Conservative treatment is very important for dogs with IVDD. When your dog goes down there are essentially two treatment options. One option is the surgical route where a neurologist will perform surgery to repair the ruptured disc and relieve any pressure from the spinal cord. The other option you may choose is conservative treatment.
The option you and your vet choose will depend on the severity of your dog’s symptoms and your financial situation. Surgery is expensive, and does not guarantee a full recovery. If you can not afford it, or your dog is not a surgical candidate, don’t worry! Many dogs can and do recover partial to full mobility after conservative treatment. So, what is it?
- Pain management
- 8 weeks of crate rest
- Physical therapy
When is Conservative Treatment Recommended?
Conservative treatment consists of pain management with medication, crate rest, therapy, and physical therapy. It is usually recommended if your dog is presenting less severe symptoms such as pain, weakness, and knuckling. However, anyone who is unable to do surgery should go through with conservative treatment, no matter how severe the symptoms are.
Pain Management and Medication
Your vet will prescribe you some medications depending on your situation. They usually prescribe either steroids or NSAIDs, along with a pain killer and sometimes a muscle relaxer. You should also ask your vet for a tummy protector to prevent stomach ulcers while on the medication. Make sure you stick to the dosage your vet prescribes. If it does not seem to be working contact your vet and let them know. They may have to adjust the dose or try a different medication. Most pain should subside within a couple of weeks, but it may take longer for some. With your dog’s pain now under control the next important step is crate rest.
When the disc ruptures in the spine it is very important to limit your dog’s movement as much as possible for 8 weeks unless otherwise specified by your vet. This gives time for scar tissue to form around the disc so it does not rupture more when they resume activity. If they move too soon it can cause the disc to bulge more, ultimately leading to more damage to the spinal cord. The crate that you choose should be small enough to prevent your dog from pacing around, but large enough to allow them to move away from any accidents they might have. You should also provide them with water in the crate. When it’s time to go to the bathroom, carry them out and keep them on a leash so they can not take off or wander around. If they are incontinent you may want to express them on a pee pad inside. If you would like to learn more, check out my post ‘Make The Best Out of Crate Rest’.
What Therapies Should You Try?
There are different therapies you can try during the crate rest period. Cold laser therapy is good for pain and inflammation and does not require them to move. Electro-acupuncture is good as well, and helps to stimulate their nerves. Both are proven to give great results and I highly recommend trying at least one of them and continuing it consistently. With an ok from your vet you can also start doing passive range of motion stretches with your dog. This will keep them flexible while they are on crate rest.
Once you have finished crate rest you can start doing physical therapy. A rehab vet can show you some standing exercises tailored to your dog’s needs and abilities. Hydrotherapy is great for building their strength back up. Your dog will walk on a treadmill under water. It uses the resistance of the water to give them a good workout without having to bear their full weight. Someone may be in the tank with your dog to help them place their feet. This helps spark the connections between the feet and the brain, and retrains the neural pathways to begin working correctly. This is another therapy that you may want to do consistently for an extended period of time.