A dog's spine is made up of many bones and in between each there is a disc that acts as a shock absorber which in short, offers protection from trauma and shock. There are twenty-seven bones in total that make up a dog’s spine and this does not include those found in the tail. Each of the discs that separate the vertebrae is made up of a fibrous ring with the inner part being a pocket of gelatinous-like matter. Then there are ligaments as well as muscles that support a dog's vertebrae. A dog’s spinal cord is protected by the many bones and when things go wrong, it can lead to a dog suffering from a condition known as caudia equina syndrome which is when vital nerves get compressed causing all the problems.
A dog’s spinal cord ends at their sixth lumbar vertebrae which is found in their lower back. The nerves to a dog’s back legs, tail, bladder and rectum come off this part of the spinal cord which resembles a horse's tail which is why it is known as the cauda equina. Cauda equina syndrome is caused by these nerves becoming compressed which negatively impacts a dog's back end and their back legs.
As the disorder worsens, sciatic and sacral nerves are negatively affected and this in turn can lead to dogs developing degenerative arthritis in their spines. However, dogs can also suffer other conditions as a result of the condition which includes the following:
One of the most common forms of cauda equina syndrome seen in dogs is a condition known as degenerative lumbrosacral stenosis and it is when pathological changes occur in a dog's spine which results in nerves becoming compressed. This in turn means there is a thickening seen in a dog's intervertebral disc as well as their interarcuate ligament. It also results in a thickening of joints found in the spine which is due to arthritis setting in. However, a vet would want to rule out any other conditions that have the same or similar symptoms which includes the following health issues:
The breeds that are most affected by the condition tend to be larger dogs although older dogs too are more predisposed to suffering from the condition. The breeds most at risk include the following:
It's worth noting that dogs tend to show signs of there being something wrong with them when are anything from six to seven years old with male dogs being most affected by the condition.
Dogs start to show signs of there being something wrong with them which is typically when they are around 6 or 7 years old and the symptoms most commonly associated with the condition are as follows:
A vet would ideally need to have a dog's full medical history, their ancestry and be told how the onset of any worrying symptoms first presented themselves. The more information they have the better because it allows them to establish a preliminary diagnosis. The vet would thoroughly examine a dog's spine if they think they are suffering from cauda equina syndrome and would typically recommend carrying out the following tests to confirm a diagnosis:
If the vet suspects a dog has developed a tumour, they would recommend doing chest X-rays to make sure the tumour has not spread to a dog's lungs although if the tumours are tiny, they are often not picked up on an X-ray.
Once a dog has been diagnosed as suffering from cauda equina syndrome, they would need to have their exercise restricted. The vet would typically prescribe a course of anti-inflammatories which dogs need to be given over a period of anything from four to six weeks. It is also worth bearing in mind that only around half of the dogs treated for the condition respond well to a treatment and that it depends on the severity of their condition too.
Should a dog not respond to a therapy, the vet might recommend surgery, but this depends on the severity of the dog's condition. The procedure is known as a laminectomy"" and is quite complicated with dogs having to remain hospitalised until they make a significant recovery. With this said, any dog that has developed cauda equina syndrome would need to have their condition assessed by a vet before any sort of treatment, therapy or surgery would be set in place and the prognosis tends to be guarded.