Canine IVDDiscs can degenerate over the dog’s life resulting in their hardening and potential herniation. Severe degeneration can disrupt a dog’s fine motor skills, coordination and joint positioning sense.

Although the degeneration can be caused by trauma, most dogs will experience a progressive deterioration over a few hours to a few days.

If suspected, then you should take your dog to your veterinary immediately, speed is critical.


Typical Areas Affected

  1. The neck area (Low head carriage, stiffness, vocalising muscle spasm)
  2. Where the rib cage ends (thoracolumbar with a reluctance to run, jump, climb stairs etc).


If surgery is recommended, a physiotherapy rehabilitation program is proposed to aid your dog’s recovery. This program will initially help to reduce any pain, inflammation leading to improved recovery and resuming as near as normal life as possible.

Classification of degeneration

‘Type I’ (Extrusion)

  • Can start as early as 2 months and is caused by a decrease in water and glycosaminoglycan which results in disc calcification.
  • This can prompt a sudden extrusion of a large volume of nucleus pulposus. Typically ‘Type I’ affects small chondrodystrophic breeds, though any conformation can be affected.


‘Type II’ (Protrusion)

  • Characterised as a normal healthy disk being replaced with fibrous tissue.
  • The symptom does not involve a complete tear and is less severe / has a slower onset. It is more commonly experienced by older / larger breeds.


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Time Frame


Physiotherapy Aims


Typical Treatments


0 - 3 days

Reduce swelling and inflammation,  control pain,

PEMF to will help to reduce inflammation and control pain. Manual manipulation including passive ROM and massage decreases adhesion between tissue and prevents muscle atrophy. Light passive exercise may also be recommended to enhance these effects.


4 - 14 days

As above plus limit muscle atrophy / adhesions and improve range-of-motion (ROM).

At this stage the patient is encouraged to stand unassisted. Treatments with PEMF and manual manipulation aid the healing process by increasing cell metabolic activity which brings more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.  Exercises can be more effective after these therapies.


3 - 8 weeks Restore ROM and weight bearing to as comfortable as condition will allow.

During this period the objective will be for your dog to walk unassisted. Treatments are now focused towards encouraging build of muscle tone by increasing the activity program. Treadmills and muscle stimulation (NMES) can be used to aid this program.


8 weeks + Maintain strength in supporting tissues and control any arthritis. After some 8 weeks, if the dog is walking then exercises can be increased to optimise the natural ROM and weight bearing.




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