Dogs, like humans, can suffer from spinal problems that cause pain and lack of mobility. Some breeds, such as dachshunds and shih tzus, have specific structural weaknesses that can lead to severe spinal deformities. A number of other conditions can cause this calcification, which may lead to bulging discs and progressive deterioration of the spine. Surgery is often the only recourse to relieve pain and restore mobility in recurring cases.
Canine Spinal Calcification
Calcification of the spine occurs when calcium crystals are deposited in the gelatinous fluid that cushions the vertebrae. When this fluid becomes hardened, it can no longer protect the individual bone sections of the spine. The vertebrae may then bulge and misalign, causing pain and possible nerve damage.
Certain small breeds, including the Pekingese, beagle, Lhasa apso and others, may suffer from calcification of the spinal column as early as two years from birth, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. The calcium crystals that form within the fluid sacs cause the discs to bulge. This may be followed by a secondary calcification that leads to disc rupture, which can occur anywhere along the spine. Large dog breeds, such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds, generally suffer from calcification and disc problems at a later age, around 5 years or older.
Calcification can be the body’s normal reaction to spine injuries or inflammation occurring at the site. Your veterinarian should monitor any injury to your dog’s spine carefully for a period of time to ensure that bones have not been broken and to treat any inflammation that results from the injury. Anti-inflammatory medications will help to eliminate chronic inflammation in the spinal column, keeping calcification and disc disease at bay after injury.
As dogs age, the tissues and fluids of the body often receive diminished blood flow and nutrition, which can lead to calcium crystallization within the spinal column. The calcium deposits lodge between the vertebral discs and cause diminished flexibility and can lead to weakness in the back legs and incontinence. Chronic spinal pain may cause an aversion to walking, increasing immobility.
Calcification of the spine in dogs is detected by X-ray. A myelogram, in which dye is injected into the spinal column, may be done to show the internal sections of the spine on X-ray. MRIs are also a helpful tool in diagnosing disc disease from calcification. Treatment for spinal disc disease includes cage rest, medications and surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal column.