Treatment Options for Canine Degenerative Disc Disease

Dachshunds are among several dog breeds that are prone to degenerative disc disease.

One of the most painful and frustrating diseases to treat in dogs is degenerative disc disease.  This common condition can be seen in any breed, but is particularly common in long-backed breeds which tend to gain weight, such as Dachshunds, Beagles, and Bassett Hounds to name just a few.

In healthy dogs, the disc material between the spinal vertebrae acts like shock absorbers in allowing smooth movement of the body. A variety of reasons ranging from obesity, over vaccination, overuse of certain topical pesticides, and genetics, have all played a role in the degeneration and mineralization of this disc material, leading to protrusion of the disc material on the overlying spinal cord. This causes varying degrees of spinal cord compression, pain, inflammation, and gait abnormalities.

In the worse case scenario, complete paralysis of the limbs can occur, often requiring immediate emergency surgery.  In other more common cases, disc diseases will flare-up periodically with an unpredictable severity and course. Many dogs are in such pain that we are left prescribing either nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like Rimadyl, Previcox, Deramaxx, or even stronger cortisone type drugs.  Muscle relaxants like Methocarbamol, as well as mild narcotic derivatives such as Tramadol are also often prescribed.

It should be known, however, that none of these drugs are long term solutions for dogs because in some instances the pain returns with often worsening symptoms. That’s why there is no condition that is crying out more for complimentary or holistic veterinary medical options than dogs with chronic back or disc problems.  Modalities like chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and physical therapy can all potentially help those cases where drugs alone have failed.

In situations where your only conventional medical option is a $10,000 dollar surgery, I would always try other holistic modalities first, unless surgery is absolutely necessary or your pet is in a paralysis crisis. Nutritional supplements, including Omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants like Proanthozone, as well as Yucca Intensive can also ease discomfort in some patients and be safely used long term.   To locate a veterinarian skilled in these modalities see www.AHVMA.org or www.theAVH.org

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46 Comments

  1. HI Claudia. So sorry to hear of Harris’ problems. There are indeed lots of nonprescription excellent supplements that you can get from this website that may help with his quality of life and any role that degenerative joint disease or arthritis may play here. You could start with Super joint enhancer, proanthozone, Nordic naturals pet omega 3, as well as Yucca intensive all from 1800petmeds that may help with joint issues by working together and on many levels. You can also consider holistic support if spinal issues involved such as chiropractic or acupuncture, without needing surgery. See the website http://www.AHVMA.com for list of holistic trained vets in your area. A simple visit to your local traditional veterinarian and exam, etc also will give you access to many potential prescription pain medications and anti inflammatories, such as nonsteroidal anti inflammatory meds, as well as other prescription drugs like Gabapentin and tramadol, which are not that expensive. Good luck with this

  2. Hello my Diamond was having problems going up the steps every now and then, until last night her hind legs and front left leg just collapsed. She is a lab and basset hound mix, 12 years old will be 13 June 24, 2017. I’m floorEd that all of a sudden her legs collapsed any advice for my baby would be great

  3. So sorry to hear of your dog’s issues. Many possibilities from a worsening compressed disc in spinal cord to more serious issue of spinal cord, including a blood clot originating from the spinal cord, etc. Best to see vet ASAP for workup

  4. Hi Michael, my 3 year old Chihuahua was just diagnosed yesterday with intervertebral disk disease yesterday when I saw the night before that he was dragging his back leg out of nowhere. He is on the pain meds and anti-inflammatory meds and is on very strict cage rest for the next 3-4 weeks. I am so upset about this. What are the chances of him pulling through? I could never afford a $10,000 surgery.

  5. Hi Becky. I would follow your vet’s directions on medications and rest for the disc condition. I find that a combination approach works best with meds like low dose prednisone, and other pain meds that work differently on the spine such as tramadol or gabapentin. Ask your vet which is most appropriate. I also find that holistic measures including chiropractic and/or acupuncture also can help many cases and may avoid surgery.

