The health of your dog’s spine
We’ve all heard the expression “move it or lose it” as it applies to our own health. The more physically active we are, the healthier our bodies are. Did you know that the same is true for dogs? And that a dog’s spine plays a key role in his or her well-being?
Understanding and managing your dog’s health begins with a little hard science about the way the canine spine replenishes and nourishes itself. By understanding how it works, you can help your dog live the longest, healthiest life possible. Let’s get started!
Mobility is the key to every aspect of your dog’s health–including spinal health
As an integrative veterinarian, I can’t stress enough the importance of mobility to your dog’s overall health. Dogs were made to move. In the wild, they traveled for miles a day. Mobility is the key to every aspect of your dog’s health: physical, mental, and behavioral. Additionally, motion (the very act of the body flexing and extending repetitively) is an essential feature in providing nutrition to the discs of the backbone. The term for this is “imbibition.”Imbibition: the act of the dog's spine flexing and extending repetitively through movement to provide nutrition to the discs of the backbone. Click To Tweet
The anatomy of a dog’s spinal column
First of all, to understand the role that the spine plays in your dog’s well-being, we need a clear picture of the anatomy of a dog’s spinal column. It really is quite amazing in itself.
- The spinal column is comprised of numerous nerves each firing information down and up the spinal cord. It keeps your dog’s body safe and operational.
- Hard bones, called vertebrae, encase the spinal column structure and protect it from injury.
- The vertebrae is a unique design that allows the body to move and flex. If the dog’s spinal cord were encased in one long, tunnel-like bone, the dog would literally not be able to bend. (Think of a scarecrow or a rigid broomstick.) Thankfully, that’s not the case. Instead, the dog’s spinal cord is very flexible.
- The backbone consists of a series of bones which integrate in a very specific way. There are several joints between each vertebra. Each joint is separate and individual. A disc fits between each joint. The discs do not have blood vessels in them. However, they live, and they do a very important job. If your dog (or you) have ever suffered from back pain, you probably know the important role that discs play.
Back pain in dogs manifest when the discs deteriorate
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is one of the most common causes of back pain in dogs. It’s a catchall phrase for back problems. While dachshunds are one of the breeds often associated with IVDD, it is common in many breeds. (For more information about IVDD, please read IVDD in Dogs: Lady Penelope’s Experience.) Let’s break down the meaning of IVDD:
Vertebral…between the two vertebrae (the two bones)
Disc…the shock-absorbing structure
Disease…a disorder, something is not right.
Essentially, intervertebral disc disease is a problem with the disc. It may bulge out of its normal placement and put pressure on the spinal cord. Or, a disc may completely rupture. (A ligament at the top of the disc can rupture and the disc material can move out of its normal spot, create inflammation, and cause damage to the spinal cord.) This manifests in a variety of degrees of neurologic disease including a dog who:
- doesn’t walk correctly
- looks a little bit off balance
- doesn’t place his or her feet correctly
- in severe cases, is paralyzed.
How to keep the discs in a dog’s spine healthy
Unlike other areas of the dog’s body like the skin and liver that receive nutrients and oxygen through the blood vessels and that carry waste products out of the tissues, the dog’s discs do not contain blood vessels. So how do the discs stay healthy?
That’s where imbibition comes in–the process of the discs continually being squeezed and then pressure coming off of them (compressing, relaxing, and expanding).
Picture imbibition this way:
Here’s an analogy:
- Picture a sponge immersed in water.
- Now imagine squeezing the immersed sponge with your hand, squeezing out all the water, and then letting go of the sponge.
- When you let go, the sponge fills back up with water again.
- The process, repeated over and over again, is basically the process happening in the discs in imbibition.
Now apply this same theory to your dog’s spine:
- Every time there’s a movement in your dog’s body, there’s a squeezing and releasing of spinal fluid that the discs are bathed in.
- The nutrients are moving in and out.
- As the spinal fluid is moving out, it’s taking waste products with it.
- This process continues as long as your dog is in motion.
Finally, imagine the sponge submerged in water again:
- This time your hand isn’t actively squeezing the sponge.
- The sponge sits in one static position with one static amount of content. There is no change.
- Movement is crucial.
Without movement, a dog's joints have been scientifically proven to begin deteriorating in less than 24 hours. Click To Tweet
From a dog’s joints to muscles to ligaments to mental health and right down to the discs of a dog’s spine, movement is the key to a dog’s life. Mobility is a dog’s greatest asset.
What’s the key takeaway? Take steps now with your dog. Literally. Every step our dogs take with us will be a step in the right direction toward a better quality and quantity of life. Let’s all move it…so that our dogs don’t lose it.
For more information about the canine spine, please listen to my podcast: Move it or Lose It: The Health of Your Dog’s Spine. Also, you can find all of my latest podcasts on The Buzby Dog podcast page.
What questions do you have about the health of your dog’s spine? I’d love to hear. Please comment below.