to have back problems than their leaner counterparts.

Some back injuries involve nothing more than sore muscles. However, for others, disc injury or degenerative disc disease may be the problem. This can cause extreme pain, lost muscle control, nerve damage and paralysis.

Like man’s, a dog’s spine is made up of small bones called vertebrae. They run from the base of the skull to the end of the tail. Flexible discs made of cartilage provide a cushion between each vertebra. Above the discs and running through the vertebrae is the spinal cord made up of nerve fibers. A disc can weaken with age or trauma, causing a portion of the disc to be pushed out of place, putting pressure on the spinal column.

A dog that has suffered a disc injury will exhibit symptoms such as: yelping when handled, lethargy, shivering, whimpering, poor appetite, inability to urinate, clumsiness, reluctance to climb steps, walking “drunk”, unable to move, paralysis of back legs.

To tell the difference between a simple sore muscle and disc injury, check your pet’s “placing response.” While supporting him with one hand under his belly, flip one of his hind feet so that the top of his paw is touching the ground. He should quickly place the foot right side up when you let go. If he doesn’t, he could have nerve problems. Even if he passes the test, if pain lasts more than a day or two, consult your vet. Nerve problems don’t always show up right away.

Your vet will perform diagnostic tests to differentiate disc disease from other illnesses that may cause similar symptoms. A neurological assessment could include applying gentle pressure to the spine to localize the pain. He may check to see if only the back legs are affected, or also the front legs and head. A test the toes of the back legs indicates reflex responses and indicators of pain. He may also x-ray your dog’s spine, or obtain a myelogram or CT scan.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the clinical findings. Dogs with milder injuries may be treated with cortisone injections, steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and rest. This helps shrink the herniated disc and swollen tissue and at the same time relieves inflammation that has occurred within the spinal cord. Pain medication may also be prescribed.

Surgical treatment may be recommended if the signs are severe and do not respond to other management trials.

Whether medical, surgical or a combination of the two treatments is used, it may be several weeks before your dog recovers fully. Crate care may be recommended for at least four weeks when undergoing treatment. Rest is essential to allow the disc material to “scar over”. Early return to activity may worsen your dog’s condition. Don’t let him run around the yard or go for long walks.

Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a fast return to normal behavior. Dogs treated with cortisone injections and steroid treatment, may be relieved of their pain, but the injury is still present and caution must be observed.

Don’t allow your dog to jump up or down from objects such as the bed or the groomer’s table.

When lifting your pet, never use the front legs. Instead, use both hands, supporting him from underneath the rib cage and the back legs.

When walking your dog, use a chest harness instead of attaching a leash directly to the collar. Any jerking motion or sudden movement of the head can cause pain and reinjury.

Use a glucosamine and chrondoitin supplement to help speed recovery and strengthen damaged cartilage.

Help your pet keep his weight down. Check by lightly running your hands over his ribcage. If you can count each rib, he’s at a good weight. If all you feel is padding, it’s time to try a sensible weight-loss plan.

90% of all disc problems can be successfully treated with conservative medical management. Don’t hesitate to get your dog to the vet if you suspect a back injury.

Copyright 2006 Sherry Massey Sherry Massey is the owner of Barker and Friends Natural Pet Treats. Our mission is to provide healthy all natural treats and food to help your dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives. Please visit us at for a great selection of all natural treats we make from scratch, Flint River Ranch All Natural Pet Food, pet supplies and resources.