The Compassionate Guide: Knowing When to Put Down a Dog with IVDD

🦴 Updated on July 4th, 2023

looking down at a pug dog in a wheelchair ivdd

Imagine watching your beloved furry friend suffer from the excruciating pain of Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). It’s a debilitating condition that can leave your dog paralyzed and significantly impact their quality of life. 

As a pet owner, you may be faced with the heart-wrenching decision of when to euthanize a dog with IVDD. It’s a tough call, but one that you don’t have to make alone. 

Our guide can help you navigate the decision-making process and work closely with your veterinarian to determine the most compassionate option for your furry friend. Let’s explore the various factors that play a critical role in this difficult decision.

Key Takeaways

  • IVDD is a painful condition affecting dogs, leading to pain, nerve damage, and sometimes paralysis.
  • Deciding when to euthanize a dog with IVDD involves considering the severity of the condition, overall health, and treatment response.
  • Collaboration with a veterinarian is essential in evaluating the dog’s situation and determining the most compassionate course of action.

Understanding IVDD

Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a condition that affects the spinal cord and neck in dogs. It occurs when the cushion-like discs between the vertebrae are put under stress, causing them to slip or protrude into the spinal cord space and disturb the spine’s normal function.

Causes and Risk Factors

IVDD can be caused by a hereditary cartilage development abnormality known as chondrodystrophy. This can lead to the gradual wear and tear of the discs over time, or in some cases, an acute or sudden rupture of the disc material. 

Overweight dogs or those with a history of injuries may also be at a higher risk for developing IVDD.

Affected Breeds

Certain dog breeds are more prone to IVDD due to their genetic predisposition for chondrodystrophy. These breeds typically have long backs and short legs2. Some of the most commonly affected breeds are:

  • Dachshunds: These small, long-bodied dogs are particularly susceptible to IVDD.
  • Corgis: Another breed with a long back and short legs, Corgis also carry a higher risk of developing the condition.
  • Beagles: Although they do not have the same body shape as the previously mentioned breeds, Beagles can still be prone to IVDD due to their genetic makeup.
  • Shih Tzus: These small, fluffy dogs with short legs are another breed that may experience IVDD.

It’s essential for owners of these breeds to be aware of the increased risk of IVDD and take appropriate steps to minimize their dog’s chances of developing the condition.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the Early Warning Signs

In the early stages of IVDD, dogs may exhibit a variety of symptoms related to pain and discomfort. Some of the most common warning signs include abnormal gait or movement, a hunched appearance, and reluctance to participate in physical activities. 

Dogs might also display unsteady coordination or trembling. Decreased appetite and panting can also be noticeable indicators.

Another early symptom to look for is difficulty in getting comfortable while resting. Additionally, dogs may show reluctance to jump, climb stairs, or perform any activities that can put pressure on their spine.

Progression to Advanced Stages

As IVDD progresses, other symptoms may become more severe and apparent. Weakness in the limbs is a common issue, which can result in the inability to walk on one or more limbs. In more advanced cases, dogs may experience partial or complete paralysis, often accompanied by incontinence.

When trying to diagnose the severity and staging of IVDD, a veterinarian may conduct various tests such as a neurological exam, X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans. 

Diagnostic imaging, such as radiographs, can help identify which spinal discs are affected and provide a clearer understanding of the required treatment and prognosis.

Remember, early detection is crucial in managing the symptoms of IVDD and maximizing your dog’s recovery chances. If you observe any concerning symptoms, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian promptly for a proper assessment.

Diagnosis and Evaluation

Diagnostic Tests and Imaging

To diagnose IVDD in a dog, a veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical exam and neurological exam. These exams help assess the dog’s overall health, muscle strength, reflexes, and nerves. 

After performing the initial exams, the veterinarian might recommend further diagnostic tests such as X-rays or radiographs to evaluate the spine and the affected intervertebral discs.

In some cases, more advanced imaging techniques like CT (computed tomography) scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) might be necessary to get a more detailed view of the spinal cord and the surrounding tissues. 

