Ruptured Discs in Dogs
Hansen Type 2 discs ruptures occur in the larger breeds, including German
Shepherd Dogs and Labrador Retrievers. The entire disc, surrounded by its
capsule, gradually impinges on the spinal canal. Symptoms appear in dogs 5 to
12 years of age. Because the process is gradual, symptoms progress slowly.
Ruptured discs in the neck of the Hansen Type 1 cause a dog to carry her
head low and rigidly, making the neck look shorter. This type of injury is extremely
painful. A dog will often cry out when patted on the head and refuse to lower
her head to eat and drink. Weakness and lameness involve the front legs.
Complete paralysis of all four legs does occur but is rare.
Hansen Type 2 neck discs occur with the wobbler syndrome discussed on page
Treatment: A dog with a sudden onset of symptoms of paralysis requires
immediate veterinary evaluation. If surgery is indicated, the best outcome is
when it is performed within 24 hours.
Most disc problems involving pain or mild paresis improve with rest and
medication. The dog should be closely confined for two to four weeks to allow
the disc to return to its former position. Corticosteroids reduce swelling and
Dogs with neck disc problems should be walked with a chest harness rather
than a collar.
Disc injuries that cause paralysis require special handling and
transporting, as described for Spinal Cord Injuries, page 375. The most common
surgery is called a laminectomy. It involves opening the spinal column and
removing the extruded disc material. Dogs undergoing surgery will still need a
period of careful rehabilitation afterward.
A newer method is to use of proteolytic enzymes to dissolve the disc
material. This is called chemonucleolysis. This may only be appropriate for
dogs who are in pain without neurologic deficits. If there are neuological
signs, surgery is often the better option because it relieves pressure on the
spinal cord more quickly.
Acupuncture and physical therapy may be incorporated into treatment