  6. Dr. Dym, I am wondering if you can give me some information. I have a large breed cane corso mastiff with multiple back disk problems diagnosed with an MRI. She is being treated holistically by a very well know vet and I take her for acupuncture with the tens unit and injections of traumeel and B12. She seemed to rebound miraculously from the first treatment with the tens and the traumeel injections but now seems to be regressing again. Do you know the pain medication that begins with the letter A that they recommend for a pain now in dogs? I hate to give her anything because her liver enzymes are elevated way too high, but on bad days I’d like to have something on hand for her. Thank you.

  7. Hi Anne. I believe you are talking about the drug Amantadine, which is a human drug that has been used by some veterinary neurologists for back pain, but I have limited experience in its use, so I would have to check with your local vet. I would not, however continue to give combination homeopathic traumeel injections, as in my experience as a classically trained homeopath, using combination remedies like this, especially in injection form eventually fails, as homeopathy was not intended to be used like that long term, in spite of many of my holistic, eclectic veterinary colleagues who choose to use remedies in that fashion. Most of them have little training on how homeopathic remedies truly work in the body

  8. Hi ! Would Ligaflex be good for my shitzu Tem who is diagnosed with DDD. He is 13 on NSAID S for 30 days and a liquid anti inflamtory.
    His neck disk shows not much space in the x-ray but all other tests are good and healthy .He collapsed with poor back legs last week and that’s why he’s in cage rest too for a month.
    But I want to go alternative after all the drugs. Please recommend doing a maintenance regime to prevent any more damage?
    Many thanks😂

  9. Hi there! Would Ligaflex be good for my shitzu Tem who is diagnosed with DDD. He is 13 on NSAID S for 30 days and a liquid anti inflamtory.
    His neck disk shows not much space in the x-ray but all other tests are good and healthy .He collapsed with poor back legs last week and that’s why he’s in cage rest too for a month.
    But I want to go alternative after all the drugs. Please recommend doing a maintenance regime to prevent any more damage?
    Many thanks😂

  10. Ligaplex is a great product from STandard process for support of spinal health. There may be other more individualized, holistic support that can be prescribed based on her individual history, etc. Consider consulting with holistic vet. Many do offer phone consultations nationwide. To learn more, see http://www.doctordym.com

  11. Seven weeks ago my Doberman suddenly lost his ability to walk. Paralyzed in his hind legs. One year ago I was told he had a partially torn Achilles’ tendon causing tenderness in one paw. I feel like it was his back all along. We did blood infusions, custom splint and rehab twice a week for 6weeks, an hour away. I loved my boy and always wanted and gave him the best life had to offer. Six weeks ago I was told he had Degenerative Disc Disease and surgery was an option. I decided to not do surgery, to let him go. I have cried everyday since. I am crying now! After reading all of these cries for help and realizing not only what your pets are going through but you as well I am finally at peace with my decision to not put my beloved pet through the insanity of pain and helplessness. It’s okay…..

  12. I am indeed sorry for your loss. It does sound like you have done everything possible for your sweet Doberman companion and certainly treated many of his challenges appropriately. Sometimes case outcomes are indeed our of human hands.

  13. Hi Michael,
    My name is Karen Durrett. My dog was a 10 yrs old ChiuaHua mix with Daschound we believe. He has had a disc problem on an off for years as well as a weight problem. At first the Vet put him on Metacam, and that seemed to work fine. We lived in Vegas for 10 years, which is where we adopted Paco. When we moved to Florida, I noticed that he would lift his back leg, after coming from outside. Long story short, I came home one day and he could barely walk. . His head was down and he was wobbly. I took him to the vet. They did blood work, xrays. I figured it was a disc problem. The Vet put him on Diazapam, tramadol, and metacacabon, . He got worse, started yelping in pain, it was his neck, not his back. Long story short, I took him to another vet, put him on Metacam, he had it before, seemed fine and got worse again. The only option was surgery. I couldn’t afford it and I couldn’t stand to see my dog in pain. He started hiding in corners, and wouldn’t sleep . We chose to put him down and that was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life! My heart aches. Sorry for being long winded. Thank you

