Dog: Spondylosis

General information

Other common/scientific names: spondylosis deformans

A dog’s spine is composed of a long series of bones called vertebrae. These bones maintain the structure of the body and protect the spinal cord which is housed within the vertebrae. The vertebrae are connected through a series of ligaments. Between each vertebrae are structures called disks which act as shock absorbers. The vertebrae are divided into sections based on their location, i.e. cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (lower back) and sacrum (tailbone).

Spondylosis refers to degeneration of the vertebrae characterized by the formation of bone spurs along the margins of the vertebrae which can result in a bony bridge. Spondylosis can affect one or more areas of the spine but most commonly affects the lumbar vertebrae.


Spondylosis is thought to be inherited in some breeds including German Shepherds, Boxers and Airedale Terriers. Other causes include aging, trauma, lack of exercise and obesity.

Cardinal symptom



Most dogs show no clinical signs of spondylosis. Mild cases can cause stiffness and restricted motion. Although rare, with severe cases the bony spurs may cause pressure on the spinal cord resulting in chronic pain, neurologic deficits (nerve damage) and paralysis. Fractured bone spurs can cause severe pain.


Spondylosis is diagnosed by radiographs of the spine. For dogs showing nerve damage, a myelogram, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to assess spinal cord compression.

Abb. GGLW9RC2: Spondylosis.
This is a radiograph of a dog with severe spondylosis. The black arrows indicate bone spurs on the bottom of the lumbar vertebrae. The spurs form a complete bony bridge in some areas.

Abb. GGLWGDVF: Normal vertebrae.
This is a radiograph of a dog with healthy vertebrae.


There is no cure for spondylosis and most cases require no treatment. However, dogs with chronic pain from spondylosis usually benefit from an anti-inflammatory medication, specifically an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). There are several veterinary manufactured NSAIDs available to veterinarians. Since every dog responds differently, your veterinarian may prescribe different NSAIDs based on its response. Other pain relieving treatments include massage, physical therapy and acupuncture.

In rare cases where paralysis occurs, surgery may be necessary to relieve spinal cord compression.


Most dogs with mild spondylosis do well even with limited mobility. Dogs with neurologic deficits caused by severe spondylosis have a more guarded prognosis.


While spondylosis cannot be prevented, maintaining a normal, healthy weight in your dog can reduce the clinical signs.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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