Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (2023)


Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (1)

Spondylosis in dogs is a common condition that may or may not be an “expected” byproduct of aging. On the blog this week, Dr. Julie Buzby, integrative veterinarian and founder ofDr. Buzby’s ToeGrips®,shares the nitty-gritty on spondylosis in dogs. By the end of this article, you’ll have the answers your senior dog wants you to know.

As a veterinarian with more than 20 years of experience caring for senior dogs, I’ve seen a lot of dog spines with spondylosis. The X-rays can be dramatic and scary, but the story is often rather mundane. In this article, we’ll explore what spondylosis is, its causes, symptoms, and risk factors, plus take a look at how vets diagnose this condition. Lastly, I’ll share treatment options that have the potential to make a big difference in your dog’s quality of life.

What is spondylosis in dogs?

First, let’s answer the question, “What is spondylosis in dogs?” Spondylosis deformans, as it is formally called, is a degenerative condition that affects a dog’s vertebrae—the bones that make up the spinal column and protect the spinal cord. In many cases, spondylosis is considered a normal part of aging for older dogs.

Dogs with spondylosis deformans often do not show any outward symptoms at all. Perhaps it’s because of my training and certification through the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, but I also believe that dogs can display signs of pain and “restriction” of movement related to spondylosis.

What causes spondylosis?

In order to better understand spondylosis in dogs, it helps to know a little bit about the anatomy of a dog’s spine.

Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (2)

Similar to humans, your dog’s spinal cord is a large bundle of nerves that connects to the base of the brain and runs down the neck and back. Nerve roots from different parts of the spinal cord send signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Without this part of the nervous system, dogs can’t walk or perform their everyday tasks.

To protect this nerve highway, individual bones (vertebrae) encase the spinal cord. Spaces between the vertebrae are the joints that help maintain the back’s flexibility. The spinal cord is further protected by intervertebral discs—small, soft pads that act as cushions or shock-absorbers.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can care for your dog’s spine, please read: Don’t Just Sit There: Know the Health of Your Dog’s Spine.

For the most part, the cause of spondylosis in dogs is simply the normal wear and tear on the fibers of the ligaments that connect the intervertebral discs to the ends of the vertebral bodies. As stress and strain cause microtears in these fibers, and subsequently instability, the body tries to compensate by laying down new bone (bone spurs) on the ends of the vertebrae and eventually “bridge the gap.”

What do I mean by this? Bone spurs can grow large enough that they touch neighboring spurs and form a bridge. This is known as “bridging spondylosis.” These bridges typically form along the vertebrae in the middle of the back – the thoracolumbar spine – and most commonly form along the lumbar spine in the lower back.

Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (3)

What are the risk factors for spondylosis?

Spondylosis affects large breed senior dogs and some middle-aged smaller breed dogs. As explained in an abstract from the National Library of Medicine (NIH), it is commonly seen in Boxers, which suggests there may be a genetic predisposition.

Conditions that cause disruption to the joints of the spine increase the risk of developing spondylosis. For example, if a dog suffers a traumatic injury that causes compression of the intervertebral disc spaces, the resulting joint instability increases the risk of bone spurs developing in this area.

Similarly, a dog with intervertebral disc disease may go on to develop spondylosis in the affected area since the diseased discs have resulted in instability for those joints.

Essentially, spondylosis is the body’s attempt to stabilize instability in the joints of the spine by laying down extra bone to guard them.

What are the symptoms of spondylosis in senior dogs?

As I said above, in most cases, dogs with spondylosis don’t show any outward symptoms. The classic changes in the backbone that we see with spondylosis are not usually responsible for pain and lameness. Rather, the condition is most often found incidentally while diagnosing another health condition.

The unique X-ray (radiograph) below perfectly illustrates how spondylosis in dogs is often diagnosed. My colleague, Dr. Jaime Wright Carroll, saw this patient not for back problems, but for gastrointestinal distress. After a physical exam and X-rays, Dr. Carroll diagnosed the 13-year-old hound dog with gastric dilatation and volvulus—commonly known as bloat in dogs. Take a look at this X-ray. Do you see anything odd?

Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (4)

Yep! You guessed it. There is a “foreign body” in that huge stomach. At some point prior, this poor dog had swallowed a yellow rubber ducky! The X-rays show a large, twisted, gas-filled stomach—a serious veterinary emergency.

Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (5)

Dr. Carroll was unsure if the rubber toy was a red herring unrelated to the bloat or if it had acted like a roadblock to the normal flow of digestion, leading to bloat. But along with bloat, Dr. Carroll found spondylosis in the dog’s spine. If you look close on the X-ray, you’ll see the telltale bone spur “bridges.”

