Back Problems in Dogs
Back Pain is common in Dogs
Dogs really are our devoted companions, sharing in our lives with utmost unselfishness. They join in our work, our games and our daily round, with enviable enthusiasm. They share our homes and our lifestyles, for better or for worse.
In the course of this, they often do themselves injury, whether through over-exuberance or simple accident. Their bodies are not always perfectly tuned and fit, thereby being able to resist dynamic injury, precisely because they share our lifestyles.
One of the most common ailments of our canine patients (and poorly understood) is back pain.
In my canine veterinary work, I am very commonly asked to investigate and to treat dog back problems. In addition to this, many unnoticed back problems are uncovered during the course of routine examination. I can safely say that few things give me more pleasure and ecitement, each day, than seeing the benefit of this work to the dog. I can also truthfully state that nothing I learned in veterinary school comes close to providing the consistent and daily welfare benefits that I am privileged to be able to provide, through the use of just two bare hands (equine chiropractic manipulation).
Why this essential area of dog care seems so totally neglected by the veterinary schools is a constant mystery to me and I deeply regret the couple of years after i qualified, in which I hadn't encountered this technique. Now, 38 years on, I am still learning but the job satisfaction is enormous.
The dog's back
Complex yet simple
The canine back consists of a chain of vertebrae, each of which is specialised to serve its unique function depending upon its position in the spine. The spine runs from the back of the skull (cervical vertebrae) through the thorax or chest region (thoracic vertebrae), though the abdominal region (lumbar vertebrae), between the two halves of the pelvis, to which the pelvis is strongly mounted (sacral vetebrae or sacrum) to the tip of the tail (caudal or coccygeal vertebrae).
Between the vertebrae are the flexible and cushioning pads called discs, which allow for movement and spinal felxibility and which absorb some of the stresses put upon the spine. The vertebrae are held together by ligaments and they protect the spinal cord (the main nerve trunk of the body).
The whole spine is supported and moved by muscles, the largest of which is 'longissimus dorsi', which runs along either side of the spine, from shoulders to pelvis.
What can go wrong?
Mmmm . .
Your dog may be lucky enough to go through life never suffering a back problem. He would be among the lucky few. Many more suffer some 'routine' misalignments with associated muscle spasm and pain. A few suffer serious injury.
Collision and whiplash injuries occur in car accidents (road traffic accidents), running accidents and play between big boisterous dogs. Obviously direct injury to the spine by collision or a fall can cause a variable degree and type of damage, depending upon the direction and strength of the forces involved. If a dog slips, stumbles or staggers, his reflex efforts to regain posture can unleash a great deal of sudden force on the spine, resulting in misalignments.
If a dog uses himself wrongly, in his daily life or work, either because of repeated unsymmetrical activity or because of slippery floors or rugs, the repeated unnevenness of the stresses and strains on the spine will leave their mark, resulting in misalignments.
Intervertebral disc injury can occur as a result of extreme strain or because of disc degeneration. This can cause paralysis.
There are degernative diseases of the vertebrae (e.g. spondylosis), which can give rise to much pain and disability.
If the vertebrae of the neck develop incorrectly, possibly because of genetic susceptibility combined with diet anomalies, spinal cord function can be altered, with the typical gait termed 'wobbler' resulting. This condition is also called 'wobblers' or 'cervical spondylopathy'.
What do we do about it?
Chiropractic Manipulation and Acupuncture
Every patient receives a back check, to eleiminate back problems from our enquiries or to highlight problem areas.
We use chiropractic manipulation to correct spinal misalignments. This work can be supported by LASER therapy and/or by Acupuncture, as needed. The 'adjustment' is in fact a stimulus and signal to the body to self-correct. We do not move the bones ourselves. Follow-up visits may be necessary. When there are misalignment issues and when we correct them, improvements can often be immediately visible, with positive postural changes setting in very rapidly. The dog's response can be overwhelming. They always find a way to show their gratitude.
In the case of spondylosis, we would expect improvement following treatment, sometimes to the extent that the dog appears to have no problem. Of course, some cases of spondylosis are symptom-free anyway and are discovered incidentally on X-Ray pictures.
Where paralysis or extreme pain follows disc damage, we have seen the huge majority regain normal or near-normal mobility and lifestyle, using chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, LASER, homeopathy and herbs, in an integrated programme.
In the case of canine wobbler syndrome, we have seen a good proportion of patients regain an apparently pain-free and mobile life, although gait abnormalities rarely disappear completely, with the help of integrated work with diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs and LASER.
How do you know your dog has a back or neck problem?
Spotting the giveaway signs - 15 pointers
The giveaway signs of a back problem are:
Hunched or raised back
Localised disordered hair growth over the spine
Failure to 'track' properly
Consistently holding one hind leg ahead of the other
Difficulty in standing four-square
Difficulty rising from lying
Difficulty in finding a comfortable lying position
Conscious care when sitting
Tail held to one side
Tail held low
Unusual head carriage and movement or reduced head movement
Yelping upon making certain movements
If you spot any of these, your dog needs help.
While it is quite impossible to answer a truly hypothetical question, it is possible that, if I ever had to give up any aspect of my work it would NOT be my back work. I love it, dogs love it and the benefit it brings, while not in every case, is enormous.
Physiotherapy (physio) can be used as well but it will be of limited benefit if the skeleton is allowed to remain misaligned.
Acupuncture goes hand-in-hand with chiropractic manipulation and, indeed, both were used together in Ancient China.
The author is independent of commercial interest or sponsorship and cannot endorse any products or advertising material attached to this lens.
For more information, visit AVMC's information website (over 600 pages).
Chris Day - holistic vet - runs the Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre in Oxfordshire (AVMC) in Oxfordshire, UK.
Back pain is pants
If we have back pain, it hurts! It does for dogs too. They may even show pain by frequent panting for no apparent reason.
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