What is Cauda Equina Syndrome in Dogs?
Cauda Equina Syndrome, or lumbosacral stenosis, refers to the slowly progressing disease as the calcification of the dog’s spine increases with age. The disease is essentially a severe and painful form of arthritis in the joint at the bottom of the spine. As the disease progresses, the spinal canal gets narrower and compresses the nerves in the surrounding area. This causes extreme pain for the dog especially while walking or wagging the tail. In many cases, the disc located between the sacrum and the vertebra may be deformed which causes even further compression on the nerves. Once the nerves have been completely compressed, the dog will not be able to use the back legs or control bladder and bowel movements.
What Causes Cauda Equina Syndrome in Dogs?
There are a number of causes behind Cauda Equina Syndrome in dogs. There are two forms of the disease – Congenital and Acquired.
Congenital Cauda Equina Syndrome refers to when the dog is born with the disease due to structural issues from birth such as spina bifida or hemivertebrae.
Acquired Cauda Equina Syndrome means that the dog acquires the disease and is caused by an event such as injury, infection, or tumor. This can include fractures or dislocations of the vertebrae in the region, herniated disc of the last intervertebral disc, and tumors in the bones or nerves. A herniated disc is the most common cause of the disease when presented in the acquired form.
Who’s At Risk of Developing Cauda Equina Syndrome?
Large breeds such as the German Shepherd and Great Dane are more prone to developing the disease. Dogs with long spinal cords like the Beagle and Dachshund are also among the most susceptible to developing Cauda Equina Syndrome. Additionally, the disease has been observed to occur more frequently in dogs with previous hip dysplasia or patella luxation.
What are the Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome?
Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome usually are not observed until further into the progression of the disease. Typically, these symptoms are seen between the age of three to seven years old. The most evident sign of the disease is pain in the dog’s rear legs, tail, and back. Other symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome include:
- Difficulty getting up
- Poor coordination
- Changes in posture
- Unable to climb upstairs
- Weakness in rear legs and muscle loss
- Incontinence or trouble urinating and defecating
- Unable or unwilling to move tail
- Chewing on rear legs and tail
How Can Cauda Equina Syndrome In Dogs Be Prevented?
While it’s impossible to prevent most causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome, you can reduce the risk of a herniated disc, which is a common cause of the disease. For higher-risk breeds, limit high-impact activities, jumping on and off furniture, and maintain a healthy weight in your dog.
How is Cauda Equina Syndrome Diagnosed?
Cauda Equina Syndrome is often difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic a number of other conditions such as hip dysplasia, prostate disease, and spinal tumors. A proper and definitive diagnosis requires a thorough physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging. During the physical examination, your veterinarian will most likely confirm that your dog has pain present in their lower back, tail, and hind legs. Following this, radiographs will be performed to confirm spinal degeneration. However, degeneration is common in other diseases, so an epidurogram and myelogram will be performed to properly diagnose. Both of these tests use a contrast dye in combination with radiographs and CT scans to get a more detailed view of the spinal cord.
What is the Treatment for Cauda Equina Syndrome?
There are a number of treatments for dogs with Cauda Equina Syndrome. Both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options are available depending upon your dog’s needs.
Nonsurgical treatment is often used in more mild cases. Corticosteroids or NSAIDs are often prescribed first to relieve inflammation and pain. Cortisone injections are one route to go for immediate relief. Your veterinarian will likely recommend cage rest for up to two months while continuing to keep your dog exercising daily in order to not lose muscle mass. As the symptoms and condition worsen, further treatment is typically necessary.
For dogs with more severe cases of the disease, a few surgical options may be viable. Decompression or a dorsal laminectomy is the most commonly performed and is the surgical removal of the degenerated disc itself. For this procedure, an incision is made at the top of the spinal cord and is used to remove the bone and sometimes ligaments that are pressing on the nerves. Following this, fusion is done to strengthen the spinal cord and stop the compression. Depending upon the specific instance, this is done by either using bone from another part of the dog’s body or a metal plate.
Many dogs will be able to manage the condition with nonsurgical treatment initially and not require surgery for several more years.