3 signs of spondylosis

Your dog may or may not display symptoms from this “reshaping” of the vertebrae. Here are a few things to watch for on behalf of your senior dog:

  • Changes in walk: Instead of smoothly swaying from side to side, you may see your dog’s back stiffen and fail to move freely.
  • Change in movement: Your dog’s back may seem rigid, and he may avoid ambitious movements like jumping up or rolling over.
  • Change in comfort level: If your dog’s bone spurs begin to pinch the delicate nerve roots along the spinal cord, he may show signs he is in pain and be very sensitive to touch along his back.

How does a vet diagnose spondylosis in senior dogs?

Your vet will use X-rays to diagnose spondylosis since the distinctive bone spurs show up easily on X-rays. If your vet suspects damage to the spinal cord or inflammation of the nerves, he or she may also recommend advanced imaging. An MRI or CT scan can rule out other issues and ensure appropriate treatment.

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How do you treat spondylosis in dogs?

If your dog has spondylosis but isn’t experiencing pain or discomfort, he may not need treatment right away…or ever. But if your veterinarian shares my thinking, he or she may recommend joint supplements because they have a protective effect on joints.

Ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin help keep joints flexible and healthy. Therefore, supplements may be helpful in slowing the development of spondylosis.And although I believe that the best supplement for joint pain in dogs is not just about joints, my go-to product recommendation for protecting the health of the joints between the vertebrae is Encore Mobility™ with Green Lipped Mussel and New Zealand Deer Velvet.

In very rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove spurs that are pressing upon the spinal cord, but I’ve never seen this scenario in my entire career.

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If your senior dog is experiencing back pain, it’s most likely not coming from spondylosis. Anything’s possible, but there’s a laundry list of conditions that I’d be concerned about before pinning the pain on spondylosis.

But whatever the root cause, your dog may benefit from anti-inflammatory medications and/or medications for nerve pain. These are often able to provide relief for back pain. Also, veterinary acupuncture, animal chiropractic, and physical therapy are highly effective methods for mitigating pain and improving mobility for these dogs.

Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (8)

If your dog is overweight, this is the #1 thing you must address to protect your dog’s spine. Your veterinarian can help you formulate a personalized diet plan. Lower calorie foods and controlled exercise can facilitate weight loss. If you’re unsure whether your dog is overweight, you’ll want to “find your dog’s number” on our canine body condition score chart.

Since present-day pups live longer than their predecessors, they’re more susceptible to joint damage and inflammation over time. Joint inflammation is commonly known as canine arthritis. Spondylosis has been likened to arthritis in the spine. However, unlike arthritis, there is not an inflammatory component with the bony changes. This is a blessing because inflammation means hurting.

A common disease in senior dogs

Often diagnosed as an incidental finding, spondylosis deformans is a common disease in senior dogs. Though veterinarians debate this, I believe spondylosis can be painful. We know spondylosis in humans can be painful. Knowing what to watch for can help prevent your dog from experiencing unchecked discomfort. Your veterinarian will have your dog’s back on this one (pun fully intended!) But as veterinarians, we’re trained to treat the dog, not the X-rays. Sometimes a dog can have horrific radiographs and no apparent pain…or have very mild changes on radiographs and tremendous stiffness and soreness.

Even if your dog’s spondylosis diagnosis is believed to be an incidental finding not associated with problems, ask your vet how you can be more intentional and proactive in maintaining mobility. Your dog (and his spine) will thank you for it!

Has spondylosis affected your senior dog?

Share the subtle signs you first noticed that led you to seek help from your veterinarian. How is your four-legged friend doing today?

Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know (9)


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Spondylosis in Dogs: What Your Senior Dog Wants You to Know? ›

The disease is caused by the abnormal growth of bone in the spine and leads to progressive weakness and pain. Dogs that are affected by spondylosis often show signs of pain, reluctance to move, and difficulty standing or walking. The condition is diagnosed based on physical examination and spinal radiographs (x-rays).

How can I help my dog with spondylosis? ›

If the pet appears to be painful, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other analgesics may provide relief. Physical therapy, weight loss, and controlled exercise programs may be helpful in some cases.

Should I walk a dog with spondylosis? ›

If your dog has spondylosis, you may want to choose lower impact choices, like swimming and walking over running and retrieval games. Any dog exhibiting signs of pain would probably benefit from a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory prescribed by your veterinarian.

What supplements are good for dogs with spondylosis? ›

Ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin help keep joints flexible and healthy. Therefore, supplements may be helpful in slowing the development of spondylosis.

Can spondylosis in dogs cause incontinence? ›

Incontinence. Occasionally with spondylosis, 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.

What aggravates spondylosis? ›

Lumbar Spondylosis Degeneration in the lumbar spine may cause pain in the back, buttocks, or legs, with possible numbness, and muscle weakness that may be worsened by activities such as lifting, bending, twisting, or sitting.

