What are the treatments for IVDD?
As each dog and IVDD case is unique, each treatment plan will be different. Mainly there are two treatment options: conservative (non-surgical) or surgical.
If your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD, but is still able to walk, non-surgical treatments may be able to help your dog recover from IVDD. But if your dog has a severe case of IVDD and has lost the ability to walk, urgent emergency treatment will be required. The treatment plan will often be chosen depending on which stage of IVDD your dog has, based on the MRI or CT Scan. The main decision on whether or not your dog should have the surgery is a difficult choice to be made by you and your vet. However, there are different aspects that almost each IVDD dog will have to do through in order to get better.
Conservative treatment (non-surgical)
The goals of non-surgical treatment are to help relieve pain and discomfort in the back or neck of your dog. Additionally, if your dog has lost the ability to walk or stand and lost control if the bladder and bowel, conservative treatment might help to restore these fully or partially.
What is the conservative treatment?
Conservative treatment for IVDD in dogs includes loads of crate rest, medication and certain therapy sessions. Together with you vet or neurologist, you can set up a plan on how long your dog should rest, which medications to take and what kind of therapy sessions would be best for your dog. The most important part of this treatment path is definitely crate rest in a nice and comfortable recovery suite. Your dog needs a lot of rest in order for the injury to heal properly.
You can download our free "recovery suite guide" here.
In some cases, surgery to treat IVDD is the only option. If your dog has stage 4 of 5 IVDD, the surgical treatment path is the most likely. The goal of IVDD surgery is to remove the diseased intervertebral disk material in order to relieve the pressure on your dog's the spinal cord, restore normal blood flow, and prevent disc problems in the future. In order to achieve this goal a combination of surgeries may be used to treat dog's with IVDD. Which surgeries are used to treat your dog's IVDD will largely depend upon the location of the diseased disc.
The cost of an IVDD surgery can vary a lot, depending on different factors such as the specificities of the injury, the country you live in and which hospital.
An example of cost is our own dog Toby: He had stage 5 IVDD and had the surgery in the animal clinic of Merelbeke (Belgium) and physiotherapy at the animal clinic Randstad in Borsbeek (Belgium). The total cost for everything was about 5800€.
While costs are quite high, the results of surgery are usually beneficial. Outcomes are most successful for dogs that have not lost their ability to walk. For dogs that have had ongoing symptoms of IVDD, atrophy of the spinal cord can occur and lead to less successful outcomes. If surgery is not successful, a dog wheelchair is often recommended, which can give the dog a healthy, active life despite the disease.
However, some people cannot afford the surgery and have no other choice than choosing the conservative treatment. In some very sad cases, the damage is too severe and the dog might die because of the injury.
Additional IVDD treatments and physical therapy
Crate rest for several weeks
Whether you chose for the conservative or surgical treatment, crate rest is very important for both type of treatments! To allow the damaged tissue to heal and to relieve your dog's IVDD symptoms without surgery, strict rest is going to be essential and is going to require a lot of patience. Your dog will need to be strictly confined to a small room or crate for least 4 to 8 weeks in order to give the dog's body sufficient time to try and mend the damage.
Cage rest may be appropriate if your dog only has mild pain and no incoordination (ataxia). It limits further disc extrusion and allows natural healing of the spinal cord to begin. Your vet will probably want to check on progress regularly and, if your dog has improved after 4 weeks, it can gradually return to a more normal routine over the next 1 to 4 weeks. If your dog has shown no signs of improvement from cage rest (and medication) after 4 weeks, you may then need to consider surgical treatment. Any deterioration at any stage of conservative treatment is likely to lead to a recommendation of surgery.
Pain-relief medication for dogs has improved dramatically over the past couple of decades. Vets now have various medical options for helping IVDD dogs to feel better and can include: steroids, anti-inflammatory and pain-killers to help with the inflammation and pain. These medications are used in conjunction with restricted activity and crate-rest. Bear in mind to always discuss medications with your vet, including benefits, risks, side effects, and any required laboratory monitoring!
Hydrotherapy is a treatment for IVDD dogs to strengthen their muscles and mobility. This type of therapy involves your dog swimming or walking by using an underwater treadmill. Being in the water creates resistance and will cushion your dog’s joints. This method helps reduce pain, inflammation and swelling. It also allows easier movement of joints. It is known to have great results after a few sessions only.
Dietary care can also be important for dogs having IVDD. In this case, your vet can carefully calculate the precise number of calories required by your pet in order to manage weight and help to prevent added pressure on the spine. Obesity is very unhealthy for all dogs, but for dogs with a long spine, such as dachshunds, obesity is very dangerous and can lead to injuries such as IVDD. Keeping your dog on a healthy diet and active enough are mandatory!
Physical therapy, manual therapy, acupuncture, and other therapies
Confirm what exercises your pet is capable of with your vet. Even better is to work with a trained veterinary, physical therapist or veterinary rehab facility. A rehabilitation practitioner can assess your dog's current condition and recommend a treatment plan which will include a combination of at-home treatments and professional treatment.
Rehab can work wonders for pets suffering from mild - moderate cases of IVDD, as well as those recovering from surgery. Only do the exercises that your vet recommends for your dog (such as: leg stretches, sitting and standing, slide stretches, balance training, heat therapy & massage…)
The acupuncture method is used for IVDD reduces swelling, pain, and inflammation. Acupuncture can restore the damaged nerves and promote faster healing. This can be such a relaxing process that your dog may even fall asleep. Researchers continue to look at acupuncture’s exact benefits for IVDD. But so far studies have shown only positive results!
Whether you chose the conservative or the surgical treatment, there are no guarantees when it comes to the healing of the spine. All you can do is have patience, support your dog and stick to the treatment plan.