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Home IVDD cervical (neck) care tips

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Tips for at-home care of a cervical (neck) disc

Home IVDD neck care includes owners knowing the extra things to help with cervical neck pain during a current disc episode.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a disease a dog is born with and can involve any of the 27 intervertebral discs whether in the neck or in the back. Premature aging of the discs begins while the dog is still technically a puppy (by age one). However, most dogs will not show symptoms of a disc problem until they are between 3 and 7 years old.

Cervical (neck) pain

The two treatments for a disc episode are the same no matter whether the affected disc is a cervical disc or another disc lower down in the spine:  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 body movements. That constant movement means that disc healing can take longer because the neck disc doesn’t get the necessary rest. Conservative management is successful in 2/3 of dogs with a cervical disc episode, while 1/3 require surgery to physically remove the offending disc material.
With neck episodes, neuro diminishment may include some weakness in the front limbs…the dog might slip while trying to walk.

NOTE: with a neck disc, while not as common, the back legs can also be affected, even to the point of needing a rear end sling.

Dr. Divita, DVM, Neurology (ACVIM),Southeast Veterinary Neurology goes over the signs of a neck disc episode (about 75 seconds). This video will help you understand the why behind  employing the home care tips in this article to benefit your furry friend.

DIY aids to comfort a neck dog

The tips below are in addition to the care of 8 weeks of 100% STRICT rest 24/7 (only out of the recovery suite for a very, very few footsteps at potty time) of conservative treatment:


  1. Raise food and water bowls to head height to avoid bending down to eat and drink. This is one of the easiest at home IVDD neck care things you can do which can really help!
  2. If you feed kibble, moisten each meal with equal parts water and kibble. Store in the fridge overnight to soften and rehydrate. Before serving, warm slightly in microwave, just to take the chill off. This will eliminate pain from crunching kibble.
  3. No chew treats or Kongs during recovery. Chewing on them makes the head and neck move a lot and can disrupt the healing process of the disc, causing more pain and more time to heal the disc.

DIY Slings: front legs, rear figure-8

  • DIY Idea to be used as a front leg sling for support. No sew idea modifies a sweatshirt as a sling.
    NOTE: option–use a beach towel and cut leg holes for a front leg sling. Illustration & directions: http://www.lyonpuffpetsit.com/htmlslp/sling.html
  • DIY Figure-8 rear end sling is kinder for the male anatomy. Often better accepted at potty times for males.

Recovery suite ideas

  • Your dog may like a pillow or rolled-up blanket or bolster he can choose where to rest his head on or lean against.
  • Mary’s tip: warm up lightweight, 100%-synthetic fleece in the dryer to drape over shoulders/neck for coziness.
  • When you are at home to supervise, place a non-slip mat on a sturdy table, and place the recovery suite on top of it. Now there is no need for your dog to raise the head to look at you or watch the world from his recovery suite.


  • Pain meds must be adjusted to give full, round-the-clock 24/7 pain relief.
  • Properly adjusted meds are the first line in getting pain under control. Acupuncture and laser light therapy in severe cases may assist with pain. control in addition to pain meds.
  •  For an animal with very mild neuro deficits, the risk of a transport to therapy has to be carefully weighed against what benefit is to be gained. OPTION: Find an acupuncture vet who does home visits to avoid back/neck moving during transports. For transport to only the most necessary and valuable of visits, pad out the recovery suite’s extra space snug around your dog with a rolled-up towel/blanket to prevent body shifts during braking or cornering.
  • During conservative treatment, any time out of the recovery suite is a dangerous time for the healing disc. Movement of the back/neck can increase a disc tear and the escape of disc material into the spinal cord. Seek out mobile vets for house calls with acupuncture or laser therapies.

Recognize break through pain

Make sure the medications are fully controlling pain from dose to dose, round the clock with no break through pain. Have no patience with pain. When the pain medications are properly prescribed for the needs of your dog, pain should be in control within the hour and stay fully in control right up to the next dose. This way your dog can heal in comfort while it may take the anti-inflammatory drug somewhere in the range of 7-30 days to fully resolve the painfully inflamed spinal cord. Continued phone 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:
    ⚙︎ shivering-trembling
    ⚙︎ yelping when picked up or moved
    ⚙︎ tight tense tummy
    ⚙︎ arched back, ears pinned back
    ⚙︎ restless, can't find a comfortable position
    ⚙︎ slow or reluctant to move in suite such as shift positions
    ⚙︎ not their normal interested in life selves
    ➕if a neck disc:
    ◻︎ head held high/ nose to the ground
    ◻︎ looks up with just eyes and does not move head and neck easily.
    ◻︎ not eating due to painful chewing or in too much overall pain
    ◻︎ holds front or back leg up flamingo style not wanting to bear weight

Typical meds for each source of pain

Tramadol A general pain reliever. It has a short half-life of 1.7 hours. With more painful neck discs, it often needs to be prescribed at every 8 hours.

Methocarbamol Treats painful muscle spasms. Also prescribed every 8 hours.

Gabapentin For nerve pain. Veterinarians are finding this medication works synergistically in combination with Tramadol. Typically prescribed every 8 hours.

Amantadine When the above three meds have been prescribed at the aggressive dose in mgs every 8 hours, but pain is still not fully controlled, then advocate for the addition of amantadine – it allows other analgesics to function more effectively. The Mar Vista vets explain the mysteries of amantadine

Gastric Protectors: Pepcid AC and Sucralfate

Both classes of anti-inflammatories require stomach protection.

  • The steroid class is the most powerful of the two classes (Prednisone, Dexamethasone, etc.)
  • The lesser class are the NSAIDs (Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, etc.)

All steroids or nonsteroidals (NSAIDs) should be accompanied by an-over-the counter stomach protector such as Pepcid AC (famotidine) to avoid serious gastrointestinal damage. For some dogs, Pepcid AC is not enough and needs to be accompanied with yet another protector prescribed by your vet, Sucralfate, when there are signs of GI problems of diarrhea, vomit, bleeding ulcers, and/or red or black bloody stools

How to determine if the anti-inflammatory resolved all pain?

  • An anti-inflammatory, steroid or non-steroid NSAID, can take 7-30 days (excluding any steroid taper days) to resolve all pain.
  • During a test-for-pain steroid taper is the time to watch for any returning signs or increased neuro diminishment. NSAIDs do not require a taper.
  • Pain/neuro diminishment indicates another course of the steroid or the NSAID is necessary.
  • After repeated attempts to go off any anti-inflammatory, if pain cannot be totally resolved, surgery becomes a consideration.
  • NOTE: There is danger to give an NSAID and steroid together or switch without a 4-7 day washout.

Two important readings for owners:

  1. .Stomach protection during a disc episode — 3 reasons why
  2.  6 things to understand about anti-inflammatory use
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