What should you not do with spondylosis? ›

There should be restriction of heavy lifting; excessive bending, twisting, or stooping; and avoidance of any work or recreational activities that cause stress to the lumbar spine. Your physician will outline a rehabilitation program to return you to your activities as soon as possible.

How do you prevent spondylosis from getting worse? ›

There is no way to prevent cervical spondylosis as this condition is a normal, age-related deterioration (“wear and tear”) of the joint space and disks in your neck.

Does drinking water help with spondylosis? ›

If you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), you're probably familiar with the daily burden of managing pain and fatigue. But good habits can help reduce your most bothersome symptoms. That's why it's important to follow a healthy lifestyle, which includes drinking enough water.

Does spondylosis get worse in dogs? ›

The body weight of a dog may influence the emergence and progression of most degenerative joint diseases including Spondylosis. This is simply because a bigger body will have more pressure being applied to the affected area, which worsens it.

How do you stop the progression of spondylosis? ›

A combination of aerobic, strength-building, stretching, and balancing exercises is best. Work with a physical therapist (PT) on a safe and effective exercise plan. An anti-inflammatory diet may also help keep AS from getting worse.

What food is good for spondylosis? ›

Eat a variety of healthy foods rich in antioxidants, such as colorful vegetables and fruits. Eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon, flax seeds, and certain nuts. Use fat (especially saturated fat found in animal products), cholesterol, sugar, and salt in moderation.

What is the difference between spondylitis and spondylosis in dogs? ›

Learn the difference between the two, what causes them, and how they are treated. Spondylitis occurs due to inflammation that causes arthritis while spondylosis is the wear and tear of the vertebrae, resulting in the disk and joint degeneration.

Can spondylosis cause bowel problems? ›

Between 5 and 10% of cases of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) are associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. A much larger percentage of AS patients have subclinical gut inflammation manifested either by endoscopic findings or by histology.

What does gabapentin do to dogs? ›

While for humans gabapentin is used to treat partial seizures, nerve pain, and restless leg syndrome, for dogs it is used to treat seizures, anxiety, and nerve pain. It works by blocking calcium channels in the brain to suppress overly stimulated neurons that cause anxiety, nerve pain, and seizures.

What is the most serious complication of spondylosis? ›

Spondylosis can lead to spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal. As a result, the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve roots can become compressed (pinched). For example, the cervical spinal cord can be affected by compression from spondylosis. This is called cervical spondylotic myelopathy.

What is the prognosis for spondylosis in dogs? ›

The prognosis for dogs with spondylosis is generally good. Dogs only require therapy if they are showing clinical signs and if they are, they typically respond well to treatment. Treatment may be required lifelong as symptomatic spondylosis in dogs is a progressive condition.

What makes spondylolysis worse? ›

It usually gets worse during exercise or other physical activity, especially those where someone leans back a lot. Spondylolysis also can cause buttock and leg pain, and tight hamstrings.

What is the life expectancy with spondylosis? ›

Life expectancy for people with ankylosing spondylitis is the same as that of the general population, except for patients with severe symptoms and complications. Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease.

Is walking good for spondylosis? ›

Walk It Off

For those who can safely exercise, Dr. Tehrani recommends low-impact activities like walking. Joint deformities, fused joints, misinformation, and fear of getting hurt can discourage some people from exercising, Tehrani says, but walking is a great way to ease into physical activity.

Can walking reduce spondylitis? ›

Walking: Walking is a low impact workout that can be very beneficial for ankylosing spondylitis patients. This is the ideal way to ease the body into exercising. Start with a short 5-10 minute walk and gradually increase the duration of your walks to half an hour at a stretch.

Is heat or cold better for spondylosis? ›

For example, applying ice or a cold compress after exercise or pain flare-up can help reduce inflammation and numb pain. But using a heating pad or hot compress on a regular basis can help improve blood flow to relax muscles and joints, and promote healing.

What are the warning signs of spondylosis? ›

  • Pain in the neck that may travel to your arms or shoulders.
  • Headaches.
  • A grinding feeling when you move your neck.
  • Weakness in your arms and legs.
  • Numbness in your shoulders, arms, or hands.
  • Stiffness in the neck.
  • Trouble keeping your balance.
  • Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels.

What is the main cause of spondylosis? ›

Spondylosis is caused by chronic wear on the spine. This includes the disks or cushions between the neck vertebrae and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine. Over time these changes can press down on (compress) one or more of the nerve roots. In advanced cases, the spinal cord becomes involved.

What is the best vitamin for spondylosis? ›

Calcium is essential for healthy bones, and vitamin D is essential for your body to absorb calcium, making these two nutrients important for people with ankylosing spondylitis.

Is banana good for spondylosis? ›

Many people with arthritis take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can cause damage to your gut lining. Bananas and active- or live-culture yogurt taken with NSAIDs may help protect your gut.

