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Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs

What Is Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs?

Spondylosis deformans represents a frequent degenerative ailment affecting the spinal column of dogs. It primarily impacts the vertebral bones, manifesting as the formation of bony spurs or osteophytes along the underside and edges of the spinal vertebrae. These bony growths can emerge singularly or in multiple locations along the spine.

In canines, the lumbar vertebrae, particularly around the lower back near the hips, are commonly affected by spondylosis deformans. Occasionally, the bony growths can be sizable enough to create a bridge-like structure, connecting adjacent vertebral bones and leading to fusion. This condition induces noninflammatory, irreversible damage to the spinal vertebrae, often resulting in diminished function and mobility issues.

Spondylosis primarily targets middle-aged and older large-breed dogs, although it can occur across all breeds and sizes. Boxers rank as the most commonly affected breed. Typically, this degenerative ailment begins to manifest by the age of 10 in most dogs, with estimates suggesting that up to 70% of 9-year-old canines may exhibit signs of spondylosis deformans.


Typically, spondylosis deformans doesn’t present noticeable clinical signs. However, in rare cases, some dogs may display symptoms of back pain as the bone spurs restrict spinal movement and apply pressure on the nerves exiting the spinal canal. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Vocalization when specific areas of the back are touched or manipulated
  • Abnormal posture, characterized by a hunched back stance
  • Reluctance to engage in walking activities
  • Limping or signs of lameness
  • Difficulty laying down and rising comfortably
  • Stiffness in movement
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy or a noticeable change in behavior
  • Restricted motion and alterations in flexibility

If your dog exhibits any of these clinical signs, it’s crucial to promptly seek veterinary examination and care.


Spondylosis deformans, a degenerative condition affecting the vertebral bones in dogs, commonly emerges as part of the natural aging process. Additionally, it can result from trauma, whether minor or severe, or in dogs with a genetic predisposition to bone spurs. Over time, microtrauma from repetitive stress on the same joints and bones during exercise or other activities, as well as major trauma from significant injuries, can contribute to its development.

This condition arises secondary to the degeneration of the soft disc material situated between the vertebrae. Intervertebral discs serve as shock absorbers, cushioning the spine. However, when they sustain damage, the joints between the vertebral bones become unstable, leading to abnormal motion. In response to this abnormal joint movement, spondylosis deformans develops as bone spurs form to restore stability to the weakened joint or joints. These bone spurs only grow to the extent necessary to reinforce the affected joint.


Spondylosis deformans, a spinal condition, is often diagnosed during routine examinations of older animals, even when unrelated health issues are being addressed. Initially, your veterinarian will gather a comprehensive history of your dog’s health and conduct a thorough physical examination, including neurologic and orthopedic assessments, to understand the reason behind your dog’s back pain symptoms.

Your vet may suggest various blood tests such as a biochemistry profile, complete blood count, electrolyte panel, and urinalysis to evaluate your dog’s overall health. Diagnosis of spondylosis deformans relies on imaging techniques, primarily through x-rays of the spine, chest, and abdomen. These x-rays can reveal new bone growths, known as osteophytes, along the vertebrae. In advanced cases, these osteophytes may form a bridge connecting adjacent vertebrae.

Additional diagnostic procedures like a myelogram (involving the injection of a special dye into the spinal fluid around the spinal cord, followed by x-rays) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are utilized to assess your dog for other potential causes of back pain that might contribute to secondary spondylosis formation. Both MRI and CT scans can pinpoint areas where bone spurs might compress your dog’s spinal cord or nerves, leading to neurologic symptoms. If necessary, your primary veterinarian might refer you to a specialty hospital where a surgeon or neurologist can conduct advanced diagnostics and treatments.


The treatment approach for spondylosis deformans depends on the specific symptoms exhibited by your dog. If your dog doesn’t display any clinical signs, treatment isn’t necessary. However, if pain or stiffness is present, conservative treatment methods are typically effective. These may involve:

  • Pain medication to alleviate discomfort, which could include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or other pain relievers like tramadol or gabapentin.
  • Controlled exercise or strict rest to manage symptoms and reduce stress on the spine.
  • Weight loss measures if your dog is overweight, aiming to decrease the strain on the spine.

In addition to medication and lifestyle adjustments, physical therapy and acupuncture can aid in regaining strength and improving mobility. In rare instances where bone spurs cause severe pain or significant neurologic issues, hospitalization and surgical intervention might be recommended by your veterinarian.

Recovery and Management

While the prognosis generally remains positive, your veterinarian will discuss your dog’s outlook based on diagnostic tests and their response to treatment. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are crucial to ensure appropriate management of your dog’s pain. Spondylosis deformans is a progressive condition, meaning it can worsen with age, but symptoms can be effectively managed.

If your dog doesn’t exhibit symptoms, spondylosis deformans may remain undetected for years or throughout their lifetime. Many affected dogs lead fulfilling lives with this condition, with pain and reduced flexibility managed through long-term treatment if necessary. Maintaining an optimal weight through a weight loss plan is crucial. As this condition commonly affects older dogs who may also suffer from arthritis, providing soft bedding and a quiet resting area can offer support.

Consulting your veterinarian regarding your dog’s diet is advisable to ensure they receive an optimal balance of essential fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and lessen the need for pain relief. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is essential as excess weight can exacerbate pain. If your dog is overweight, discuss a nutrition plan with your veterinarian. Nutritional supplements such as glucosamine, methylsulphonylmethane (MSM), and chondroitin sulfate can promote long-term joint health, including those in the spine.

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