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How to Manage Spinal Pain in Dogs

Table of Contents

As a pet owner, it can be heartbreaking to watch your beloved canine companion suffer from any type of pain or discomfort, let alone spinal pain. Spinal pain can be debilitating and difficult to manage, but relieving pain in your pup is possible.

So, if you’re here because your dog is experiencing spinal pain, we understand how difficult it can be and want to offer you sound advice on how best to manage this condition. From identifying the symptoms and different treatment options, to the preventative measures and prognosis, we will cover all aspects necessary for successfully dealing with your pup's spinal pain.

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What Causes Spinal Pain in Dogs?

Spinal pain in dogs can have various underlying causes, including arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, injury, degenerative myelopathy, and spondylosis. Here’s a bit more information about each one:

  • Arthritis is characterized by an inflammation of the joints, which can lead to pain, stiffness, and difficulty in movement. In dogs, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that affects the spine. Younger dogs can also be affected by this condition, and it is usually caused by an abnormal development of the bones or due to a trauma.
Intervertebral disc disease is another common cause of spinal pain in dogs. This refers to the displacement or herniation of the intervertebral disks, which are the cushions between the vertebrae in the spinal column. When the disks protrude into the spinal canal, they can compress the spinal cord or nerve roots, resulting in pain, weakness, and sometimes, paralysis.

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  • Injuries, such as those resulting from trauma or accidents, can also cause spinal pain in dogs. These injuries can range from mild strains or sprains to more severe damage to the bones, muscles, and ligaments of the spine. Fractures of the vertebrae are particularly serious and can cause lifelong disability or even death.
  • Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord. It results in the degeneration of the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the spinal cord, leading to weakness, stiffness, and paralysis of the hind legs. Over time, the disease can progress to affect the front legs and other parts of the body, leading to severe pain and mobility issues.
  • Spondylosis refers to the formation of bony growths or spurs on the vertebrae in the spinal column. These growths can compress the spinal cord or nerve roots, leading to pain, weakness, and limited mobility. Although spondylosis is generally a result of aging or wear and tear on the spine, it can also be caused by injuries or genetic factors.

Spinal pain in dogs can have various causes, each of which requires specific diagnostic and medical treatment approaches. It is important for pet owners to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible if their dog is showing signs of spinal pain.

Symptoms of Spinal Pain in Dogs

Since dogs are unable to communicate their discomfort in the same way humans do, it is essential to pay attention to their behavior and body language to identify possible symptoms of spinal pain.

Here are the following symptoms that dog owners should watch out for:

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  1. Yelping or crying out when touched: Dogs with spinal pain may vocalize their discomfort when touched or moved in certain ways.
  2. Arched back: An arched back is another clear signal that your dog may be in pain. The dog may hold their back stiffly and avoid movement.
  3. Difficulty urinating: Spinal problems can lead to urinary issues, such as incontinence or difficulty urinating due to nerve damage.
  4. Changes in posture: If your dog is standing or sitting in an unusual position, it may indicate that your dog is trying to alleviate pain in a specific area of its spine.

    sad pup
  1. Restlessness: Pacing, or inability to settle down is a sign of discomfort. The dog may appear anxious and agitated.
  2. Reluctance or inability to walk: Dogs with spinal pain may be reluctant to stand up, climb stairs, or walk. If they do walk, their gait may be abnormal or wobbly.
  3. Reluctance to move head: Your dog may be hesitant to move their head or neck if there is pain in that area.
  4. Lethargy: Dogs with spinal pain may exhibit extreme tiredness and show disinterest in their normal routine.

While it is up to the owner to keep a watchful eye on their pet's behavior to identify any potential symptoms of spinal pain, early detection, proper diagnosis, and intervention are key to managing this condition effectively.

If you suspect your dog is experiencing spinal pain, seeking prompt veterinary care is crucial to determining the underlying cause and devising a proper treatment plan.

Spinal Cord Diagnosis

Diagnosing spinal pain in dogs is a complex process that requires thorough examination and various imaging techniques. The veterinarian may start by conducting a physical examination of the dog to locate any areas of tenderness or swelling along the spine.

To aid in diagnosis, imaging techniques such as Computer Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology (MRI), and myelogram may be utilized.

CT scans can also provide detailed images of the bones and joints along the spine, while MRI can provide high-resolution images of soft tissues, including the spinal cord and nerve roots. Myelogram, a specialized x-ray technique aided by a dye injected around the dog's spinal cord can help identify spinal cord compression or other abnormalities.

