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Cervical Disc Episode Tips

Neck disc episode
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a disease a dog is born with and can involve all intervertebral discs whether in the neck or in the back. Although premature aging of the discs begins while the dog is still technically a puppy (by age one), most dogs will not show symptoms of a disc problem until they are between 3 and 7 years old. 
The treatments for a disc episode are the same no matter whether it is a cervical disc or another disc lower down in the spine which is causing the problem: conservative treatment or surgery. A disc problem in the neck can be more painful and may take longer to resolve because a dog moves its head with almost all actions and when any other part of the body moves. That constant movement means that healing can take longer because the neck doesn't get the rest to allow the disc uninterrupted healing.

These are additional things you can do to help with a cervical disc problem during the 8 weeks of 100% STRICT crate rest 24/7 with conservative treatment:

Make sure the medications are fully controlling pain from dose to dose with no break through in pain. Continued feedback to your vet is vitally important until the pain medications have been properly adjusted for your dog. There is no "one-size-fits-all" pain control.

Signs of pain are holding the head in an unusual position...head held high or nose to the ground, shivering/trembling, not wanting to move much or moving gingerly, yelping, tight/tense stomach muscles, holding leg up flamingo style...not wanting to bear weight on the leg.

These are the typical pain medications used to treat IVDD:
  • Tramadol as the general pain reliever. It has a short half life of 1.7 hours and may need to be prescribed at a minimum of every 8 hours.
  • Methocarbamol treats muscle spasms stemming from aggravated muscles due to nerve trauma related to the spinal cord inflammation.
  • Gabapentin may be added to the mix for hard to control pain. Veterinarians are finding this medication works very well in combination with Tramadol.
  • Prescription of an anti-inflammatory such as a steroid (Prednisone, Dexamethasone, etc.) or a NSAID (Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, etc.)  should be accompanied by a stomach protector such as Pepcid AC (Famotidine) to avoid serious gastrointestinal damage. For some dogs Pepcid AC needs to be accompanied with yet another protector, Sucralfate, when there are signs of GI problems of diarrhea, vomit, bloody stools.
An anti-inflammatory can take 1-2 weeks or longer to resolve all pain. During the taper prior to termination of a steroid is the time to watch for any signs that pain is returning or increased neuro diminshment which would indicate that more time on the steroid is needed. After repeated attempts to go off any anti-inflammatory, if pain cannot be totally resolved, surgery should be a consideration.

  • Raise food and water bowls to head height to avoid bending down to eat and drink.  [photo how to]
  • If you feed kibble, moisten each meal with equal parts water and kibble and allow to hydrate in the fridge overnight. Then warm slightly in microwave, just to take the chill off, before serving. This will eliminate pain from crunching kibble.
  • No chew treats or kongs during recovery. Chewing on those makes the head and neck move a lot and can deter healing and cause more pain.
  • Pain meds should be adjusted to give full round the clock comfort from pain. Your dog may like a rolled up blanket or bolster where he can choose to rest the head on or lean against. Mary's tip: warm up light-in-weight 100% synthetic fleece in the dryer to drape over shoulders/neck for coziness.
  • Raise the crate up on a table so there is no need for your dog to to raise the head to look at you or watch the world from the crate.
  • Laser light therapy has proven to be very beneficial in resolving inflammation, pain and speeding up the healing process so if that is a financial option for your family, it is recommended. Good info here: Veterinary Practice News: Therapy Laser...
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