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Spondylosis In Dogs And Cats

Spondylosis in dogs and cats (spinal osteoarthritis) is a degenerative disorder that may cause loss of normal spinal structure and function. Although aging is the primary cause, the location and rate of degeneration is individual. The degenerative process of spondylosis may affect the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbosacral back (rear 1/3 of the back).

It is not completely clear how this disorder progresses, but it may start with a breakdown of Sharpey’s fibers, which are the fibers making up the annulus or outer portion of the intervertebral disks. Subsequently, inner disk material protrudes, stretching the longitudinal ligament, and promoting the appearance of osteophytes (new bone) which grow out from the vertebral bodies in such a way that one cannot tell where the original bone ends and the osteophytic growth begins. Before that happens, though, separate bone forming centers can be seen forming a few millimeters from the vertebral bodies; that later fuse and fuse and grow toward the adjacent vertebral segment. Eventually, and depending on breed and family history, the disk spaces between particular segments become bridged with bone.

Many affected dogs and cats live satisfactory lives, though somewhat limited in flexibility and range of motion. Fortunately, by the time spondylosis becomes noticeable in clinical signs, the pet may be considered “retired” from his activities of running around, jumping, and doing the other things typical of a younger animal. In some individuals, it will get worse suddenly rather than continue in a gradual worsening. Possibly, trauma may bring fracture of the bridge created in the development of spondylosis, which crack may spread to the arch and body, thus pinching the spinal cord, leading to pain and possibly neuromuscular dysfunction and loss of urinary and bowel control.

Many affected dogs and cats live satisfactory lives, though somewhat limited in flexibility and range of motion. Fortunately, by the time spondylosis becomes noticeable in clinical signs, the pet may be considered “retired” from his activities of running around, jumping, and doing the other things typical of a younger animal. In some individuals, it will get worse suddenly rather than continue in a gradual worsening. Possibly, trauma may bring fracture of the bridge created in the development of spondylosis, which crack may spread to the arch and body, thus pinching the spinal cord, leading to pain and possibly neuromuscular dysfunction and loss of urinary and bowel control.

In patients where mobility and/or bladder, bowel, or rear limb function is severely compromised by spondylosis, treatment with non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is often helpful. If NSAIDs cease to be effective or were never even effective to begin with, some of these patients will respond to treatment and maintenance on a corticosteroid.

 

Roger L. Welton, DVM
Founder and Chief Editor, Web-DVM.net
President, Maybeck Animal Hospital

CEO, Dr Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care

Article updated 6/3/2014

8 thoughts on “Spondylosis In Dogs And Cats

  1. Deidra says:

    We found my son’s Golden Retriever, Tucker, Wednesday afternoon laying behind his dog house with his front half on his left side and back half more on his back with his legs spread open. He was not getting up. We took him to the vet immediately. His white blood count was 88,000. He has bruising under his left hind leg and now under his front leg. His x-ray’s may have showed a spot of sondylosis. The vet pricked his back paws with a needle and he has no movement. Vets first thoughts were miningitis, cancer they can’t see or spinal trauma. They have him on fluids, steriods and antibioditics for possible miningitis. Friday evening my son came home from college to see him. The vet then said with the bruising underneath it is more likely he was hit by a car. Tucker is on an electric fence in an extra lot by our house. We have NEVER seen him try to cross the fence. There are only 5 homes in our neighborhood. Because my son was so upset to see his dog last night he asked for the weekend to see if there would be improvement. The vet is now using a lazer treatment on him to help with swelling. This afternoon I went to see him. He looked better than last night. He was more alert, not looking like he had pain in his eyes like the night before and eating by hand but still no lower leg movement. Do you have any ideas what may be going on with our pet? There are no vehicle tracks in our extra lot but the ones we made to take him to the vet. We love him dearly!

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