Spondylosis deformans is a condition affecting the vertebral bones of a canine’s spine and is characterized by the presence of bony spurs (clinically referred to as osteophytes) along the edges of the bones of the spine. These spurs can develop in a single spot on the spine but are more commonly found in multiple locations along the spine. Most commonly the spurs develop along the thoracic vertebrae (the chest, especially at the junction between the rib cage and the abdomen), in the lumbar spine (the lower back) or in the lumbosacral spine (around the hips and back legs). Some times, the spurs become large enough that they appear to form a complete bridge between adjacent vertebral bones.
Spondylosis deformans is a chronic condition associated with aging. Research indicates that it develops as a secondary problem related to a degenerative disease of the intervertebral discs. In a normal spine, the vertebral bones are joined by ligaments to form a flexible protective column around the spinal cord. An intervertebral disc is between each vertebral bone. These discs act as shock absorbers. The entire series of joints make up the spine and give the back flexibility of motion while protecting the spinal cord from damage. If the discs become damaged, the joints become less stable and results in abnormal motion. With spondylosis deformans, the discs slowly degenerate as the dog ages. The spurs develop to re-establish the lost stability of these now weakened joint(s). The spurs grow as large as needed to strengthen the diseased joints. Spondylosis is not associated with inflammation of the joints.
Spondylosis was believed to be more common in large breed dogs, but newer studies show that any middle-age to older dog of any breed can be affected. In most cases, this condition began to develop by 10 years of age. Some researchers feel every dog is capable of developing spondylosis if they were able to live long enough.
In their younger years, most dogs are free of symptoms. Rarely, the spurs will restrict movement of the spine and the dog may appear stiff or the spine may not be as flexible. If the spur grows near a nerve root, the spur can put pressure on that nerve and cause pain or lameness in the dog. If it causes pain, your dog may whine or cry when touched along the affected area(s) on his back.
Spondylosis is diagnosed by x-rays of the spine. Unless your dog is experiencing pain, your veterinarian may not offer any treatment. (Until your dog begins to experience pain, there is usually no way to tell he’s suffering from spondylosis.) Once pain begins, the dog may be prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or other analgesics for pain relief. Physical therapy, weight loss and controlled exercise programs may be undertaken as well. In rare cases where the osteophytes are causing spinal cord compression, surgery may be required to remove them.
If your dog is not experiencing symptoms, the spondylosis may go undetected for years or even the dog’s entire lifetime. Once diagnosed, your dog may still a long, happy life, even if he has somewhat limited flexibility or range of motion.