Disc disease in San Luis Obispo dogs is a very serious medical issue for your pet.  At Mission Animal Hospital  we are the San Luis Obispo emergecy vet and are open 7 days a week to help you.  We can help your pet with the most advanced diagnostics and treatments to maximize their quality of life with pet disc disease, from herbs to laser treatments to surgery.

The anatomy of disc disease in dogs: The spine is one of the most sensitive and important organs in the body. To protect it from damage, the spinal cord runs through a bony canal within the spine, and is surrounded by protective bone everywhere except the junction of the vertebrae. These junctions are filled by hard rubber-like cushions called intervertebral discs. The cushion provided by these discs allow the spinal column to flex in all four directions without contact between the adjacent vertebrae.

The cause of disc disease in dogs: As a dog goes through its life, repeated spinal stress caused by jumping and twisting (and, in many dogs, obesity) creates degenerative changes within these intervertebral discs. As the discs degenerate, they both weaken and lose their elasticity. When a weakened disc is suddenly stressed by jumping or twisting, some of that disc material escapes, or herniates, up into the spinal canal. Because the spinal cord is encased within this bony tunnel, it cannot move away from the pressure and thus becomes “pinched” or “compressed”. In most dogs, this occurs between 3-7 years of age. Certain breeds, like Dachshunds, Lhasas, Shih Tzus, Pekes, German Shepherds, and Dobies are most commonly affected, but pet disc disease can occur in any breed of dog, and occasionally in cats as well.

The spinal cord is like a telephone cable carrying thousands of tiny wires. When it is pinched or compressed, transmission of information through these tiny wires is slowed or stopped. As these impulses are dampened, we see symptoms such as:

  • Hindlimb weakness or wobbliness
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Paralysis
  • Pain

In minor cases, we may just see a “stiff” pet who is reluctant to move. But in more serious cases, a pet can become paralyzed in less than an hour.

The diagnosis of disc disease in dogs is based on a pet’s examination and your observations as their parent. We will usually need radiographs of the spine to help localize the damaged area, and blood tests to check for other causes of weakness. There are times when radiographs will not give us as much information as we would like, and if surgery is contemplated an MRI or CT scan may be required. While these imaging studies can add to the expense, they also enable us to determine exactly where and how bad the damage to your pet’s spine is. They can also help us differentiate between IVDD and less common problems like spinal tumors. In San Luis Obispo, we typically refer to Atascadero Pet Center for CT studies and Alamo Pintado Veterinary Clinic in Los Olivos for MRI studies.

Treatment of disc disease in dogs:

For dogs with mild symptoms, the cornerstones of treatment are:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, usually steroids
  • Laser therapy— available here at MAH
  • Muscle relaxants if cramping is present
  • Correction of underlying causes like obesity and excessive jumping

If your pet is acutely paralyzed, or if your pet’s moderate spinal symptoms are not resolving, decompressive spinal surgery may be required. The goal of these surgeries is to remove pressure from the spinal cord. This typically involves removing a section of the bony tunnel surrounding the spine, which not only enables a surgeon to physically remove the disc material creating pressure on the spine, but also allows the spine itself more freedom of motion to escape the herniated material. The sooner this surgery is performed, the better our chances of regaining function.

What’s the surgical success rate for disc disease in dogs?

SYMPTOMS                                 DURATION                       % RECOVERY WITHOUT SURGERY    % RECOVERY WITH SURGERY

Mild-Moderate Pain                         < 7 days                                              80-90%                                              90-95%

Mild-Moderate Pain                         > 7 days                                              60-70%                                              80-90%

Partial Paralysis, Weakness                                                                        30-40%                                              80-90%

Paralysis but can feel                       < 3 days                                              < 25%                                                80-90%

Paralysis but can feel                       > 3 days                                              < 20%                                                60-70%

Paralysis, No Feeling                       < 24 hours                                           < 5%                                                    50%

Paralysis, No Feeling                       > 24 hours                                           < 5%                                                     20%

Your pet’s postoperative care will usually consist of:

  • Pain relief, either injectable or oral
  • Nursing care— helping them get up and around, cleaning up after them. We will lend you help.
  • Laser therapy every 2-3 days
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation

How will we know if surgery has been successful? Unfortunately, surgical success cannot necessarily be determined immediately. The return of normal neurologic function may take days to several weeks. The odds of surgical success depend upon four factors: whether permanent damage was done before surgery, whether the surgery was successful in removing the pressure quickly enough, postoperative care, and your pet’s motivation.

At Mission Animal Hospital, we will help you and your pet however we can. We promise.

Contact Us

Mission Animal Hospital


3973 South Higuera Street San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Clinic Hours

Monday-Friday 9 am to 5 pm
Saturday 9am to 3pm
Sunday Closed