IVDD Surgery in Dogs: The Procedure, Cost and Recovery

Intervertebral disc disease—also called IVDD—is one of the most commonly seen neurological disorders found in dogs, causing worry and heartbreak for afflicted pups and their loving owners. Treatment is almost always required to combat IVDD, so in today's article, our Apple Valley vets discuss what is involved in the procedure and its associated costs. 

What is IVDD in dogs?

Intervertebral disc disease—more commonly called IVDD—is a spinal disorder that follows from the herniating of one or more of the intervertebral discs in your pup's spine.

A gelatinous substance surrounds the bones and spine of your dog. When this gel-like shock absorber for your dog's spine herniates, it can cause serious damage to your canine companion's spine. There are two kinds of IVDD found in dogs, called Hansen Type I and Hansen Type II. 

Hansen Type I is more commonly seen in chondrodystrophic breeds (dachshunds, corgis, beagles, etc.) and involves an acute rupture of the disc. While wear and tear calcifies and damages the disk over time, the rupture generally occurs suddenly as the result of a forceful impact (jumping, landing, etc.). A ruptured disk causes compression of the spinal cord and can result in pain, difficulty walking, paralysis, and/or the inability to urinate.

Hansen Type II is more commonly seen in large breed dogs. Examples of dog breeds more vulnerable to Hansen Type II IVDD disorder are Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, or Dobermans. With Type II, the discs become hardened over a longer period of time, eventually bulging or rupturing to cause spinal cord compression. This type is slow onset, there likely won't be any particular moment or action that can be identified as having caused the damage.

While it's possible for one of your dog's spinal discs to rupture and bulge at any point, just over half of all disc ruptures occur in the mid-back area. Nearly one in five happen in the neck.

What are the signs and symptoms of IVDD?

Common symptoms of IVDD include, but are not limited to:
  • Knuckling on paws
  • Pain in the neck or back region
  • Unwillingness or inability to walk
  • Difficulty urinating and/or defecating
  • Shaking or trembling (usually in response to pain)

How is IVDD diagnosed?  What dog breeds are at risk?

If your vet suspects IVDD may be what is causing your dog to feel unwell, they will generally start with a physical exam to check for any neurological or orthopedic conditions affecting your pup. If your vet confirms that IVDD is at the root of your pet's condition, treatment will either begin with conservative measures to slow its development and protect your dog or immediate preparation for surgery will occur depending on the condition's severity. 

Owners should be aware that these breeds of dog are predisposed to IVDD:

  • Dachshund (45-70% of IVDD cases)
  • Pekingese
  • Shih Tzu
  • Poodle
  • French bulldog
  • Beagle
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Corgi
  • Basset hound
  • Chihuahua
  • Cocker spaniel
  • German shepherd
  • Labrador retriever
  • Doberman pinscher

Can a dog recover from IVDD without surgery?

The symptoms of IVDD in dogs are often quite mild in its earliest stages. If your vet is able to identify IVDD early enough in your pup, non-invasive treatments like exercise confinement and specialized diets may be recommended. While this is sometimes enough, many patients will still require surgical intervention down the road if their condition persists and deteriorates. 

Three critical components to non-invasive treatment for IVDD are strict crate rest, sedatives to promote relaxation, and pain medication. 

Crate rest is mandatory for the IVDD to heal, if your dog's lifestyle does not include crate rest, or if they are otherwise very active and rarely slow down, your vet may prescribe medications to relax the dog and promote a more laid back lifestyle.  We understand the trepidation some dog owners may have with medicating their pets in this way, but it is completely necessary in some cases to prevent energetic dogs from hurting themselves.  With IVDD, a dog who does not get enough crate rest is at a hugely elevated risk of doing further damage that requires emergency surgery or, in some cases, incurable paralysis.

Pain medications will be prescribed if your dog is in discomfort.  having a slipped disk hurts--it hurts a lot.  If surgery is not the best path forward to correct the problem, pain medication will likely be required to keep the pain manageable while the injury heals.

What is IVDD surgery's success rate? 

IVDD is graded on a 1-5 scale based on the severity of symptoms.  Anywhere from 1-4 on the scale, and a patient who receives surgery should be expected to make a full recovery 90% of the time.  This number plummets to 50% or 60% when operating on grade 5 cases of IVDD in dogs, and even that number presumes surgery occurred within 24 hours of grade 5 symptoms beginning, the number drops further when surgery is performed more than 24 hours after grade 5 symptoms start.  IVDD gets worse over time, so while noninvasive options are preferred for dogs with a positive prognosis, it is also important not to wait too long before scheduling surgery if it is the right option for your pet.  Your veterinarian will make a recommendation for surgery based on each individual patient's situation

Patients who have surgery performed on them will have bone and disc material removed to alleviate pressure on their spine. This will be followed by several days of hospitalization, therapy, pain management and bladder management. 

How much does IVDD surgery cost?

IVDD surgery itself can cost anywhere from $1500 to $4000, and that does not include costs for x-rays and other imaging techniques that will be required to properly prepare for the surgery.  All-inclusive, the cost of surgical treatment for IVDD can land anywhere within a range of $3000-$8000 dollars.  If you own a dog breed that is particularly susceptible to IVDD, it may be a good idea to keep a savings fund or purchase pet care insurance in case the day comes where they need surgery.  IVDD is considered a very treatable disease, and so it is best to make sure you're prepared for the financial burden it can present in order to keep your canine companion living a long and happy life.

What is the prognosis for dogs with IVDD?

For most dogs who receive treatment, the prognosis is generally positive! In all but the most serious cases, dogs suffering from IVDD will make a full recovery from the condition. IVDD is one of the many reasons It is important to make annual regular checkups with your vet, as catching the condition early will reduce the costs and risks of surgery—or may even prevent the need for surgery altogether

The sooner your pup can receive treatment for IVDD, the better. The veterinary team at Bear Valley Animal Hospital is here for you and your pup to provide prompt and expert diagnosis, treatment and post-operative care so you and your canine companion can look forward many happy and mobile years. Contact us today