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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Spinal Cord Injuries

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Back injuries are particularly dangerous because often, a pet's spinal cord is damaged which may lead to paralysis. Spinal cord injuries are associated with ruptured discs and vertebral fractures and dislocation caused by accidents such as automobile accidents, gunshot wounds, and falls.


Immediately after a spine injury, there may be neck or back pain, weakness pr paralysis of the legs, a stumbling gait, loss of feeling in the limbs, and urinary or fecal in continence. Signs that get worse after an injury are often caused by tissue swelling, which interferes with the blood supply to the spinal cord and may cause permanent paralysis.

A pelvic fracture can be confused for a spinal fracture. In both cases the dog is unable to bear weight on her hind quarters and shows pain when handled in the injured area. Thus it may appear as if the outlook is poor, even through a dog with a broken pelvis often makes a complete recovery.


There are many causes for spinal cord injuries, however, most back injuries happen from car accidents or other severe trauma. A tiny can suffer a back injury from a dictionary falling on him. Dogs also injure their backs by jumping on and off furniture the wrong way. This is especially true of breeds that have short legs and long bodies, such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and Corgis. Poodles and Cocker Spaniels have a high incidence of back injury.


Diagnosis is made by veterinary examination.


Dogs with spinal cord trauma usually have life threatening injuries that take precedence and require immediate attention. All dogs who are unconscious or are unable to stand should be considered to have spinal cord injuries until proven otherwise. Handle these animals with extreme care to protect the spine. Vertebral fractures are unstable. Flexing the neck or back may compress the spinal cord and worsen the injury.

  1. At the scene of the accident, move the dog as gently as possible onto a flat surface, such as a piece of plywood.
  2. Secure the dog to the flat surface using duct tape over the shoulders and hips to prevent the dog from moving their back.
  3. Sliding the dog onto a blanket and lifting the corners is an acceptable way to transport the dog if a makeshift stretcher is not available.
  4. Transport the dog to the nearest veterinary clinic.
Spinal cord injuries are treated with corticosteroids and diuretics such as mannitol to prevent further swelling at the site of the injury. Good nursing care and physiotherapy are extremely important in preventing complications and hastening recovery. Surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or to stabilize a fractured vertebra.

A dog with mild bruising of the spinal cord begins to recover in a few days. However, if the cord has been lacerated or severely damaged, paralysis or death may be the result.


There is no prevention for this condition.


If you feel your pet has suffered a spinal cord injury, follow the instructions in the treatments section and head to an emergency clinic.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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