Signs & Symptoms of Dog Spinal Cord Injury

Injury or damage to your dog's spinal cord may be caused by a trauma, such as a car accident or falling off the bed, or by an illness or disease, such as degenerative disc disease. Some common signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of feeling or paralysis, decreased muscle strength, loss of bladder control, difficulty standing or pain. Specific symptoms vary based on the cause and type of injury to the spinal cord.

Veterinay taking care of a dog
Vets determine the cause of a spinal cord injury with a physical examination, X-rays, CT scan and MRI.
credit: Erik Reis/Hemera/Getty Images

Spinal Subluxation

Spinal subluxation, or the misalignment of the spine, may cause dogs to display abnormal posture, avoid being handled by hollowing their back or dropping or extending their head and neck or refuse commands to jump, sit or stay. Dogs may show muscle stiffness or atrophy or have uncoordinated gaits. If the subluxation is causing pressure on the nerves, dogs may also be sensitive to temperature, have changes to coat such as hair loss or greasy coat or rub their tails in an unusual manner.

This condition may be caused by a trauma such as a fall or injury from a poorly fitted harness. Subluxations also occur gradually due to stress and muscle tension, being confined or walking on overgrown toenails. Dogs with long backs are more prone to spinal subluxation.

Spinal Fractures

Spinal fractures are usually caused by a trauma such as a car accident, fall or running into a door. The symptoms vary depending on the severity of the fracture and the presence of a dislocated vertebrae. Swelling related to the injury may also place pressure on the spine, worsening symptoms.

In mild cases, the dog's back may be sore or painful and he may experience muscle weakness. In severe cases, dogs may lose control of their bladders and bowels and be paralyzed. If the dog continues to feel pain in his limbs, he may eventually recover. However, dogs that can't feel pain any longer are likely permanently paralyzed.

Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease in dogs can cause pain and damage nerves. In severe cases, dogs may be paralyzed. Dogs may be anxious, yelp in pain, exhibit pain in the hind legs and refuse to jump. Their posture may be hunched and muscles along the back will tense or have spasms. Some dogs may lose control of their bladder or bowels or refuse to eat.

With this disease, the discs that provide cushioning between the vertebrae break down or bulge, creating pressure and compressing nerves in the spinal cord. The location where the dog experiences symptoms varies based on which discs are affected.

Spinal Infections

An infection in the vertebra or discs is called discospondylitis. It is often caused by an infection from a foreign body or an infection that has spread from other tissue into the spine. Initially, dogs experience back pain, but may not display muscle weakness or other neurological symptoms. As the infection progresses, pain increases and the dog becomes unable to coordinate his limbs.