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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 17100
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.
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My 8 year old cocker spaniel has suddenly become slow and lethargic

Customer Question

My 8 year old cocker spaniel has suddenly become slow and lethargic and appears to be having difficulty in pushing herself up.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 2 years ago.
Hello, my name is***** and I have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian. I'm sorry to hear about your girl's difficulty rising. She sounds very uncomfortable. Dogs that are painful will hesitate getting up, jumping or climbing stairs and display the sort of behavior she is, either because it hurts to do the activity or because they feel weaker than usual.
Unfortunately Cockers as a breed are prone to a problem with their intervertebral discs, which are the spongy cushions between the individual vertebrae in their back and neck. These spongy discs can move or rupture and place pressure upon the spinal cord which can lead to pain, weakness, and in severe cases paralysis.
Radiographs can sometimes be diagnostic but often early on in the disease process, because the discs are soft tissue not bone, everything will look normal. An MRI is the best way of diagnosing disc disease.
If the dog is painful or weak but has no evidence of paralysis we can try strict rest, anti-inflammatories and pain medications for several weeks to allow healing.
If there is evidence of paralysis then surgery by a board certified veterinary neurologist, as soon as possible, is indicated.
Ideally an appointment with her veterinarian should be scheduled. If this is indeed a disc problem your veterinarian can prescribe a steroid or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory to relieve pressure on her spinal cord and nerve roots, as well as something for pain too, such as Tramadol. And if she is having painful muscle spasms then a muscle relaxant such as methocarbamol as well.
She should be closely confined starting now. No stairs, running or jumping. If you have a crate for her I highly recommend using it. The less she moves around the more comfortable she will be and the faster she will heal.
She should go out on a leash to relieve herself. Do not use a collar for her, a harness which more evenly distributes forces if she pulls on her leash is better. You will need to confine her for several weeks, even as she starts to feel better or she may reinjure herself. Keeping her on the thin side is recommended to decrease stress on her back, but is no guarantee that she won't have another episode. Once a dog has one bad disc the likelihood of another is very high.
If you are interested in reading more here is a link to an excellent article about intervertebral disc disease, its causes and therapy: http://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Dog-Health-Center/Bone-Joint-Muscle-Disorders/Intervertebral-Disk-Disease/Symptoms.aspx
There are other less common causes of back pain such as arthritis, infections, tumors of the vertebrae or the spinal cord itself or fibrocartilagenous emboli but far and away disc disease is the most common cause of back pain in dogs.
Please let me know if you have any further questions.