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Neck and back pain in dogs: symptoms and how to help

Neck and back pain in dogs: symptoms and how to help

Spotting neck and back pain in dogs can be challenging, even for the pros. Learn about the signs of neck and back pain, how to help your pooch, and how treatment options at your Ypsilanti vet can help your dog feel better faster.


If you've ever had neck or back pain, you know how difficult it can make even the smallest movements. Our beloved pet can experience the same pain, but it takes an observant dog owner to spot the signs of pain in their pup's neck or back before it becomes severe. Read on for tips about identifying back and neck pain in your dog and helping them feel better. 

Causes of neck and back pain in dogs

There are several common causes of neck and back pain in dogs, including degenerative disc diseases, injury, or tumors.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) entails the degeneration of material between discs. The condition is often genetic in nature and tends to affect dogs with long backs and short legs. In both humans and dogs alike, the wearing away of the disc material that usually absorbs shocks and jolts between the vertebrae and spine is often extremely painful for the sufferer. 

Dog Breeds and IVDD

As mentioned above, there are some dogs with body types that are more prone to developing IVDD. Dog breeds that show a propensity for developing this condition include dachshunds, beagles, poodles, Shi Tzus, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepards, and bulldogs among others. It is important to remember, however, that IVDD and neck and back pain can occur in any dog during their lifetime. 

Other causes of neck and back pain

Neck and back pain in dogs can be more or less categorized into soft tissue injury (e.g.a strained muscle), trauma, IVDD, inflammatory disease, and some forms of cancer. Pain in your pup's neck and back could also be caused by a number of infectious diseases, including those spread by ticks and other dangerous parasites.

Symptoms of neck and back pain in dogs

Although every dog is different, there are some common signs that your pet could be suffering from neck and back pain. 

  • Yelping or whimpering during certain motions
  • Muscle spasms or twitches 
  • Rigid stance
  • Arching back
  • Avoidance of movement
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Weakness
  • Inability to look upward
  • Low energy
  • Behavioral changes (e.g. uncharacteristic aggression)
  • Change in appetite (especially if not accompanied by other GI symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting)

If your dog is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, make a vet appointment right away! Your dog is likely in pain and needs professional examination and treatment as soon as possible 

Diagnosis of neck and back pain in dogs 

First, your vet will conduct a thorough physical exam to try to narrow down the source of the dog's pain. The vet may palpate (feel) along the spine and watch closely for signs of pain or discomfort from the patient. Your dog's range of motion (up, down, side to side) will be tested to observe any difficulties or pain moving the neck. 

After the source of neck and back pain has been identified, your vet will likely recommend tests for conditions such as neurological issues and IVDD (especially if your dog is an at-risk breed). Depending on the particulars of your dog's case, they may also recommend diagnostic procedures including blood work, digital X-rays, and if deemed necessary, MRIs.

Treatment of back and neck pain in dogs 

No matter the cause of your dog's back and neck pain, one of the first issues to address is pain management. Your veterinarian will choose an appropriate form of pain relief depending on your dog's specific needs and the amount of pain they are experiencing. Some common pain-relief medications our vets may recommend for your pet include: corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and animal-safe 
opioids.

Although many cases can be treated by vet-prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and recuperation time - never try to treat your dog with over-the-counter ibuprofen (e.g. Tylenol) as it is toxic to dogs and could be fatal. 

Visit your primary veterinarian as soon as possible.

In the meanwhile follow some tips to keep your dog as comfortable as possible while transporting them: 
  • If you must lift them (particularly small- to medium-sized, long-backed breeds), do so with one hand or arm under their chest and the other supporting their back and hind legs
  • Keep their back as straight as possible and minimize unnecessary movement

Surgical and non-surgical options for treatment are available.

The treatment method that best addresses your special pup's back or neck pain will depend on a number of factors. Ultimately, the final decision comes down to your dog's best interests and discussions between yourself and your veterinarian. While some underlying conditions such as serious muscle tears or strains, cancerous growths, or issues affecting the spine may require surgical intervention in conjunction with other medicines and treatments, your vet team always wants the least invasive, stressful treatment method for you and your canine companion. 

Specialized non-surgical treatment methods such as veterinary spinal manipulation therapy offer your dog a chance for relief with a gentle, non-invasive and chemical-free way to encourage healing and recuperation from painful joint and muscle conditions or illnesses. 


Your vet may also recommend changes in diet and exercise to avoid extra weight that can put further stress on dogs with back and neck pain. This is especially true if your dog is at risk of developing IVDD or other disc diseases, but you and your vet team are able to help your dog live a longer, happier life with preventive care, pain management and appropriate treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of back or neck pain? Contact our Michigan Avenue Animal Hospital vets to get your dog on the road to recovery.

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