Low Back Pain in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Low back pain in dogs is a painful product of various causes and relieving it will be a priority when establishing a treatment. Learn more about this pathology.
Low Back Pain in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Last update: 03 December, 2021

Low back pain in dogs is a painful condition in the lumbosacral area that, if left untreated, greatly limits the animal’s quality of life and can even lead to partial paralysis. Fortunately (and unfortunately) it’s an easy pathology to detect, because the animal will give clear signs of suffering.

This article isn’t intended to replace a veterinary consultation, and is merely informative. Therefore, if you think your dog could be suffering from lumbago or simply want to know more about this pathological condition, in this article you’ll find all the basic information you need, but always with the aim of helping your veterinarian to make as reliable a diagnosis as possible.

Characteristics of lumbago in dogs

The etymology of the word lumbago comes from 2 languages: Latin lumbus (lower back) and Greek, in which the suffix -algia means “pain”. Therefore, this term is used to indicate that there’s pain in the lumbar area of the body of a living being with a bony skeleton (whether human or not).

In the case of dogs, the pain is located in the last 3 lumbar vertebrae (L5-L6-L7) and the sacrum, which connects the pelvis to the spine. In addition to affecting the bones, low back pain increases muscle work in the area, causing pain and stiffness at the locomotor level.

This occurs due to the pain mechanism itself, which activates the body’s inflammatory processes as a method of defense. In turn, this muscle inflammation presses on the nerve pathways to cause impingement or even spinal protrusions and herniated discs.

Low back pain in dogs.

Causes

This is a pathology that appears more frequently in older dogs, as the bones wear out naturally. However, some breeds are more predisposed to lumbago than others due to their own anatomy. The clearest examples are the Dachshund, the French bulldog, and certain large dogs, such as the Labrador.

In general, dogs with a long torso and short legs are prone to back problems, as the spine carries more weight than it should.

On the other hand, there are external causes that give rise to the appearance of low back pain in dogs. The most common are as follows:

Symptoms of low back pain in dogs

The main sign that your dog will manifest is pain. It will stop running, won’t want to climb stairs, will complains when you touch them in the painful area, in general, will be less active than usual. Add to this spondylitis or a hernia, and the signs are much clearer.

Some dogs are less likely to be sore than others. However, there are other clear signs to indicate that the dog has a problem in the lower back. Here are some of them:

  • Visible swelling in the affected area
  • Muscle contracture that can be felt by palpation
  • Changes in sensitivity
  • Reduced mobility and activity
  • Discomfort (the dog often changes position)
  • Increased temperature in the area due to inflammation
  • Changes in mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Excess weight due to a lack of activity

In the most severe cases, when the spinal cord is affected, the nerve connection between the spinal cord and the limbs may be lost, resulting in paralysis in the hind area of the animal. This usually occurs in the advanced stages of the condition.

How is low back pain in dogs diagnosed?

Once in consultation, a combination of diagnostic tests, physical examination, and consulting with the owner will be necessary to determine the causes of low back pain. Try to answer the veterinarian’s questions as accurately as possible, as this will help him/her to narrow down the condition somewhat better.

The physical examination consists of finding the exact point of injury through clinical signs, i.e., palpating the lower back for contractures and other injuries. In addition, the animal will react to pressure on the painful areas.

A neurological examination is also included to assess the motor functions through spinal reflexes and somatic sensation.

In addition to this, a radiological examination (with x-rays) is carried out to observe the condition of the vertebrae. This x-ray will determine if there is ankylosing spondylitis, herniation, wear and tear of the intervertebral discs, infections, tumors, or other ailments.

If the results are still unclear, advanced diagnostic imaging with MRI or CT (computed tomography) will be performed. These techniques give much more accurate and definitive results than the other approaches mentioned above.

Treatment

Treatment of low back pain in dogs is directed at the underlying causes of the condition. However, relieving the animal’s pain will be a priority, so anti-inflammatories and analgesics will be prescribed, regardless of its condition.

Applying gentle heat to the painful area is a good way to soothe your dog. You can use hot water (or seed) packs and electric blankets.

As a complementary treatment, rehabilitation and physiotherapy sessions are recommended, as they help to reduce pain and improve the dog’s mobility. In severe cases with paralysis, surgery will be necessary to release the pressure that the inflammation is exerting on the spinal cord.

If the dog has gained extra weight due to inactivity, you’ll be given advice to correct its diet, since exercise isn’t an option at the moment. Even so, there are manual supports and lumbar protectors on the market that will help your dog to move more easily despite its handicaps.

A dog at the vet.

Don’t wait before you go to the vet if your pet is in pain of any kind. Whatever the cause, this will be one of the first things the vet will try to find a solution to, because it’s the greatest indicator of the dog’s quality of life, and it’s up to you to recognize the signs.

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