Intervertebral Disk Disease

Intervertebral Disk Disease

Dachshund with harness

Angie wears a Help Em Up Harness as she recovers from IVDD surgery.



Intervertebral disk herniation

Disk disease

Herniated Disk

Intervertebral disk rupture

Ruptured disk

Disk protrusion

Disk extrusion

Bulging Disk



Intervertebral disks live between the vertebrae and act as a shock absorber.  The disk is composed of two parts: the inner nucleus pulposis and the outer annular fibrosis.  The nucleus pulposis is composed of a gelatinous material, and the annulus fibrosis is a fibrous material that holds the nucleus pulposis in place.


Types of Disk Disease:

Type I

  • The disk dehydrates, and the nucleus pulposis is replaced with cartilage and can become mineralized (calcified).
  • The dehydrated disk loses its shock absorbing capacity, and normal movements can result in rupture of the nucleus pulposis through the annulus fibrosis.
  • This type of disk disease is usually sudden onset.
  • Dogs most commonly affected are younger, and breeds that have long backs and short legs.

Type II

  • The annulus fibrosis degenerates, causing a bulge in the disk that puts pressure on the spinal cord.
  • This type of disk disease us usually a more gradual onset, with signs developing over several days to weeks.
  • Dogs most commonly affected are older, large breed dogs.
  • Frequently accompanied by arthritic changes of the vertebral joints.

Type III

  • This type of disk disease results in spinal cord bruising with little to no compression
  • Sometimes associated with strenuous exercise or trauma


Clinical Signs:

Signs vary depending on the amount of damage is done to the spinal cord.

Signs can range from pain over the affected disk, to mild change in gait, to paralysis.

If your dog is paralyzed, this is an emergency! Seek immediate veterinary care!



  • Diagnosis starts with a neurologic exam to localize the affected area of the spinal cord and to determine if surgery or medical management is the best treatment for your pet.
  • Plain radiographs (x-rays): Normal disks do not show up on radiographs, but sometimes a narrowed disk space or calcified disk can be seen.  Dogs with IVDD can have a normal radiograph.
  • Myelography: This involves the injection of dye in the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord, and then radiographs are taken.  The dye will appear narrowed at the area of spinal cord compression.  This requires anesthesia.
  • MRI or CT scan to visualize the affected disk and the spinal cord.



Surgery – Neurologic deficits, such as weakness, paralysis, or change in gait, are indications for surgical decompression

Rehabilitation (Medical management):

    • Anti-inflammatory medication
    • Pain relieving medication
    • Acupuncture or Myofascial trigger point dry needling
    • Laser to help with pain management, to decrease inflammation, and to help with healing of tissues.
    • Confinement for a minimum of three weeks: no running, no jumping, no going up or down stairs, pet should not be allowed to walk on slick flooring, pet should be confined to a crate or small room if unsupervised.
    • Therapeutic exercises help rebuild strength and motor control.  Gait retraining focuses on functional activities, such as relearning to walk.

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