Our dogs and cats can’t speak, but they can communicate well with body language. If your pet is hunched over and reluctant to move, they may have a back or disc problem. Here's what to look out for and some ideal treatment options thanks to Dr Andrew Jones.
In this article you will learn the most common signs, symptoms and causes of back pain in our pets. You will know when you should see your vet, or when you can treat your pet at home with some of my advised home remedies.
Our pets and back pain
Our pets suffer from back pain in much the same way that we do. The signs and symptoms are varied, but are there some very common ones you should be aware of.
Your pet's back may be arched, with a very stiff posture. They might be reluctant to lift their head, or yelp when picked up or have their neck turned to the side. More serious signs include paralysis, or partial paralysis, and loss of bowel and/or bladder control.
Causes of back pain
The causes of back pain are many, from soft tissue injury to more serious disc prolapse paralysis. Trauma or infection can also inflame the muscles of the back, leading to marked pain and discomfort - this is commonly referred to as a back spasm.
An intervertebral disc prolapse can lead to signs of nerve damage: folding toes under the foot, wobbly walking, inability to walk (paralysis).
Back pain is particularly common in low, long dogs, such as Dachshunds. We also see it in highly active dogs that do a lot of jumping, such as Border Collies.
If your pet is in severe pain or has signs such as wobbly walking, or partial paralysis, these are situations for your vet's urgent involvement. These types of back conditions are considered emergencies.
Your pet will have X-rays, potentially other diagnostic tests (ie MRI), and may be a candidate for surgery. The most important thing is not to wait. See your vet immediately, and have any necessary surgery conducted ASAP. The earlier the assessment or treatment, the better the prognosis.
Science + holistic treatment
Most cases of back and disc conditions in our pets require proper medical treatment. However, there are a range of holistic options that can help.
Cold and hot compresses
The type of compress depends upon the injury. For a sudden injury accompanied by inflammation, ice is helpful. Apply a block of frozen ice wrapped in a towel for 15 minutes 2-3 times daily for two days. Some people finding using frozen ice around a popsicle stick works well, or the synthetic bags made for people.
When the injury is more long-term, then applying heat is more appropriate. Wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and apply it 2-3 times a day for 15 minutes to the affected area. Alternatively, products containing capsaicin can help.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chilli peppers that makes them hot. Capsaicin is used in medicated creams and lotions to relieve muscle or joint pain. Used on the body, it causes a sensation of heat that activates certain nerve cells. With regular use of capsaicin, this heating effect reduces the amount of substance P, a chemical that acts as a pain messenger in the body. It can be used topically for localised painful joints for both dogs and cats.
Ginger extract may help with joint and muscle pain because it contains phytochemicals, which help stop inflammation. Few side effects have been linked to ginger when taken in small doses. Fresh ginger works well in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.
Magnetic therapy has also begun to be recognised as being very helpful for back pain. A company called Nikken makes a very high quality magnetic pet bed. No one is completely sure how it works, but thousands of people can attest to its effectiveness. Another use is to apply a small healing magnet to the BL60 acupressure spot. This is the spot located on the side of your pet’s hock. Leave the magnet in place for 1-2 weeks. Ask your veterinarian about obtaining a healing magnet.
Both conventional and natural muscle relaxants can help greatly in easing back pain. In practice, I often advise clients to use Robaxin (methocarbamol), the dose being 15-20mg per kilogram, three times a day. That would mean a 20kg (45lb) dog takes one 500mg tablet every eight hours.
A holistic option to consider is the herb valerian, which also helps with muscle spasms. The valerian dosage should be 0.1ml per 4.54kg (10lb) given twice daily.
While treatment options are widely available today, you really need to be looking at what you can do to prevent back pain in your pet. Glucosamine hydrochloride is the most important supplement to add to your pet’s diet. The dose is 100mg once daily per 4.54kg (10lb) of body weight.
Glucosamine helps to rebuild cartilage and delay further cartilage breakdown. It can come in a variety of combinations: an effective one is my own dog and cat supplement Dr. Jones’ Ultimate Canine Health Formula and Dr. Jones’ Ultimate Feline Health Formula. Glucosamine should be given in combination with chondroitin, as this supplement may improve the effectiveness of glucosamine.
Pet back pain can be managed, and you should now be aware of the common signs and symptoms: arched back, reluctance to move, unwillingness to lift neck, wobbly walking and so on. If your dog is suffering from severe pain, or any signs of paralysis, see your vet immediately. If they are less severely affected, you should still have them checked out, but also consider some of my top and effective natural home remedies - cold or hot compresses, capsaicin, ginger, magnetic therapy, muscle relaxants, and glucosamine.
Dr Andrew Jones
Check out Andrew’s blog for more valuable animal-related content.