Spondylosis occurs when the vertebrae in a dog's spine fuse together, in one or multiple locations. While spondylosis can't be cured, there are many treatment options available that can help make your dog more comfortable if they are showing symptoms of pain and discomfort. In this article, we'll discuss the symptoms and treatment options for spondylosis in dogs.

What is spondylosis in dogs?

Spondylosis is defined as a non-inflammatory, degenerative disease of the vertebral bodies of the spine. New bone growth, in the form of bone spurs or osteophytes, at the endplates of the vertebral body can be severe enough to result in a bony union between two vertebral bodies. This union can result in a lack of spinal mobility.

Typical locations for spondylosis to occur in dogs include the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and the lumbosacral junction. Spondylosis affects one or multiple locations in the spine.

What causes spondylosis in dogs?

As spondylosis typically affects dogs as they age, it is believed to be caused by normal and natural degeneration of the vertebral bones of the spine. Some dogs may develop spondylosis if they have had previous spinal trauma. It's also thought there may be a genetic predisposition for this condition.

Spondylosis in dogs typically affects medium to large breed dogs and occurrence increases with age. Prevalence rates can be as high as 75% in dogs older than 9 years. Spondylosis may be seen in younger dogs that have a genetic predisposition.

What are the symptoms of spondylosis in dogs?

Most dogs with spondylosis are asymptomatic and the condition is of little clinical significance. As spondylosis progresses however and affects multiple locations along the spine with the complete fusion between the vertebral bodies, clinical symptoms may become apparent.

Typical symptoms of spondylosis in dogs can include:

  • Stiffness
  • Back pain
  • Reluctancy or difficulty rising from a lying position
  • Reluctance to exercise or play
  • Difficulty jumping or going up and downstairs

If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it's important to take them to see your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Spondylosis can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to those seen in other diseases of the spine.

Although spondylosis is a spinal disorder, the neurological function should not be affected. If your dog is showing signs of neurological disease such as knuckling or ataxia (lack of coordination), another diagnosis should be investigated.

How is spondylosis diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will likely perform a physical examination and take radiographs (x-rays) of your dog's spine to make a diagnosis. The radiographs will help to identify the location and severity of any new bone growth such as bone spurs and osteophytes and will be able to assess the severity of spondylosis.

What are the treatment options for spondylosis in dogs?

The goal of treatment for spondylosis is to relieve pain and improve the quality of life in dogs that are showing symptoms. In most cases, medical management is all that is required. This can include a combination of the following:

  1. Weight control – maintaining a healthy weight helps to take pressure off the spine.
  2. Exercise – moderate controlled exercise is important to maintain muscle tone and flexibility. Swimming is a great low-impact exercise for dogs with spondylosis.
  3. Nutrition – a balanced, nutritious diet helps to support overall health.
  4. Anti-inflammatories – medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help to control pain and inflammation.
  5. Analgesics – drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain such as gabapentin may be required in some cases.

What is the prognosis for dogs with spondylosis?

The prognosis for dogs with spondylosis is generally good. Dogs only require therapy if they are showing clinical signs and if they are, they typically respond well to treatment. Treatment may be required lifelong as symptomatic spondylosis in dogs is a progressive condition.

In conclusion, spondylosis in dogs is a common, degenerative spine disorder that typically affects medium to large-breed dogs as they age. The disease is caused by the abnormal growth of bone in the spine and leads to progressive weakness and pain. Dogs that are affected by spondylosis often show signs of pain, reluctance to move, and difficulty standing or walking. The condition is diagnosed based on physical examination and spinal radiographs (x-rays). Although spondylosis is a spinal disorder, the neurological function should not be affected. If your dog is showing signs of neurological disease such as knuckling or ataxia (lack of coordination), another diagnosis should be investigated. The prognosis for spondylosis in dogs is good. If you have any questions or are concerned about spondylosis in your dog, please contact your veterinarian.