Is apple cider vinegar good for spondylosis? ›

Being rich in anti-inflammatory and alkalizing properties, apple cider vinegar is also a good remedy for cervical spondylosis. It can effectively soothe pain and inflammation in the neck area.

How much does it cost to treat spondylosis in dogs? ›

$3,000 to $5,000 is fairly typical for the diagnostics and surgery afforded these patients.

What are the grades of spondylosis in dogs? ›

Grade 0: No enthesophytes. Grade 1: Small enthesophyte at the edge of the epiphysis that does not extend past the end plate. Grade 2: Enthesophyte extends beyond the end plate but does not connect to enthesophyte on the adjacent vertebra.

Why does my old dog feel bony? ›

If those bones (they're called the vertebral bodies and processes) are very prominent and easy to feel, then your pet may have decreased muscle mass and one of a host of the underlying conditions that can lead to such muscle loss.

What painkiller is used for spondylosis? ›

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is often enough to control the pain associated with cervical spondylosis.

How do you slow down spondylosis? ›

  1. Physiotherapy and exercise. Keeping active can improve your posture and range of spinal movement, along with preventing your spine becoming stiff and painful. ...
  2. Painkillers. ...
  3. Biological treatments. ...
  4. JAK inhibitors. ...
  5. Corticosteroids. ...
  6. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) ...
  7. Surgery. ...
  8. Follow-up.

What is the newest treatment for spondylosis? ›

If you're still looking for answers to your AS symptoms, your doctor may talk with you about the latest treatment for ankylosing spondylitis, Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. JAK inhibitors earned the Food and Drug Administration's green light for ankylosing spondylitis in 2021.

Does spondylosis ever go away? ›

Cervical spondylosis is a long term condition, and symptoms are often variable from day to day. Many patients have found that managing their symptoms can help improve their quality of life. There are some things you can do to help manage this condition yourself.

Is massage good for spondylosis? ›

Many people with spondylitis find therapeutic massage very helpful. If done carefully, it can be a beneficial tool for pain relief and stress reduction.

What deficiency causes spondylitis? ›

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory rheumatic disease that mainly affects the axial spine. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are the main complications of AS. Vitamin D has functions on the immune system.

Is turmeric good for spondylosis? ›

The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can be especially helpful for those with arthritis. This includes both degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) and inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, or others).

Why does my senior dog's spine stick out? ›

With senior dogs, in particular, when their spine sticks out, it could mean that they have spondylosis. If you believe your pup has a spinal problem, even if it is caused by old age, it's crucial that you take them to their veterinarian for a check-up.

How do I know if my dog is in pain? ›

What are the typical signs of pain in dogs? General behaviour: Shaking, flattened ears, low posture, aggression, grumpy temperament, panting or crying, excessive licking or scratching a specific area, reluctant to play, interact or exercise, lameness (limping), stiffness after rest, loss of appetite.

Does laser therapy help spondylosis in dogs? ›

Physiotherapy, Hydrotherapy, and Laser therapy can be used to treat this condition and helps improve the range of movement and flexibility by stimulating circulation and lowering muscle tension.

Does spondylosis flare up? ›

Like other kinds of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis can sometimes flare. A flare-up happens when symptoms worsen. During a flare-up, you might need more care and treatment than you need at other times. Remission or partial remission is when you have fewer, milder, or no symptoms.

Can spondylosis cause bladder problems? ›

Objectives: Lumbar spondylosis (LS) is a common spinal degenerative disorder which causes various types of lower urinary tract dysfunction (LUTD).

What is the difference between spondylitis and spondylosis? ›

Although they have many symptoms in common, spondylitis and spondylosis are two different diseases. Age-related wear and tear of the joints result in spondylosis. On the other hand, spondylitis is an autoimmune condition affecting joints and surrounding tissues.

How does gabapentin make a dog feel? ›

Gabapentin Side Effects for Dogs

Mild sedation and ataxia (wobbly or drunken gait) are the most common side effects of gabapentin in dogs. The severity of these signs will vary from dog to dog and also depend on the dose. Dogs sensitive to the drug may experience extreme lethargy and sleepiness.

How long can a dog be on gabapentin for? ›

How long can a dog stay on gabapentin? There is no maximum time for a dog to remain on gabapentin. Some older dogs will stay on it for the rest of their life as part of a management plan for arthritis.

Can gabapentin cause hind leg weakness in dogs? ›

As pets age, their efficiency at metabolizing gabapentin can wane and side effects may reappear again, especially hind leg weakness. If this happens, we reduce the dosage.

Does apple cider vinegar help spondylosis? ›

Being rich in anti-inflammatory and alkalizing properties, apple cider vinegar is also a good remedy for cervical spondylosis. It can effectively soothe pain and inflammation in the neck area.


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