These imaging tests can help the veterinarian visualize the extent of the damage and guide the most appropriate treatment plan for the dog.

Assessing the Severity of the Condition

The severity of IVDD can range from mild to severe, impacting a dog’s quality of life. When evaluating a dog with IVDD, the veterinarian will consider various factors such as the dog’s mobility, pain level, and response to medical management

In cases where the dog is non-ambulatory (unable to walk), the severity of the condition can be more accurately assessed using imaging tests like CT and MRI.

It’s important for the dog owner and the veterinarian to work together in assessing the severity of the condition to make informed decisions on the most suitable treatment options. 

By understanding the severity and the potential outcomes, dog owners can better decide when it might be appropriate to consider euthanasia as a last resort for their pet’s well-being.

Treatment Options

Medical Management

In some cases, dogs with early stages of IVDD can be treated using medical management. The primary goal is to reduce inflammation and pain associated with the condition. This often involves the use of anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers. 

Muscle relaxers may also be prescribed to further minimize discomfort. Strict exercise restriction is essential during this period for the best possible outcome.

Surgical Intervention

For more severe cases or if medical management fails to improve the condition, spinal surgery may be advised. Surgical treatment aims to remove the herniated disc material and alleviate compression on the spinal cord. 

The type of surgery performed depends on the location and severity of the disc herniation.

Postoperative Care

Following spinal surgery, postoperative care is crucial for a successful recovery. This typically involves:

  • Close monitoring for signs of improvement or complications
  • Ensuring the surgical site remains clean and free from infection
  • Medication administration, including pain relief and antibiotics, as prescribed by the veterinarian
  • Gradual reintroduction of activities under the guidance of a professional


Rehabilitation is an essential component of the recovery process for dogs with IVDD. Physical therapy can help restore muscle strength, increase mobility, and improve overall quality of life. 

A veterinarian or certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (CCRP) can develop a personalized program tailored to the individual dog’s needs. Common rehabilitation techniques include hydrotherapy, massage, and range-of-motion exercises. 

The duration and intensity of rehabilitation depend on the severity of the condition and the dog’s response to therapy.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Euthanasia

Quality of Life

When considering euthanasia for a dog with IVDD, one important factor is the dog’s quality of life. A dog may experience pain, discomfort, or difficulty moving, and these factors can significantly impact their ability to enjoy daily activities. 

Assessing the animal’s ability to perform basic tasks such as eating, drinking, and relieving themselves can provide insight into their overall well-being.

Prognosis and Recovery Potential

Another essential aspect to consider is the dog’s prognosis and the potential for successful treatment. Dogs with mild IVDD often have a more favorable prognosis with appropriate treatment and rehabilitation. 

In contrast, dogs with severe cases may have a more guarded prognosis, with less likelihood of recovery, even if treatment is provided.

The success rate of various treatment options should also be considered when making a decision about euthanasia. Conservative management, which includes crate rest, pain management, and physical therapy, might be effective in less severe cases. 

On the other hand, surgical intervention may be necessary for more advanced cases, but the costs and risks associated with these procedures must be weighed against the potential benefits.

Determining a dog’s candidacy for recovery will depend on factors such as the severity of their condition, overall health, age, and the dog owners’ ability to provide necessary support during the healing process. 

By weighing these factors, pet owners can make an informed decision regarding euthanasia and the best course of action for their furry friends.

Prevention Strategies

Exercise and Weight Management

One of the key factors in managing and preventing IVDD is proper exercise and weight management. Regular, low-impact activities such as walking and swimming can help keep a dog’s spine and vertebrae healthy. 

Overweight dogs are at a higher risk for developing IVDD, so maintaining a healthy weight is essential in preventing stress on the spine and cushioning between the vertebrae.

It’s important to avoid high-impact activities that could cause wear and tear on the spine. Discourage activities like jumping and climbing stairs, and favor exercise which offers spine protection.

