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What Is Intervertebral Disc Disease?

What is IVDD?

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a serious degenerative disease in dogs that affects the discs of the spine. These discs act as cushiony shock absorbers between each vertebrae of the spine, and allow the movement of the spine without the vertebrae rubbing against each other. Each of these intervertebral discs have a softer gel-like interior and is surrounded by a tougher rubbery layer. IVDD causes that tougher outer layer to harden and become brittle, and ultimately degenerate over time. Or it could be the case where one or more of these discs bulge outward and even rupture.

When something goes wrong with an intervertebral disc, the softer material inside escapes into the spinal column and presses against the spinal cord or nerve roots. This, in turn, causes pain, nerve damage, and in some cases, paralysis — which unfortunately was the case for the determined and inspirational dog, Ivy.

What are the Symptoms of IVDD?

There are a variety of symptoms that can occur when a dog is experiencing IVDD, but because the symptoms are also seen with other conditions, an accurate diagnosis from a veterinarian is needed. Some common symptoms to keep an eye on are:

  • Reluctance to move their heads — they turn their eyes to look at you as opposed to their neck
  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Crying out when unexpectedly touched or when moving
  • Abdominal tenderness or tenseness
  • An arched back or hunched over
  • Dragging of one or more of the legs
  • Odd or tentative gait
  • Unwillingness to jump

Some of the other signs and symptoms that you should have your dog checked for IVDD are loss of bowel or bladder control, reduced appetite or activity level, a loss of general coordination, or, in a worst-case scenario, sudden collapse. Do not wait to get your dog looked at by your veterinarian if you are noticing any of these symptoms, because even if it isn’t IVDD, it could be due to a number of other conditions.

How is IVDD Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose IVDD, a veterinarian will examine the dog by feeling the area around the spine in order to see if they show a pain response. After the general exam, the veterinarian will provide the dog with a neurological exam if they suspect it could be IVDD. If the neurological exam shows more signs of IVDD in the dog, the veterinarian will suggest either doing X-rays to give provide them with a better visual on what is happening within the spine, a spinal tap to ensure that the issue is not caused by an infection, a myelogram, a CT scan, or an MRI in order to ensure that the diagnosis is correct.

Can IVDD Be Treated?

It depends on how severe the case is. For the inspirational dog Ivy, her IVDD caused her to lose the ability to move her hind legs. But that doesn’t mean she still doesn’t live a full and happy life! As for dogs who are still able to walk and have appropriate pain reflexes, conservative care such as anti-inflammatory and pain medications paired with strict rest can help to resolve IVDD. Strict care is extremely important, and means confining them to a cage or small area where they cannot get up or move around. The owner will want to turn the dog over every hour or so, bringing them food or water, and carrying them outside and supporting them as they go to the bathroom. This strict rest period is usually required for about three to six weeks, and if the dog’s symptoms have improved by that time, three to four more weeks are typically taken to gradually increase the dog’s activity level back to normal.

As for dogs like Ivy who became paralyzed due to IVDD, there are treatment options that owners can try but they are not guaranteed to work. For example, Ivy underwent surgeries and lots of physical therapy but still did not regain movement in her hind legs. Once she got a little help moving around from her trusty Eddie’s Wheels for Pets wheelchair, she couldn’t be stopped! She continues to live her best life day in and day out, and doesn’t let her paralysis hold her back. Although her paw-rents did everything in their power to help her regain her hind leg movement, they quickly learned that it made her the adorable, inspirational dog that she is!

If your precious pup has experienced paralysis from IVDD or another condition (or maybe they were just born that way!), it does not mean that their life is over. With the right tools and routine in place, caring for your paralyzed best friend becomes natural. You will likely find that your bond with them grows even stronger than you ever thought possible.

Know someone whose pet is going through a tough time? Shop Ivy's Book, Ivy the Very Determined Dog, and it will be sure to put a smile on their face and give them hope for a speedy recovery!

If you are interested in learning more about some of the things that help make Ivy (and her paw-rent’s) lives easier while living with IVDD and paralysis, check out some of these awesome products that they frequently use below!

  • Eddie’s Wheels — If your dog has lost the use of their back legs, don’t worry! Eddie's Wheels will make your little furry friend the best set of wheels to help them get around.
  • Walk-About Harness — This harness is great for IVDD recovery. It allows you to help your dog build upper body strength while they recover from their flare-up or surgery.
  • Quality Dog Food: Getting a high-quality dog food is super important for keeping our incontinent pups regular. Ivy lovers her Petcurean Go! food that keeps her regular! Salmon is her favorite flavor.
  • Entertainment: Well, if you haven’t already seen the movie A Pet’s Life, it’s a must-watch for IVDD survivors as it features a dog in wheels! And of course, you will need a good bedtime story to rock your little fur baby to sleep. We would love to recommend Ivy’s true story, Ivy the Very Determined Dog!
  • Car Seat: Keeping your pet safe while traveling is super important. Even more important if they do not have use of back legs!