Q: I brought my seven-year-old Beagle-cross to the vet upon noticing that he had developed a weird gait and sporadic head-swaying from side to side when walking. He also sometimes whimpers when he jumps up or is carried. His vet diagnosed him with spondylosis. How can we manage and/or improve his condition?
A: Spondylosis Deformans is usually seen in the lumbar vertebrae (the five vertebrae between the rib cage and the pelvis) of dogs and the thoracic vertebrae (the small bones that form the vertebral spine in the upper trunk) of cats. The condition is caused by your dog’s attempt to stabilise an otherwise unstable vertebrae by creating fibrous tissue, which is then replaced by bone. Some old dogs are so severely affected that most of their lumbar vertebrae are effectively one bone. It’s not thought to be painful in the long term but can cause pain while it is forming.
If there are neurological signs—and it sounds as though there are in your furkid because of the weird gait and the pain on jumping—it would suggest a possible nerve root involvement and/or disc disease. To accurately find out what is going on internally, advanced imaging would be required. Contrast radiography and an MRI scan show what’s happening to the soft tissue, while a CT scan allows your vet to better assess the vertebrae. Vets who are skilled in neurosurgery may be able to better assess these images and give an idea of what can and cannot be done to help your dog surgically.
Conservative treatment is limited and includes prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs and rest. Sometimes, owners adapt neck braces that are used in people to prevent the head from moving. If the only problem is disc disease, anti-inflammatory drugs, a neck brace and rest may improve the condition significantly. However, in your dog’s case, it does sound like there is nerve root involvement and so a brace would be of limited use in treating that condition.
My advice would be to begin with conservative treatment, and if his condition doesn’t improve or worsens after eight weeks, it’s best to seek the advice of a surgeon who is familiar with these problems.