Supportive Care

For dogs with long backs or large breed dogs prone to IVDD, supportive care can help prevent worsening conditions. This may include:

  • Regular veterinary check-ups
  • Anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers as needed
  • Providing orthopedic bedding for added cushioning

Additionally, ensure the dog’s environment is adjusted to minimize the risk of injury, such as providing non-slip mats and avoiding excessive stair climbing.

Assistive Devices

In some cases, assistive devices can help in preventing or managing IVDD symptoms. A dog wheelchair can provide support for dogs experiencing mobility issues, while a harness can help distribute weight evenly, reducing stress on the spine.

Using assistive devices not only enhances the dog’s quality of life but also aids in preventing further injury to their spine and surrounding tissues. Always consult a veterinarian before implementing any assistive devices or making significant changes to a dog’s exercise routine.

Seeking Veterinary Care

When it comes to IVDD in dogs, seeking prompt veterinary care is crucial in order to decrease the chance of permanent damage and to improve the dog’s overall condition. As soon as any abnormal symptoms are observed, it is important to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

In cases where a dog experiences pain or refuses to be touched or climb stairs, it could be an indication of a spinal injury, and an immediate visit to the veterinarian is necessary. 

Treatment options can vary depending on the severity of the condition, with milder cases often involving medical therapy and more severe cases requiring surgery.

IVDD surgery has been shown to be successful in more than 90% of grade 1-4 cases, while the success rate for dogs with grade 5 IVDD drops to only 50-60% if surgery is performed within the first 24 hours of symptom onset. 

After this initial window, the success rate drops even further. In case of an emergency, it is vital to act quickly and seek professional help to give the dog the best chance of recovery.

Early intervention and proper treatment are key factors in addressing a dog’s IVDD and preventing the condition from becoming more severe or causing irreversible damage to the spine. 

By keeping a close eye on the dog’s behavior and seeking veterinary care at the first sign of any discomfort or change in mobility, dog owners can help ensure that their canine friends receive the most effective and appropriate care possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I determine my dog’s quality of life with IVDD?

To determine your dog’s quality of life with IVDD, observe their daily activities and behaviors. Look for signs of pain, discomfort, or difficulty in performing regular tasks. Consult a veterinarian, who may recommend treatments to alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Remember, each dog’s experience with IVDD can be different, so individual assessments are crucial.

What is the typical life expectancy for a dog diagnosed with IVDD?

Life expectancy for a dog diagnosed with IVDD varies based on the severity of the condition, the dog’s age, and the available treatments. Some dogs can live for many years with proper care and treatment, while others may experience a more rapid decline in health. It’s essential to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your pet.

How long do IVDD episodes usually last in dogs?

The duration of IVDD episodes in dogs can vary significantly, depending on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of treatment measures. Some episodes may last only a few days, while others can persist for weeks or even months. Appropriate treatments and therapies can help manage symptoms and shorten the duration of these episodes.

What occurs if a dog’s IVDD is left untreated?

If a dog’s IVDD is left untreated, it can lead to worsening of the condition, increased pain, difficulty walking, and even paralysis. It’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian as soon as you notice symptoms to prevent further damage and ensure the best possible outcome.

Can a slipped disc in a dog heal on its own?

In some cases, a slipped disc in a dog may heal on its own if the damage is minor and the pressure on the spinal cord is not severe. However, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment options, as leaving the condition untreated can lead to complications and chronic pain.

What’s the best way to handle a dog with a slipped disc safely?

To handle a dog with a slipped disc safely, provide a comfortable and supportive environment with limited mobility. Avoid activities that require jumping or climbing stairs. Provide assistance when necessary, using tools like a harness or sling to prevent further injury. Consult with a veterinarian for personalized guidance on helping your dog recover safely.

Picture of Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Our resident DVM helps review every article to ensure we always provide scientifically accurate, up-to-date information. She’s proud to help provide pet parents everywhere with the info they need to keep their pets safe, healthy, and comfortable.