Spondylosis in Dogs (Symptoms, Causes and Treatment)

Spondylosis in Dogs

Spondylosis is a spinal condition that mostly afflicts senior dogs and if not diagnosed or treated properly can cause your pooch a lot of discomfort.

Spondylosis is a disease that affects a dog’s spine. It typically occurs when bone spurs (osteophytes) form around the edges of the spinal bones. Many affected dogs do not exhibit symptoms, but if the degeneration spreads to the nerves in the spinal region, then the dog may experience varying degrees of pain.

Spondylosis can also severely impact a dog’s mobility, especially when these abnormal bony spurs connect the vertebrae of the spinal column.

As your beloved four-legged friend ages, he/she will inevitably become more susceptible to more health conditions as compared to when he/she was a young, exuberant puppy.

What is Spondylosis in Dogs?

Spondylosis, also commonly referred to as Spondylosis deformans, is a condition that targets the vertebral bones of the spine. It is characterized by the development of bony spurs (otherwise known as osteophytes) along the edges of the bones of the spine.

For this condition to be diagnosed, the spinal structure has to be examined through an MRI or X-ray. In many cases, spondylosis is an incidental finding on radiographs taken of a pet for an unrelated reason. While examining the radiograph, a vet would be able to spot bone spurs forming around the spine.

A normal spine has individuals sections of vertebrae with space in-between composed of the intervertebral disc. Spondylosis, on the other hand, causes visible bone spurs on the ventral surface of the vertebrae. In extreme cases, abnormal bone growth can form a bony bridge linking or fusing the vertebrae.

The most common areas that spondylosis lesions tend to occur are along the thoracic vertebrae (chest), especially at the junction point that connects the rib cage and the abdomen, in the lumbosacral spine (around the back legs and hips), and in the lumbar spine (lower back).

A bony spur may form in one spot on the spine, although in most cases, there will be multiple abnormal growths in different locations along the spine.

Symptoms of Spondylosis in Dogs

The majority of dogs that suffer from spondylosis are asymptomatic, which means that they show no signs of pain or discomfort.

That said, if a bony spur develops near a nerve, it may exert pressure on the nerve, causing pain in the area. The pain can be intermittent or develop into a recurring condition that requires medical attention.

In severe cases, spondylosis may cause restricted movement or stiffness in a dog due to the amount and location of the bone spurs.

Sometimes spondylosis can cause neurologic impairment especially if a nerve is involved. In such cases, it may cause some pets to have issues with incontinence. You may notice that your pooch begins to have accidents suddenly in your house – have your vet examine your dog to rule out spondylosis or any other medical condition.

Another symptom that owners with affected dogs often report is changes in gait, mobility, or posture. This may include difficulty on walks or stairs, taking longer to rise, limping, dragging of hind legs, lack of coordination in movement, walking with a head down and back arched up posture.

Other symptoms you may notice include:

  • Persistent back pain
  • Lameness
  • Neck pain
  • Limbs become weak or numb
  • Whining or crying when touched along the affected areas of the back

How Long Can Dogs Live with Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is not fatal. If your dog does not exhibit symptoms, the condition may go undetected for years, or even for Fido’s entire lifetime.

Many dogs that suffer from spondylosis live fulfilled lives, even though they may experience some degree of limitation in flexibility and range of motion.

For dogs that exhibit symptoms of the disease, a consistent treatment plan may help to improve their quality of life. Your vet will provide a more informed prognosis of your individual dog, based on his/her condition’s progression, results of diagnostic testing, and/or how he/she responds to treatment.

What Causes Spondylosis in Dogs?

Old Age

Many researchers consider spondylosis to be a chronic age-related condition. This could be attributed to the fact that the disease is more common in older canines around or after ten years of age.

At this age, the joints of a dog have endured repeated stress which may cause them to degenerate and eventually lose stability. The dog’s body then responds by creating bone spurs to strengthen these areas.

