Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve on a Dog's Spine

As the name suggests, a pinched nerve is a painful situation occurring when too much pressure is placed on a nerve. While a pinched nerve can happen to any dog, some breeds are particularly predisposed to it. If your dog is less mobile, assumes an unusual posture or appears uncoordinated, "in a pinch," it's best to see your vet as several conditions may be triggering these symptoms; a pinched nerve isn't necessarily the culprit.

Veterinarian with dog
Vet examining dog in office.
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Structure of the Spinal Column

Also known as backbone, your dog's spinal column is a bony, tubular structure composed by numerous smaller bones known as vertebrae. Vertebrae are the building blocks of the spine allowing flexibility and movement. They're separated by intervertebral disks, which keep your dog's vertebrae from rubbing together and help absorb the shock placed on the spinal column. On top of that, vertebrae protect the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves branching off the spine for the purpose of relaying information between the brain and the rest of the body.

When Things go Wrong

When the dog's vertebrae are aligned well and the dog's spine is flexible and in good shape, you'll see a happy and healthy animal. Problems start when, for one reason or another, the spinal cord is damaged, a condition referred to as myelopathy, or the spinal cord is narrowed, a condition known as stenosis. Any damage to the spine may cause nerve roots to be compressed, a condition known as radiculopathy, or simply pinched nerves. Pinched nerves can be caused by spinal trauma, herniated disks, fractures, hereditary disorders, tumors and any other conditions known for causing nerve compression.

Predisposing Conditions

Several degenerative conditions of the spinal column predispose dogs to pinched nerves. Intervertebral disk disease, a condition often seen in short-legged dogs such as the dachshund, beagle, Shih Tzu, Lhasa apso, corgi and Pekingese, occurs when the intervertebral disks bulge and rupture putting pressure on the nerves. Wobbler syndrome develops from herniated disks or bony malformations compressing the nerve roots in the neck area. Affected breeds include the Doberman pinscher, German shepherd and several other large dogs. Canine degenerative myelopathy, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, is a chronic, genetic disorder especially affecting German shepherd dogs.

Effects of Pinched Nerves

You won't see or feel pinched nerves, but your dog likely will move less and assume unusual postures. You also may notice weakness, uncoordinated movements, loss of muscle mass, vocalizations, behavior changes, and in severe cases, loss of bladder and bowel control. When the pinched nerve is located in the neck area, you may notice the head kept low, reluctance to move it up and down and front leg lameness. Dogs with pinched nerves further down the spine may show varying signs depending on what nerves are compressed.

Time is of the Essence

If you notice any abnormal symptoms in your dog and suspect a pinched nerve, it's important to seek veterinary attention immediately. Left untreated, this condition may become more difficult to treat, not to mention the fact dogs are often in severe pain. Treatment varies depending on the underlying cause.

Degenerative disk diseases are commonly treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, along with pain medications, strict confinement and rest. Severe cases may require surgical intervention. Additionally, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments may be recommended by traditional or holistic vets.