Spondylosis in Dogs

senior lab

Shelly Bychowski / Getty Images

Spondylosis is a disease of the spine found typically in older dogs that causes new bone growth along the vertebrae. While the severity of spondylosis can vary from dog to dog, like arthritis, the disease will progress over time. 

What Is Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is a disease of the spine where bone spurs (osteophytes) develop around the edges of the vertebrae. In order to diagnose this condition the spinal structure must be examined through the use of an X-ray or MRI. Most often spondylosis is diagnosed incidentally when an X-ray is taken of a pet for an unrelated reason. While evaluating the entire radiograph, a veterinarian would be able to see abnormal bone growth surrounding the spine. A normal spine will have individual “blocks” of vertebrae with the space in-between composed of the intervertebral disc. With spondylosis, bone spurs on the ends of the vertebrae are visible and, in more severe cases, the new bone growth can form a bridge above and below fusing or linking the vertebrae. 

The spine is divided into three regions on a dog: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. The cervical region provides support to your dog’s shoulders and neck while the thoracic region supports the chest and abdominal areas. Your dog’s lower back and hind end are supported by the lumbar region. Middle to senior aged dogs are more prone to develop spondylosis and while any dog can be affected, Boxers may have a prevalence over other breeds.

Signs of Spondylosis in Dogs 

Thankfully, the majority of dogs show no signs of pain or discomfort with the disease and medication is usually not indicated for spondylosis alone. However, if a bony growth occurs near a nerve, there can be pain associated with the area. This pain can be intermittent or develop into persistent condition requiring medical intervention. With severe cases, certain regions of the spine may cause restricted movement in a dog due to the amount and location of bone spurs. 

Occasionally there can be neurologic impairment if a nerve is involved. For instance, some pets with spinal trauma may have issues with incontinence. This can be a result of interrupted communication on the spinal cord due to the impingement of bone spurs. If your pet begins having accidents suddenly in the house, or your dog has soiled areas on their bedding, make sure you schedule a visit with the vet. It is always important to have your veterinarian exam your dog to rule out a medical reason before assuming it is related to behavior. 

Afflicted animals will generally show evidence on X-rays by 10 years old. Since the disease does affect older dogs the most, owners should be diligent in reporting any changes in their dog’s mobility, posture, or gait to their veterinarian. This includes taking longer to rise, difficulty on stairs or walks, and any lameness- even if it is not consistent. While any pain in a pet is extremely important to note and investigate, back pain is often dwarfed by the obvious signs of limping or lameness. If you ever see your pet dragging their hind legs, walking uncoordinated, or have a head down and back arched up posture, be sure to take your pet to a veterinarian immediately as these can be related to more severe issues. 

Causes of Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a chronic age related condition. As with all bones, the spine can weaken as a pet ages. To compensate for any structural loss from daily wear and tear or from a traumatic injury, the body creates these bone spurs in an attempt to recreate stability along the spinal column, protecting the ever precious spinal cord. Dogs that suffer from an existing spine or disc disease, such as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), may be at a greater risk for developing spondylosis.  

How to Prevent Spondylosis 

While there is nothing that can be done to prevent spondylosis in particular, keeping an older pet active and fit can help with a variety of age related changes. In addition to routine vet visits, one of the easiest preventive measures tends to be the hardest- keeping your pet at a healthy weight. While it is hard to resist the classic puppy dog eyes, try giving healthier alternative treats such as baby carrots, apples slices, or even pieces of your dog’s kibble. 

Good nutrition is important no matter the life stage however, as dogs age they can have different nutrition and caloric requirements. Quality nutrition and a healthy weight go hand in hand for all animals so, before your dog’s next vet visit, make sure to take a picture of the front and back of your dog’s food bag. This ways your veterinarian can calculate how much volume your pet should be eating in a day. Ditto for the treats! 

Still encouraging your older dog to go out for regular walks is extremely helpful not just for weight loss but for keeping your pup’s senses spry! Just like in people, an ideal body weight will help to reduce the strain on joints and bones, keeping a dog comfortable into their senior years.