In addition to imaging, the presence of arthritis may also be evaluated by taking a sample of the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint capsule. This technique can help identify inflammation and other changes in the joint that may be contributing to the dog's spinal pain.

Alongside imaging and synovial fluid sampling is evaluating the dog's neurological functioning. This thorough examination can help identify any deficits or abnormalities in the dog's nervous system, which can be indicative of partial or total paralysis.

An accurate diagnosis of the spinal pain in dogs requires a careful and thorough evaluation by a skilled veterinary clinician who is well-versed in the complex interplay between the bones, joints, and neurological system in these beloved pets. Especially since neurological signs can range from mild to severe depending on the underlying cause of the pain, which is why it is important for the vet to be able to properly identify them.

owner kissing dog

Treatment of Spinal Pain in Dogs

Spinal pain in dogs can often be debilitating and can affect their overall quality of life. Depending on the underlying condition, the appropriate treatment plan may vary. It can range from simply using nutritional supplements and providing some at-home care to more intensive treatments, such as expensive surgery.

For instance, Spondylosis, Intervertebral Disc Disease, and severe cases of Arthritis may require surgical intervention for successful treatment. In cases of traumatic injuries, surgery to repair damaged tissues may be necessary to reduce pain and restore neurological functioning.

In cases where surgery is not necessary, alternative treatment methods such as therapeutic massage and hydrotherapy can provide effective relief and promote healing.

Physical therapy is another option that can help improve mobility and strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected area. It may also provide benefits in post-operative recovery and rehabilitation.

In addition, medications to relieve pain and inflammation may be prescribed in certain cases. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to reduce inflammation and swelling of the affected area while steroids can help reduce chronic pain.

It is important to remember that each case of canine spinal pain is unique and requires individualized treatment. When managing spinal pain in dogs, the goal is to reduce pain and improve their quality of life. To ensure the best possible outcome, prompt veterinary care is essential. With a proper diagnosis and a customized treatment plan tailored to their needs, most dogs can continue to live active and healthy lives even with chronic spinal pain conditions.

Pain Management

Alongside treatment, pain management of spinal pain in dogs is a crucial aspect of veterinary care. Back or neck pain can cause your pet to suffer, which is why it’s important to make them as comfortable as possible.

A dog's body is complex and the causes of their discomfort can vary greatly, so it’s important to consult your veterinarian before attempting any form of pain relief. The dog's central nervous system is responsible for processing pain signals, so it is important to identify the source of discomfort and use appropriate medications to target the cause. Pain relievers can be prescribed to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Muscle relaxants may also be prescribed in some cases to reduce muscle spasms.

For severe cases, laser therapy may be suggested to relieve pain. Laser therapy uses high-intensity light energy to aid in cellular healing, increase circulation, and promotes tissue regeneration. This method is safe, non-invasive, and has shown promising results in pain management.

lounging with dog

Prognosis and Home Care

Spinal pain in dogs can have a varied prognosis, ranging from short-term discomfort that can be easily alleviated with medication and rest to chronic conditions that may require lifelong management.

Acute onset of back pain in dogs can be sudden and severe, causing extreme discomfort and limiting mobility. Because of this, in addition to medication, providing a comfortable environment for the dog to rest and recuperate can aid in alleviating their pain. Dogs with spinal pain may need assistance with everyday activities such as getting outside to relieve themselves and getting up and down the stairs.

Nutrition is also a critical consideration in the treatment of spinal pain in dogs, as well as close monitoring of their diet and calorie intake can aid in their recovery. It is important to note that the prognosis for spinal pain in dogs is highly dependent on the underlying cause of the condition. Therefore, following the veterinarian's advice regarding medications, diet, and exercise routines is critical for the recovery of your pup to achieve the best possible outcome.


Spinal pain is a serious and sometimes debilitating condition in dogs. But with careful management and the right treatment plan, it can often be successfully managed. This is why it is essential that dog owners should pay close attention to any sudden behavioral changes in your pet and seek veterinary attention if you suspect any signs of spinal pain.

With thorough examinations, X-rays, and possibly advanced imaging such as MRIs, the root cause of the pain can be identified, and an appropriate treatment plan can be formulated. Finally, always remember that early detection and prompt treatment are key to managing spinal pain in dogs.