InterVertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is one of the most common neurological conditions
in dogs. The condition manifests as a syndrome of pain and neurological deficits caused
by displacement of part of the disc. IVDD is most prevalent in the thoracolumbar spine,
followed by the cervical region. Many aspects of managing this disease remain
controversial namely; medical versus surgical treatment, the use of corticosteroids, the
choice of surgery and surgical approach

to decompression, as well as accurate prognosis relative to deep pain perception. In all cases of IVDD, regardless of the chosen treatment, physical rehabilitation plays an integral role in the overall care and
recovery of the patient.

Surgery is not an option for all clients. Veterinary training is such that the taught
alternative to surgical correction of IVDD is euthanasia. The patient is still mentally alert
and the client is heartbroken at the lack of options available. The team at Animal Health
and Hydro (AHAH) can help. IVDD dogs make up at least 30% of our case load. AHAH
has treatment protocols to manage all patients whether Grade 1 or Grade 5.
Acupuncture and electroacupuncture (EAP), laser therapy and massage play an
important role in managing the pain. Research supports the use of EAP in cases of
acute disc herniation.

J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007 Sep 15;231(6):913-8.
“Evaluation of electroacupuncture treatment for thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease in dogs”.
Hayashi AM1, Matera JMFonseca Pinto AC.

Am J Chin Med. 2010;38(6):1015-25.
“Clinical effect of additional electroacupuncture on thoracolumbar intervertebral disc herniation in 80 paraplegic dogs”.
Han HJ1, Yoon HYKim JYJang HYLee BChoi SHJeong SW.

Both studies were controlled and conclusions were that electroacupuncture combined with standard Western medical treatment was effective and resulted in shorter time to recover ambulation and deep pain perception than did use of Western treatment alone in dogs with signs of thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease”.

Animal Health and Hydro team members provide emotional support and practical guidance to clients that struggle to adequately confine their companions. Most of the texts reiterate that the single most important factor contributing to a successful outcome (following disc herniation) is cage rest.

Once the pain is managed (usually after 2 – 4 weeks) then physical rehabilitation begins. Dogs conservatively managed usually begin exercise later than the surgical patients, to allow for some healing and stabilization to occur at the injury site. For those patients without neurological deficits the focus is on activating and strengthening the core musculature. In people with herniated lumbar discs, appropriate exercise is a proven way in which to manage the condition. Research to support this premise in dogs is not yet available but common sense prevails.

Neurological rehabilitation is of the utmost importance in those dogs exhibiting these symptoms. Treadmill training (to stimulate central pattern generators responsible for walking) is a researched method of rehabilitation and should be applied early in the recovery. The reason this is successful is because of the phenomenon of neuroplasticity which allows the regeneration of neural tissue to be influenced by appropriate loading and exercise. Nerves are more readily affected within 6 weeks of injury. Thereafter, the rehabilitation is more difficult. The underwater treadmill fulfills this role whilst providing support to the body in dogs which are unable to stand. The water enhances sensory perception and proprioceptive feedback.

In dogs with no deep pain perception, rehabilitation is still possible but takes patience and time. AHAH has successfully rehabilitated these dogs by teaching them to spinal walk. Another alternative is a mobility cart. AHAH discusses all option, their advantages and disadvantages as well as the management thereof.