Hereditary Predisposition

Some researchers believe that the genetic makeup of a dog may increase his/her risk of developing spondylosis. Based on this, several studies show that some breeds are more likely to have the genetic marker for the condition. These include Boxers and German Shepherds, as well as breeds that have long backs such as Dachshunds.


A traumatic injury to the joints or spinal column may cause spondylosis in canines. To compensate for any structural loss caused by an injury, the dog’s body may create the bony spurs associated with the condition to bring stability along the spinal column.

Body Weight

The body weight of a dog may play a role in the emergence and progression of spondylosis. This is because a bigger body will exert more pressure on the spine, which in turn causes the dog’s body to grow new bone to support the extra weight.

Underlying Conditions

Spondylosis might develop in dogs as a result of other conditions such as congenital vertebral bone deformities, existing spine, or disc diseases such as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) infection such as discospondylitis, and spinal surgery.

Is Spondylosis in Dogs Painful?

Spondylosis can cause pain to your dog.  The pain arises for different reasons:

  • It may be as a result of the bony spurs coming into contact with the nerves of the spinal region.
  • It may be due to the natural degeneration of the bones
  • It may be because the bony spurs accelerate degeneration when they touch the bones and/or the vertebrae of the neck

Is Spondylosis in Dogs Hereditary?

Spondylosis may be a hereditary condition in some dog species such as Boxers, Dachshunds, and German Shepherds.

Is There a Cure for Spondylosis in Dogs?

There is no known cure or process to reverse spondylosis in dogs. Once your vet establishes that your pooch has the condition, treatment options that focus on managing the symptoms and reducing pain will be recommended.

How is Spondylosis in Dogs Treated?

To diagnose spondylosis, your vet will conduct X-rays of your dog’s chest and abdomen. Other tests that can be used to diagnose spondylosis may include a CT scan, an MRI, and a myelogram. Once the condition is confirmed, treatment options include:

Pain Medication

Dogs exhibiting signs of pain may be prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Metacam, Loxicom, and Previcox. These will relieve the pain caused by the bony spurs by reducing inflammation.

In some cases, something stronger may be required, so your vet may offer an opioid such as Tramadol which works by blocking the pain signals from the brain. If the spurs cause infections to form in the bone, long-term antibiotics may be recommended.

Spondylosis Surgery

In some cases, spinal nerve compression may cause neurological symptoms or paralysis in dogs. Surgery is often necessary in such cases especially if medical treatment is ineffective. The surgery involves removing protruding disc material as well as bone spurs and spinal bone.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

To maintain optimal health, your vet may recommend controlled exercise and physical therapy for your dog. This can help the canine regain a bit of mobility.

Generally, swimming and light walking may be a non-obtrusive exercising regimen, but you’ll still want to get the go-ahead from your vet. That way, you’ll know activities to avoid that cause further stress on the spine.

Dietary and Household Considerations

Overweight dogs are more prone to disc degeneration and spondylosis. As a result, your vet may recommend placing your dog on a low-calorie weight loss diet to shed the extra pounds and maintain a healthy body weight.

Because spondylosis may reduce or alter your pooch’s mobility, household changes can help improve mobility. Ramps, padded dog mats, and carpeting for additional traction are some great options.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is sometimes used to target the inflamed tissue in affected areas.

Natural Remedies for Spondylosis in Dogs

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy acts as a natural pain reliever with numerous benefits to a dog with spondylosis. Massages help to reduce inflammation, improve joint flexibility, relieve tension and trigger points, and reduce stiffness.


This is a natural alternative treatment option that may help to relieve pain in dogs suffering from spondylosis.

Can Spondylosis Cause Paralysis in Dogs?

In some cases, the spinal nerve compression that is caused by the development of bone spurs in dogs with spondylosis may lead to reduce neural function as well as a lack of proprioception in the pelvic limb. This may cause paralysis.

Can Spondylosis in Dogs Cause Incontinence?

Spondylosis can cause spinal trauma in some dogs, which may lead to issues with incontinence.

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