Dog Back Problems

Back problems can cause not only pain to the dog, but also paralysis and incontinence in serious cases. One of the most common causes of back problems in dogs is herniated disk. This page looks at the signs and symptoms of disk herniation, as well as some natural remedies that can help alleviate back pain in dogs.

Dog with Back Pain Although dogs do a lot less back bending and twisting than we do because they don't walk upright, that doesn't mean they don't suffer from back problems.

Besides the occasional pulled muscle, they also suffer from more serious back problems such as vertebral malformations, vertebral dislocations, bone fractures, and even cancer of the vertebrae.

Perhaps one of the most common causes of dog back problems is intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), or "herniated disk".

The Dog Spine

The dog's spine (and ours as well!) is made up of small bones called "vertebrae". In the case of dogs, the vertebrae extend from the base of the skull to the end of the tail.

Located between the vertebrae are cushion-like intervertebral disks. Each disk is made up of two parts - an outer fibrous ring called the annulus fibrosis; and a dense, jelly-like interior called the nucleus pulposus. These disks provide shock-absorbing cushioning between each vertebra and allow the neck, spine, and tail to bend.

Detailed Information on Dog Back Problems

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Disk Herniation

Disk herniation occurs when the interior "jelly" becomes calcified and hard, losing its function as a cushion and shock-absorber. Pressure or trauma can then cause the calcified jelly to rupture, or herniate, causing a part of the disk to protrude (bulge) upward into the spinal canal, where the spinal cord resides. This protrusion puts pressure on the spinal cord, resulting in a whole range of problems, such as back pain, lameness, loss of feeling and function of the limb, etc.

Two types of disk herniation can occur:

  • "Disk extrusion" - this occurs when the "jelly" material explodes into the spinal canal; and
  • "Disc bulging" - this occurs when the "jelly" material protrudes into the spinal canal.

The effect on the spinal cord will depend on the amount and severity of the pressure. Also, depending on where the herniated disk is located, different area of the dog's body will be affected. For example, if the herniated disk is located in the neck area, it may affect the entire body. If it is located in the middle of the dog's back, it may affect the rear legs and/or abdominal organs.

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Signs of A Dog Having Back Problem

The onset of disk herniations can be either acute or chronic.

When the herniated disk puts pressure on the spinal cord, the dog experiences pain ranging from mild to intense.

If the herniation occurs in the middle of the back, you can see the dog arch his back up due to back pain.

If it occurs in the neck area, the dog will become reluctant to move his head due to neck pain, and may even stop eating and drinking as he does not want to lower his head.

Other signs include:

  • walking very slowly, or wobbly;
  • limping or having trouble moving;
  • shivering from the pain;
  • crying and whining when touched.

In severe cases, the dog may:

  • be partially or completely paralyzed;
  • suffer from urinary and fecal incontinence.

Obesity and Dog Back Problems

Dogs that are overweight are more prone to develop back problems because of the extra pressure on the spine. It is therefore important to keep your dog's weight in check - this will help relieve or even eliminate some back problems in dogs.


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Breeds and Dog Back Problems

Long-bodied dogs with short legs (e.g. Basset hounds, dachshunds, beagles, Shih Tze, and Pekingese) are prone to disk extrusion. This kind of disk herniation is seldom caused by trauma such as being hit by a car. It is a genetic predisposition due to the animal's stretched-out shapes with relatively little support for the spine. As such, herniation in these breeds usually occurs in the middle of the spine.

Large breed dogs (e.g. Labradors, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers) are more prone to disk protrusion. It is usually caused by a disk weakened by degeneration due to age or physical trauma (e.g. being hit by a car), or the onset of a disease (such as cancer).

For example, older German Shepherds are prone to a degenerative back problem called degenerative myelopathy. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the dog's immune system attacks its own spinal cord, resulting in progressive paralysis. Dogs with this problem should be kept active by regular moderate exercise such as swimming. This can slow down the progression of the problem.

Older Doberman Pinschers are prone to "Wobbler's syndrome", which simply put is vertebral malformation and articulation. The neck vertebrae are unstable due to either partial dislocation or chronic disk degeneration. Surgery is usually necessary.

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Conventional Treatment

In mild cases of dog back problems, conventional treatment include medications, crate confinement and rest with minimal physical activity for several weeks. Medications include:

  • pain medication;
  • muscle relaxants;
  • anti-inflammatory medications, such as cortisone (a steroid).

In more severe cases, e.g. for dogs that are paralyzed or chronically affected by the condition, surgery to either remove the protruding disk material or cut away a portion of the bone that surrounds the spinal cord is sometimes necessary.

At Oklahoma State University (and probably other veterinary colleges and/or hospitals), there is a procedure called laser disk ablation available. It involves inserting tiny needles through the skin of the back into the damaged disks. Laser is then used to vaporize and eliminate the protruding disks. The procedure is less invasive than surgery and can also be used as a preventive measure for dogs prone to back problems.

Natural Remedies for Dog Back Problems

Except in the more severe cases, natural remedies and dietary supplements can be used for pain relief and prevention of dog back problems.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

A dietary suppplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin is highly recommended to help repair and strengthen the damaged cartilage.


Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are produced when a cell is exposed to toxins. Free radicals are also produced by cells surrounding the joint whenever excess or abnormal strains and pressure are applied. Vitamins C, A and E are effective antioxidants and are beneficial for dogs with back problems. Other antioxidants include culinary herbs such as oregano, thyme, ginger, and parsley. These dried herbs can be sprinkled on a dog's food - they are good antioxidants and nutritious too.

Other Nutrients

Other nutrients that have shown effects in helping dogs with back problems and arthritis include copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.

An Effective Supplement for Dog Back Problems

This supplement contains bovine tracheal cartilage which is a source of Chondroitin found in high concentration in the spine and intervertebral disks. It also contains numerous vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for dogs with back problems. It helps to lubricate and maintain healthy connective tissue in the spine and disks.

Natural Pain Relief

If your dog is suffering from back pain, and you do not want to give him conventional pain medications which can cause harsh side-effects, consider using natural pain relief such as herbal and homeopathic remedies. For more information, please visit our page on Herbal Pain Remedies.

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