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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