It is important to recognize the signs of back pain in our furry friends because they cannot tell us if or where it hurts! Many dogs will become withdrawn when they are painful. Specific to back pain, you may notice reluctance to jump or be picked up, hiding, or loss of appetite. Some dogs will be more overt in their response to a painful back and may yelp, growl, or try to bite you when you pet them. You may also note muscle spasms (a tense back) or a hunched back appearance (known as kyphosis). In some cases, there can be signs of overt dysfunction such as weakness, stumbling, or even paralysis.

There are many causes of back pain, as well as ways to treat it, so please contact your veterinarian at the first indication your dog may have a painful back. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical exam, which should include a neurologic examination to evaluate your dog’s reflexes and placing tests. Part of this examination also involves “asking” the dog if he or she is painful by palpating or pressing along the spine. Tests, including spinal x-rays, may be ordered. In many cases x-rays can provide a diagnosis, but sometimes advanced imaging such as CT scan or MRI may be necessary-this requires referral to a specialist.

The most common cause of back pain is a slipped or ruptured disk (intervertebral disk herniation). Other possibilities include meningitis, infection of the intervertebral disk, cancer, and trauma.

Mild cases of back pain can often be successfully managed with rest and medications, including pain medicine, anti-inflammatory drugs, and muscle relaxers. Acupuncture and cold laser treatments can help alleviate pain, as well. If your dog’s back pain is not responsive to such therapies, or if the condition worsens, then a referral to a specialist for advanced imaging and possibly surgery is recommended.

Jill Narak, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Neurology)
Board-certified Veterinary Neurologist
Veterinary Referral Surgical Practice
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