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Understanding Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs

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Spondylosis deformans, a common degenerative disorder affecting the spinal column of dogs, is prevalent in older canines. This condition, characterized by the presence of bony spurs or osteophytes along the vertebral bones, can have a significant impact on a dog’s quality of life if not addressed.

What Is Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs?

An article titled “Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs” by veterinarians Barri J. Morrison, DVM, on PetMD, says that spondylosis deformans manifests as the formation of bony spurs along the underside and edges of the spinal vertebrae. These spurs can range from small growths to extensive bridges between adjacent vertebrae, leading to restricted movement and potential nerve compression. While this condition predominantly affects the lumbar vertebrae, it can occur anywhere along the spine.

According to Morrison, spondylosis deformans primarily develops in large-breed dogs as they age, with boxers being the most commonly affected. However, it can also occur in dogs of all breeds and sizes, typically emerging around the age of 10. Clinical signs may include back pain, abnormal posture, reluctance to walk, and stiffness, among others.

This is a close-up x-ray of a healthy spine of a 16-year-old dog. (Photo from iStock royalty-free images.)

Causes of Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs

Spondylosis deformans is largely associated with the natural aging process and degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs. As these discs deteriorate, the stability of the spinal joints diminishes, prompting the formation of bone spurs to reinforce weakened areas.

Additionally, Courtney Barnes, BSc, DVM, Tammy Hunter, DVM; and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH, in their article, “Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs” on VCA Animal Hospital website, claim that repetitive microtrauma, major injuries, and genetic predispositions can contribute to the development of this condition.

Diagnosis and Evaluation

Diagnosing spondylosis deformans typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a veterinarian, as outlined by Morrison. This process often includes a thorough physical examination, neurological and orthopedic assessments, and diagnostic imaging such as x-rays.

Barnes et al. say that advanced imaging techniques like MRI or CT scans may be necessary to assess the extent of spinal involvement and identify potential nerve compression.

Treatment Approaches

Treatment strategies for spondylosis deformans aim to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and manage associated symptoms. In cases where dogs are asymptomatic, no specific treatment may be required. However, for those experiencing discomfort, conservative approaches such as pain medication, controlled exercise, and weight management are often recommended, says Morrison.

Milky’s x-ray shows signs of Spondylosis Deformans. (Photo taken from the author’s copy given by the vet.)

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), along with physical therapy and acupuncture, can provide relief from pain and stiffness as Morrison suggests.

In severe cases where bone spurs lead to significant neurologic deficits, Barnes et al. claim that surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the spurs and relieve spinal cord compression.

Prognosis and Long-Term Management

The prognosis for dogs with spondylosis deformans varies depending on the severity of symptoms and the effectiveness of treatment. While many dogs can lead fulfilling lives with appropriate management, the condition is progressive and may worsen over time. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to monitor your dog’s condition and adjust treatment as needed, says Morrison.

Barnes et al. tell us that long-term management may include maintaining a healthy weight, providing soft bedding, and incorporating nutritional supplements to support joint health. By implementing these measures and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help improve your dog’s comfort and overall well-being.

Spondylosis deformans poses significant challenges for dogs particularly as they age. However, with early detection, appropriate treatment, and ongoing management, affected dogs can enjoy a good quality of life. By understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options outlined in this article, you can better support your canine companion in their journey towards optimal spinal health.

In summary, spondylosis deformans may be a common degenerative condition in dogs, but with timely intervention and attentive care, it does not have to define their lives.

About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist, writer, and tutor. She has been a solo parent for 17 years now because she is the wife of Jonas Burgos, a Filipino desaparecido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.


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