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Lumbosacral stenosis is a painful condition caused by a narrowing of the spinal column that results from either degeneration over time or a birth defect, which, in turn, puts pressure on the spinal cord. The condition is difficult to diagnose, especially in older dogs, because the common symptoms, which include limping, difficulty rising, a limp tail, and incontinence, mimic other diseases of old age. However, once a diagnosis is made, surgery is the typical treatment, and it is generally successful.
Lumbosacral stenosis is a painful condition of dogs that affects the spinal cord and the nerves around the area where the spinal column meets the pelvis (low down in the back, where the lumbar spine meets the sacrum at the level of the pelvis). In this multifaceted condition of dogs, the hind limbs, tail, bladder, and rectum may be separately or uniformly affected, depending on the severity of the lumbosacral stenosis.
This disease can be the result of a degenerative or congenital narrowing of the spinal column.
In degenerative cases, it can happen because of vertebral malformations, chronic changes to the discs that cushion the vertebrae, changes in the ligaments, trauma, or tumors. In fact, anything that causes instability between the vertebrae in this area can result in lumbosacral stenosis.
For the congenital form, a vertebral malformation typically cases pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves that exit it at this point and beyond (toward the tail). Pressure on the spinal column is what leads to clinical signs.
Older dogs who limp or are slow to rise and who suffer from incontinence of the bladder or bowels (or both) should be suspected of having the degenerative form of the condition.
Younger dogs with this condition (as young as puppies) are the most likely candidates for the congenital form.
In most cases, it’s a hard condition to identify. That’s because more commonly affected older
dogs of large breeds typically already exhibit signs of arthritis that affect the hind end function and may already be incontinent due to a variety of other old-age processes. Younger
dogs, by contrast, are easier to identify as a result of their normally pristine spinal cord status.
The collection of these symptoms (sometimes just the involvement of a few) may raise a veterinarian’s suspicions of lumbosacral stenosis. But even then, the problem can be a challenge to diagnose in older dogs that suffer similar symptoms from other degenerative diseases. It’s easy to get caught up in the other diseases and miss the bigger picture.
In either case — degenerative or congenital — X-rays, myelogram, CT scan, and/or MRI are the way to go. Your veterinarian may refer you to board-certified veterinary surgeons and/or neurologists to handle these advanced diagnostic details.
The congenital form of this condition is generally seen in smaller to medium-sized dogs. The acquired form is more common in large breeds, such as
Treatment depends on how severely the dog is affected.
In mild cases, veterinarians defer to pain-relief drugs (NSAIDs) and exercise restriction. When it comes to surgical treatments, pain relievers are also employed, but veterinarians hope the drugs are necessary only in the short term.
Severe cases usually require surgical treatment to free up space for the cord to “decompress,” so the swelling and its painful or functional symptoms can be relieved. Some dogs may not, however, completely recover normal neurologic function. Rapid treatment (once the process is identified) is deemed more effective in these cases.
Prevention of degenerative lumbosacral stenosis is difficult but can be achieved by limiting weight gain (this curbs the impact of disc disease and osteoarthritis).
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.
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