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Back Problems in Dogs

Updated on June 15, 2011

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.

Senior dog
Senior dog

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.

Dog acupuncture
Dog acupuncture

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:

Touchy back

Dippy back

Hunched or raised back

Localised disordered hair growth over the spine

Failure to 'track' properly

Consistently holding one hind leg ahead of the other

Uneven stride

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.

Summary

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.

Border Collie
Border Collie

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    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: That's a very sad story - I'm very sorry to hear it. Thanks for sharing, though.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very informative. I wish I could have brought my little Jack Russell, "Darwin", to see you. He's gone now, but he had frequent back problems, and all the vets here wanted to do was give him cortisone shots.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @mattseefood lm: It's pretty easy in most cases, thanks to some giveaway signs, once you're tuned in to looking and observing them. Thanks for visiting.

    • mattseefood lm profile image

      mattseefood lm 6 years ago

      Nice information! It'd be often hard to know if dogs had back pain, no?

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for your very supportive comment.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very informative site especially "the give away signs" that a dog might have a back or neck problem.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @norma-holt: Thanks so much fro spreading your kindness this far.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 6 years ago

      Another great one. *-* Blessed*-* and featured on Angel blessings for dogs on Squdioo

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: You need to contact www.ahvma.org to see who is near you who does the holistic work. We'd EXPECT recovery, simply because most do so with this sort of regimen.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      please advise if you have anyone that you can recommend to help a dachshund with back problems that the vet says surgery is the answer. acupuncture was recommended, but you seem to be able to take it a bit further. need someone recommended in Atlanta, GA USA or in Chicago, IL USA. thank you so much. God Bless you.

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 6 years ago from US

      *Blessed* by a squid angel;)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: Thanks again for your attention and support. It gives a very positive energy.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Chiropractic for dogs- brilliant. I don't believe I can be any more impressed. Keep up the fabulous work.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Andy-Po: Thanks for the visit and, more especially, for your interest.

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 6 years ago from London, England

      Very interesting and useful information.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 7 years ago

      @anonymous: I don't think I can run an advice clinic from Squidoo - I shall answer briefly but, if you need more, please visit my website and send me an email. Possibilities that occur to me are: something caught in his coat (but you'd have found that), a type of petit-mal seizure, a nerve pinch from a misaligned back or a disc that is partially damaged in the spine. When was his last Rabies vaccine? Yes, you need a veterinary diagnosis. Good luck. If something is found out, maybe I could help via video link? www.alternativevet.org/videolink.htm

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @ChrisDay LM: When taking our 2 year old shih tzu for a walk he has suddenly given a very high pitched yelp, jumped round with his face against the top, outside, middle of his hind leg, jumped up in the air, almost as though he has been bitten by a bee, then 10 seconds later it is as though nothing has happened.He has done this about 4 times over the last 5 months.It happens when he is walking normally, not jumping or playing.Today it happened but he was very upset and shaking for about 30 minutes afterwards.i tried to cuddle him but he yelped frantically when my hand touched the top middle of his leg. There is nothing there at all, not swollen, no lumps.He is able to put his foot down & walk normally. Today though he walked round with his tail hanging down & his back a bit hunched up but only slightly. He was fine after a sleep. It happened again tonight, he got up and screamed out running frantically so fast into another room as though he was trying to run away from something. This is not a woossy dog. He never yelps or cries out, even if hurt.He is walking perfectly normally now, tail wagging & very happy. The pain obviously comes so quickly & is so sharp but then disappears quickly too. You would honestly think he had been stung or had damaged something badly but then he trots off happily. He is so happy right now. Any suggestions?We are in France & will gladly take him to the vet if he shows signs of problems tomorrow & if we can get an appointment.Explaining this in French is going to be difficult!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
      Author

      ChrisDay LM 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for reading this lens and for your message. I did indeed visit corysstory.com - irresistible read.

      I hope you found something useful here for back problems but I'm willing to try to help with more specific information, if needed.

      As far as epilepsy is concerned, starting at 5 months of age makes puppy vaccinations one of the leading contenders for causation or trigger.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thanks for the post. I have a dog with canine epilepsy named Cory, and we were actually able to get his seizures under control to the point where he is now 13 years old and hasn't had a seizure in over 5 years. If you're interested, I blog about him too at www.corysstory.com.

      Again, thanks for helping spread the word about how dog owners can help their dogs cope with epilepsy. It's a horrible disease, but it can be treated.