How do Dogs Recover from Back Pain?

Dr. Barchas The other day my 4 yr old chi-terrier jumped on the bed she yiped and since then has had discomfort. She doesn't seem...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jan 22nd 2010

Dr. Barchas
The other day my 4 yr old chi-terrier jumped on the bed she yiped and since then has had discomfort. She doesn’t seem to want to jump up and is stiff in her back legs but walks ok…sorta stiff though. She won’t play with her sibling and her tail is not erect she lets hit hang…where typically she will have it curled up over her back. We walk 2 miles per day 2-3 times per week.

She has bull legged back legs and when she pees she kicks backwards hard…I am wondering if maybe she threw her back out or a muscle strain of some sort. Last night she acted as though she couldn’t get comfortable. What would cause her tail to hang down and what are your reccomendations? She just received some muscle relaxers from the local vet. I am a little cautious about giving them to her ….

West Seattle/Seattle, WA

Based on your description, back pain is the most likely cause of your dog’s symptoms.

Back problems come in two basic varieties. Mild problems (and the word mild is very relative here) lead to pain, reluctance to move, reluctance to assume normal postures (which can make hold their tails abnormally), reluctance to jump up or down, and stiff-legged walking. Even if the condition is defined as mild, pain can be intense. In this case, mild simply means that the spinal cord is not compromised.

Severe back problems occur when a disc in the spine bursts or swells, impinging on the spinal cord. In addition to all of the symptoms listed above, neurological deficits may develop. These include paralysis, loss of sensation in the hindquarters, and inability to urinate or defecate. These changes can be permanent if rapid action is not taken.

Mild back problems (that is to say, those that aren’t accompanied by neurological deficits) most often improve with rest. Pets with diagnosed back pain should engage in minimal activity and should not be allowed off leash. Until the problem is resolved they should not ascend or descend stairs, they should not play with other dogs, and they should avoid jumping up or down. Recovery can take several days. Anti-inflammatory medications, painkillers, and muscle relaxers sometimes help with recovery, but in the end a lot of patience is required.

Severe back problems are a veterinary emergency. Surgery usually is the best option, but some cases will improve with aggressive medication and strict cage rest.

Any dog or cat with suspected back problems should see a veterinarian immediately. The vet will check for neurological deficits and assist with devising a plan for recovery.

Photo: the Dachshund is notorious for suffering back problems.