Lower back pain in dogs can become a life-threatening issue if not properly cared for. Many pet owners are unaware of the treatment options available when an injury occurs. Animal chiropractic is an amazing tool to improve quality of life in both young and elderly dogs. 

What causes lower back pain in dogs? 

The lower back in dogs consists of 7 vertebrae; there are 2 transitional vertebrae, 1 from the middle back and 1 that leads into the tailbone. The forces and demands of a dog’s lower back and their injuries come from different actions than how humans sustain back injuries. One thing  that is the same is the disc between each vertebra and the nerve roots of the lumbar spine.  These parts of the body allow control and function to the lower half of your pet. Most injuries in pets come from an unexpected load on the area, like catching a frisbee in a jump and landing with a twist, or jumping off or onto a tall bed or couch. Young dogs are more likely to be injured from activity, while older dogs experience back problems as a result of the combination of wear and tear and activity.

Signs of low back injuries in dogs 

Lower back pain often comes from a wrong move during heavy play, a slip, or sudden impact.  Dogs are resilient and can handle a lot before injury shows up! There are often little signs that something is not quite right. Limping and shifting weight off a leg during activity, sitting with a leg to the side, avoiding laying on a side, difficulty with sit-to-stand, and avoidance of jumping are all common signs that the lower back, pelvis are out of alignment or painful. When these symptoms go unchecked, injuries progress and take longer to recover from.

Can dogs heal from a lower back injury?

Most dogs will heal and recover from a low back injury without further complications. We have treated several cases of sudden paralysis that have made partial to full recovery in the 13 years in practice. Animals have the same capacity to heal as we do and based on my experience they heal even faster. Recovery time is sped up due to the advantage of no stress, healthy diets, adequate  sleep, daily exercise, and a generally comfortable lifestyle.

How long do lower back injuries last in dogs? 

All injuries are unique and vary depending on the severity of the injury.  A small strain may take a week to heal where a severe disc injury may take a few months to fully heal. The most significant difference in recovery is the overall health of your pet prior to the injury. Previous injuries, low body fat and healthy muscle mass are all factors of recovery. Underlying health issues, cardiovascular function, hormonal imbalances, and diabetes also alter recovery. 

How to help your dog with a lower back injury

Start with co-management of care between your dog’s veterinarian and chiropractor. There will be chemical inflammation for the first 2 weeks after an injury which is when a vet should be consulted. Damaged tissues release chemicals that start the repair process, but also trigger swelling and pain. During this time activity should be kept light and frequent, avoiding burst activity and heavy play. Medications from your vet will reduce the pain your dog experiences. Chiropractic care is a great fit for an injury after approximately 10 days after the injury occurred. The chemical pain will be reduced and range of motion starts to improve.

What is a slipped disc and will it heal? 

Even though it is a very common term there is no such thing as a slipped disc. The discs of the spine are tough. They are not easily injured and they do not let go of the bones above or below them. Usually, we see 3 kinds of disc problems, herniations, bulges, and degenerative issues.  

Is one kind of disc injury worse than the others? 

There is no type of disc injury that is worse than another. In fact, a small disc injury can often be the most painful! The most common disc injury we treat at the clinic is bulges. This happens when the outer ring of the disc wears and the inner tissue pushes out, leading to pressure on the local nerves or spinal cord. Disc herniations happen when the outer rings have prolonged stress, wear down and eventually break leading to the inner disc material breaking through. Degeneration is a slow process and is the only type of disc injury visible on xray. Degeneration is a reduction of space that occurs as the disc dehydrates over time and shrinks. 

What is IVDD? 

Intervertebral Disc Disease is a common finding in both dogs and people. This condition is also known as degenerative disc disease.  Degeneration is variable and depending on the lifestyle and genetics may be a factor in your dog.  Degeneration is a normal process and it is a common finding in x-rays. IVDD is not always a pain-producing problem, however, there are times when degenerative changes create a cascade of problems that lead to chronic pain. The most common issue with IVDD is spinal stenosis, the loss of space in the disc can be associated with arthritis and the progressive narrowing of space around the spinal cord. This process still may be symptom-free, but requires intervention when symptoms are noticeable. Chiropractic adjustments are safe in these situations and provide relief and improved quality of life.  

Can your dog be adjusted with a disc injury?

It is safe for dogs to be adjusted with a disc injury. A certified animal chiropractor will know when to treat and more importantly when not to treat a pet. The safety of your dog is our top priority!

What can I do to help my dog feel better?

At home:

  1. Allow time for physical activity and play every day; this is imperative as dogs age. Daily walks are also a great rehabilitation activity.
  2. Don’t overfeed your dog! A healthy weight promotes longevity and quality of life. Try an alternative to standard dog treats like carrots, broccoli, apples, or blueberries. Never give your dog onions or grapes. 
  3. Small breeds should avoid big jumps. Encourage the use of ramps and/or stairs for tall beds and couches to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

At the clinic:

  1. Veterinary guidance for pain management is key. 
  2. Chiropractic care is a life-saving intervention. It is safe and effective for many musculoskeletal injuries, including disc injuries and age-related pain.  Make sure you find a trained and certified chiropractic physician. 
  3. Laser therapy is helpful in reducing inflammation, and pain and improves the rate of healing.
  4. Acupuncture is an excellent resource for pain management in animals. 
  5. Fish oil, with 3x more EPA than DHA is effective at reducing pain and improving quality of life. 
  6. Collagen and joint support supplementation reduce pain and improve activity tolerance.
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