  14. Hi Karen. So sorry to hear of your recent loss. Sounds like you and the vets did everything possible within reason for your canine companion. In these severe cases like you describe, I do find that the old standby prednisone gives these little guys with severe back pain and disc issues the best chance at remission, especially the doxie crosses, if surgery not an option. Usually metacam not nearly strong enough. I also find holistic measures supportive in those cases too like cold laser, chiropractic, acupuncture or homeopathy. Not sure what part of Florida you are in, but I practice down there as well. If you should ever need help with other canine companions, see my website http://www.doctordym.com Again sorry for your recent loss.

  15. Both of my wiener dogs at different times were shaky and had weak hind legs.One of my dogs could not jump on the couch,could not climb stairs and would lay under the bed shaking.I thought maybe she had really bad arthritis or a bad back injury.I gave her calcium pills in wet cat food and she got better for a little while.so later I gave my dog a calcium pill in meat and my dog got worse as the days went by.Every day I gave my dog a calcium pills and she didn’t get better.It later dawned on me that maybe the wet cat food is what helped the first time.I gave my dog wet cat food every day for a few days and my dog improved immediately back to normal.Later when my other dog got the same type of condition,I gave her wet cat food and it worked for her and she went back to normal…Sharing this story because I believe it will help a lot of dogs.

  16. I have never heard of wet cat food helping doxie dogs or any other breeds with spinal disc issues. Glad to hear, however that they are doing well.

  17. We have a mutt (50 lb pit mix) who is almost 8 years old and has disc disease. Her first injury was over 2 years ago and despite full paralysis in her back legs she showed improvement within 5-6 days of crate rest and medication and made a full recovery with 6 weeks total in her crate. She had a second episode approx 6 months later with paralysis again and lack of bowel control. We repeated the crate rest and then reduced her activity (short walks, limited stairs, no climbing/couches, etc) and she was healthy until a few days ago. We do not believe there was any specific trauma but within a couple days she has returned to full paralysis in her back legs with no feeling or bladder control. Surgery is not an option. We will start acupuncture and laser today and will try some supplements like Omega 3 along with her meds. My question is about chiropractic care. We do not have a canine chiropractor close by but we would like to try some massage and/or adjustments and wondering if you know of any good resources to help us do these ourselves. Thanks.

  18. HI LM. Sorry to hear about your dog’s recurrent disc issues, which can be quite frustrating. Sounds like you are doing everything humanely possible. I would go to Dr Roger Clemens, Dvm, phd, website who is world renowned veterinary neurologist who I have worked with on such cases here in South Florida. Dr Clemmens taught at University of Florida vet school for decades in addition to the chi institute here in Florida. I dont have his website off the top of my head but if you google his name, that should do it, and then once on his website, there are excellent resources on diet, supplements, etc. During acute disc issues, chiropractic not a good idea, but certainly after the acute episode hopefully settles down, chiropractic may help preventatively

  19. My dog Spike was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and was just recently put on gabapentin 100mg. I was just wondering how long does it take to start working on him .

  20. My dog had surgery in May of 2017 due to a disc rupture which I was told was the result of it being degenerative. Since then with lots of at home physical therapy I’m happy to report that he is doing great. My concern is that this may happen again. Is there anything that can be done to prevent it from occurring again and are there things that we should be limiting him from doing?

  21. HI Tamrin. I would have your dog under care of a holistic vet who can help with either chiropractic and/or acupuncture preventative care as low level chronic subluxations or energy blockages at the level of the spine are often involved here and you may not even be clinically aware of them. In conventional vet medicine, we typically wait until a crisis or severe flareup of symptoms to address or suppress symptoms with strong steroid drugs, narcotics, pain meds etc which do NOTHING to address the underlying causes of the problems. I would also consider working with holistic vet on holistic health in general and/or dietary/nutritional supplements, etc which can also help. Many holistic vets like myself work with clients over a distance. To learn more, see http://www.doctordym.com .

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