Integrative Treatment of Dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease

R.M. Clemmons, DVM, PhD


Although intervertebral disc (IVD) disease in chondrodystrophic breeds (like Dachshunds) is a surgical disease. See Paralysis of the Rear Legs. There are a number of things which might help delay the degeneration of the IVD and minimize the effects of herniation of the IVD if it happens. Vitamin E is a potent anti-oxidant which, when given before spinal cord injury, can prevent or markedly reduce the effects of spinal cord trauma. Spinal cord signs from IVD disease are due to two factors: 1) the presence of space-occupying compression from the herniated IVD material and 2) internal damage of the spinal cord due to vascular damage and subsequent expansion of that damage from ischemia (diminished blood flow) and tissue destruction secondary to lipid peroxidation and oxidant free-radical production. The latter effect is where vitamin E acts. Unfortunately, effective levels of vitamin E require several days to achieve; so, while vitamin E given before an injury is effective, it is ineffective when given during or shortly after the trauma.

The IVD represents one of the "joints" for connection of vertebrae. While the metamorphosis which takes place in the nucleus pulposus is genetically programmed, the degeneration occurs secondary to the decrease in IVD elasticity. This transmits greater shock to the IVD causing progressive damage. It may not be possible to completely stop this process of damage, but reducing inflammation caused by this damage and providing nutrient support to the cartilaginous structures in the IVD has the potential to delay the onset of IVD disease. Recent studies have shown that there is regeneration of disc material. As such, IVD disease is because degeneration wins out over the natural regenerative (healing) process. Increasing the changes of regeneration (healing) may be the only choice other than surgery. This will not happen overnight and must be part of the of the patients life-long treatment.

Don't forget that while a number of dogs will recover from IVD disease with cage rest for a minimum of 30 days or 3 weeks beyond the time it takes them to return to normal function without the aid of medication, early surgery gives the best chance for them to regain neurologic function. This is particularly true if they are paralyzed. If they have sudden or rapid onset of paralysis with decreased or absent pain sensation caudal to the lesion, then emergency surgical intervention is critical to optimize their chances of recovery. This will include giving IV anti-oxidant, corticosteroids (Solu Medral or Solu Delta Cortef). On the other hand, once the initial problem is treated, the patient still must heal. The principles of integrative medicine apply, demanding that all modalities which are available be employed in returning the dog to health. As such, besides conventional medicines and surgery, attention must be given to physical therapies (including physical therapy, acupuncture and message therapy) and dietary and nutritional support. Even though dietary supplementation may help prevent IVD disease development, it is also important in speeding the recovery of the patient once IVD herniation has occurred.

The following recommendations will be broken into preventative measures and also into treatment once IVD disease has developed.

The "Wiener Dog" Diet:

Prevention: Treatment:

Additional Measures for Treatment of IVD Disease:

Acupuncture: Chiropractic Care: Physical & Massage Therapy: Healing Touch:

Disclaimer: The information presented here is for educational usage. It is not an endorsement of any particular product. You will need to discuss the measures and natural alternatives with your veterinarian. If the problem worsens or new signs develop, discontinue medication and seek appropriate veterinary medical care. This material represents the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of anyone else.

Copyright 1997
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Last updated 28 August 2002