Is Spondylosis of the Spine Something to Worry About?
01 Jul 2021
By Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt (Animal Physio.), CAFCI, CCRT
This topic has come up in a few places recently, and I wanted to take some time to create a blog on the topic of Spondylosis. Is it something to worry about? Is it normal or abnormal? How do you treat it? Can you treat it? What does it mean? So many questions! Let’s dive in!
Firstly, let’s go the definition of Spondylosis Deformans in dogs.
Spondylosis Deformans is a condition that affects the vertebral bones of the spine and is characterized by the presence of bony spurs or osteophytes along the edges of the bones of the spine.1 It is boney bridging that occurs under the vertebral column and acts as a stabilizer or motion limiter to spinal movement.
Why does it occur?
The condition is primarily associated with aging. One research group had hoped to show that Spondylosis Deformans was an indicator of participation in transport activities (i.e. it has been found in prehistoric dog remains and archaeologists’ interpretations of vet literature on sled dogs and other draft animals had them suspicious that there was a correlation.) However, this disease is present also in dogs and wolves regardless of their occupational histories!2
Another research group looked at spondylosis in tailed or dock-tailed Rottweilers.3 Essentially, they only found a correlation with age and sex. Risk for spondylosis increased 1.4x for each additional year. Also, females appeared to have 3x greater risk than males for development of Spondylosis Deformans!
All in all, it would appear that Spondylosis Deformans is a ‘normal’ (aka ‘common’) sign of aging. As we age, our discs degenerate. This can lead to abnormal movement patterns and create remodelling of the facet joints in the spine, both leading to increased mobility. The body needs to create a solution to this issue! So, Spondylosis can simply mean that the body has been successful in stabilizing an area.4
Is it something to worry about?
Short answer, NOT REALLY.
Unfortunately, there is advice on the internet about how you treat Spondylosis Deformans, with advice that suggests anti-inflammatory drugs, weight loss, and controlled exercise. This would lead someone to believe that the condition is painful, problematic, and reversible. None of this is true. Quite often it is an incidental finding on x-ray. However, sometimes it is seen on x-ray in dogs with back pain and the spondylosis gets blamed for the pain.
So, the long answer is a bit more complicated. Spondylosis Deformans essentially fuses two vertebrae to each other. This means, they no longer move. What research tells us (and common sense for that matter), is that when one joint doesn’t move, another joint (or multiple joints) has to work harder to compensate. This is what has been found in canine research, when a vertebra is fused, the adjacent joints move significantly more.5
The problems (or pain, if present) that one might associate with Spondylosis Deformans is most likely coming from a site OTHER THAN that with the Spondylosis. This phenomenon is confirmed in part by another study that found that dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) had significantly fewer sites of involvement and lower grades of spondylosis compared with dogs in a non-IVDD group.6 To put that another way, Spondylosis was LESS correlated with disc herniations. The research went further to note that Spondylosis in dogs with IVDD, was not AT the site of the IVDD, but rather closer to the site of IVDD or ‘randomly placed’.
As such, spondylosis seems to be protective against IVDD in some way (i.e. stabilized the spine before anything bad could happen), AND/OR, when IVDD did occur it would be in one of the adjacent (more mobile) segments of the spine.
As such, we might be better to rephrase the question to:
Are there things you should do if you have a dog with Spondylosis Deformans?
Yes. In order to protect the discs, and joints, and nerves at the spinal levels NEXT TO or AWAY FROM the spondylosis, we can do therapies to target increasing disc space, reducing inflammation, and improving muscle condition of the abdominals. Traction, Laser, Pulsed Electromagnetic Field, Acupuncture, Mobilizations, and Targeted Exercises are all things that can be done either proactively by the owners (in the case of Traction and Exercise) or by the therapist if there is back pain present.
Will it go away?
No. But that’s okay, because it might not ever be a problem. An owner might never know that their dog even has it! To be honest, I’d be more surprised if an older dog DIDN’T have some Spondylosis. However, if it is there in the presence of back pain, then there are things that can be done to help treat the ‘real’ offenders causing the pain and things that can be done to help prevent back pain as well.
- Hunter T & Yuill C. Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/spondylosis-deformans-in-dogs Accessed June 12, 2021.
- Latham KJ, Losey RJ. Spondylosis deformans as an indicator of transport activities in archaeological dogs: A systematic evaluation of current methods for assessing archaeological specimens. PLoS One. 2019 Apr 17;14(4):e0214575.
- Ihrke A, Riviera P, LoGuidice R, Guiffrida M, Neforos K. Prevalence of Spondylosis Deformans in Tailed Versus Tail-Docked Rottweilers. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2019 Nov/Dec;55(6):301-305.
- Harcourt-Brown T. Lumbosacral disease. https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=1925015037659994&ref=watch_permalink Accessed April 7th 2021.
- Schendel M, Dekutoski M, Ogilvie J et al. Kinematics of the Canine Lumbar Intervertebral Joints. Spine, 20 (23): pp 2555 – 2564, 1995.
- Levine GJ, Levine JM, Walker MA, Pool RR, Fosgate GT. Evaluation of the association between spondylosis deformans and clinical signs of intervertebral disk disease in dogs: 172 cases (1999-2000). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006 Jan 1;228(1):96-100.