Slipped disc in dogs

Slipped discs in dogs are a painful condition that causes leg weakness or even paralysis and incontinence. This condition is most commonly seen in breeds like Dachshunds and French bulldogs, but it can develop in any dog. 

A slipped disc is a condition where the intervertebral discs (cushions between the backbones) slip out of place. This condition is also called intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) or herniated disc. If your dog shows signs of back pain, wobbliness or difficulty getting up, contact a vet immediately.



What is a slipped disc in dogs?

In between each of your dog’s vertebrae (backbones) sit intervertebral discs.

Intervertebral discs are junctions filled with rubber-like cushions that absorb shock and provide support as your dog moves around.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition where these discs gradually lose their sponginess and slip out of place, compressing the spinal cord.

When the spinal cord is compressed, depending on the location, there is a loss of mobility and function.

This condition can be caused by:

  • Genetics
  • Ageing
  • Trauma/injury



Symptoms of a slipped disc in dogs

Signs of IVDD can range from mild to severe and may appear gradually or suddenly, depending on the underlying cause.

You might notice some or all of the following in your dog:

  • Reluctancy to walk, jump, or move
  • Back pain
  • Yelping or vocalising in pain when moving or when touched
  • Back legs weakness
  • Complete loss of back leg function (paralysis)
  • Difficulty peeing or pooing
  • Hunched back
  • Muscle spasming



Dogs at risk of developing a slipped disc

There are some breeds predisposed to disc problems:

  • Breeds with short ‘bandy’ legs (also known as chondrodystrophic breeds). Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, Pekingese and French bulldogs are the most commonly affected breeds and signs usually develop around 2 to 4 years of age.
  • Other larger breeds prone to this disease include the German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher at the later ages of 5 to 12 years.



How are slipped discs diagnosed in dogs?

Your vet will take all the signs your dog is showing into consideration and do some further tests:

  • Neurologic examination
  • MRI or CT: are used to find the location of the lesion and plan for surgery, if needed. Lesions can be difficult to find on x-rays.

Your vet might recommend one or more of the following tests to help rule out any other conditions:

  • Blood tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) analysis. A sample of the spinal fluid is collected from the spinal canal while your dog is under anaesthesia to check for any abnormal inflammatory or infectious cells.


Vet treatment

How are slipped discs in dogs treated?

Treatment depends on many factors, such as their ability to walk at the time of diagnosis and the severity of the neurological damage.


If your dog can walk and has only mild signs of pain and/or neurological damage, your vet may recommend medication and rest to start with.

This treatment is aimed at controlling your dog’s pain and preventing the condition from worsening.


Surgical decompression of the spinal cord is recommended when a dog does not respond to medication or when they show more advanced signs of neurologic damage, such as the inability to walk or loss of deep pain perception.

Referral to a neurologist or vet specialist surgeon is typically necessary and, in many cases, urgent.

The outcome after surgery is variable and depends on the severity and duration of symptoms. Some dogs can recover completely, while others can remain paralysed for the rest of their lives.

  • In very specific cases, and mostly in small dogs, “spinal walking” can be achieved with intense rehabilitation and physiotherapy. This is a term used when a paraplegic dog develops unconscious leg movements.


Home treatment

How to help your dog with a slipped disc

During recovery, you will need to keep them well-rested, manage their pain, check their toileting and follow your vet’s instructions rigorously.

Keep them rested

It is essential to rest your dog. Sometimes several weeks of strict rest may be necessary to avoid further deterioration.

Do not allow your dog to jump up or down, run or do any boisterous movements for the time recommended by your vet.

Soft bedding

Providing your dog with a soft place to lie down will prevent pressure sores from forming and make them more comfortable.

Support their body

During recovery, it is very important to avoid movement of the back. Avoid any arched or side movements in order to keep the spine stable.

When helping them with toileting, support their belly using a towel or a lifting harness. For small dogs, you may also hold them as the picture demonstrates.

Bladder expression

IVDD can cause problems with the nerves that control the bladder. If your dog is unable to pee, you will need to empty their bladder by pressing their tummy. You will be shown how to do this by your vet.

Rehabilitation and physiotherapy/hydrotherapy

Rehabilitation is very important for these patients.

Different protocols and goals are set depending on your dog’s medical needs.

It may be important to use these therapeutic options to gain full mobility or to support muscle and maintain body weight to avoid further deterioration.

Control weight

Lighter dogs can support their weight more easily when they have mobility issues. But for a dog that can’t exercise, it can be difficult to control or lose weight. Hydrotherapy can be a good option for some patients.

How to take care of a paralysed dog at home

If your dog is not able to regain full neurological function and remains weak or paralysed, they will require lifelong nursing care at home, which may include:

  • Care to prevent sores, including soft bedding and change of positioning, and foot care with boots or socks.
  • Regular manual expression of the bladder to pee
  • Monitor for signs of urinary infections UTI
  • Physiotherapy exercises
  • Custom-made carts or braces

It is not easy to care for a paralysed dog, but there are many different ways to help them maintain a good quality of life and keep them happy and comfortable.



How to prevent slipped discs in dogs

Unfortunately, this disease can’t be prevented.

However, if the issue is addressed promptly, we can improve the outcome for these patients.

  • Do not delay vet attention if signs of IVDD are seen.
  • Monitor predisposed breeds closely.


When to worry

When should you worry about your dog with a slipped disc?

If your dog shows any of the following signs, call your vet immediately:

  • No improvement despite surgery or medication
  • Discharge or bleeding from the surgical wound
  • Inability to pee or poo
  • Sudden worsening of the pain or ability to walk

At Joii we can help you with:

  • Giving medications
  • Managing a paralysed dog at home
Consult a vet - £28

Consult your vet online. Anyday, anytime.

Consult a Joii vet online for £28. Or free if you’re insured with one of our partners.

Developed by vets 🩺

QR code to app

How to get an

Join a practice

*It's free*

Download the app to register and become a member of Joii vets. In only a few taps you will have access to digital vet care 24/7 as well as a vet practice

Download the app

We’re writing as quick as we can

This article is currently being written by one of our expert vets. Check back soon.