30th Jul, 2019

Written by Dr Candice Cooper, Gardens Pet Clinic

What is Spondylosis, you ask? Let me start by explaining the normal spine. This consists of vertebrae joined by ligaments to form a protective column around the spinal cord. There are intervertebral discs between each vertebra that act as shock absorbers. These joints give the spine flexibility and protection.

Repetitive bone wear and stress can cause spinal disc degeneration, making this an age-related condition and more common in pets older than 10 years. Other causes of this disease could be injury, genetic predisposition, poor nutrition and lack of exercise. This degeneration makes the joints in the spine unstable, and new bone can develop which can bridge the vertebrae to try to stabilise the joints. These are known as bone spurs or osteophytes. This can limit flexibility and range of motion of the spine and cause discomfort.

Many pets with Spondylosis show no clinical signs unless the bone spurs put pressure on a nerve, causing pain or damage, in which case a pet’s parent may see stiffness, limping, restricted movement, sensitivity to touch, back pain, or sometimes growths along the spine can be felt.

A vet will perform a clinical examination on your pet, but most of the time radiographs (x-rays) are required to diagnose Spondylosis. In some cases, an MRI, Myelogram or CT scan may be necessary to differentiate Spondylosis from other diseases that can cause similar signs.

Spondylosis is a degenerative and irreversible condition, so treatment is focused on managing any pain or discomfort through weight management (excess weight exacerbates any pain or discomfort), physical therapy, appropriate exercise (e.g. swimming) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (painkillers, if necessary). In severe cases of Spondylosis, surgery may need to be considered as an option.

If your pet has been diagnosed with Spondylosis, regular veterinary check-ups are important to ensure any pain or discomfort is being adequately managed to maintain a good quality of life.