Spondylosis Deformans is a common degenerative condition that develops on your dog's spine. It occurs when spurs of bone grow on the edges of the spinal vertebrae. These restrict the flexibility of the back and can compress the nerves of the spinal cord. The majority of senior dogs, especially larger breeds, will suffer from this condition to some degree.
The spine is naturally very mobile, with the vertebrae linked by soft intervertebral discs and ligaments. As a dog ages, the intervertebral discs can degenerate and stiffen, sometimes leading to intervertebral disc disease. It is thought that this change in the natural movement of the spine could be a trigger for the formation of the Spondylosis Deformans spurs on the vertebrae.
These spurs can occur anywhere along the spine but are more common in the middle, where the chest and abdomen meet. Although some dogs will have just one or two, more often, several form at once. They can grow large enough to link the vertebrae together, significantly restricting the suppleness of the back. In fact, from the body's point of view, this is often the purpose of the Spondylosis, to re-stabilize the spine against aging discs.
The symptoms of Spondylosis Deformans often don't become apparent until the condition has already reached the advanced stages. In its early stages, this condition will only mildly restrict your dog's mobility. In fact, it is often mistaken for "old age" because it mostly occurs in senior dogs.
For some dogs, the condition can be painful, usually when the spurs of bone grow to the point where they are pushing on the spinal cord. This can also cause issues with their mobility, because the nerve signals between the brain and the legs are restricted and the dog may become weak or stumble.
Spondylosis will be diagnosed by your vet based on the clinical symptoms; it is easily seen when the back is x-rayed. In fact, many cases are diagnosed by accident when radiographs are taken for different reasons. For dogs that are more severely affected, your vet may want to run blood tests and perform more advanced imaging such as an MRI or CT scan. This is to rule out serious conditions like bone cancers in the spine. The tests will also let them know if surgery to remove the spurs would be possible.
The treatment of Spondylosis Deformans very much depends on how much the individual dog is affected by it. Some don't need any treatment at all or may simply benefit from supplements to keep the spinal joints in as good a condition as possible. Most will require painkillers, generally of the kind used for arthritis. For those severely affected, surgery could potentially give them relief, but this is a specialist procedure. Sadly, in some cases, the pain cannot be controlled or the damage to the spinal cord is too great. For those animals, the kindest thing for the dog is to put them to sleep.
If your dog has been diagnosed with Spondylosis, you can help them by ensuring they take their medication as prescribed and that they stay as slim as possible. You could also consider rehabilitation treatments like hydrotherapy or physiotherapy to strengthen their back as much as possible.
If you are worried that your dog may be suffering from Spondylosis, take them to your veterinarian for a check-up.