Will my dog recover? This is the one question everyone asks if their dog goes down with a back problem.
Your vet will assess your dog to determine the severity of the disease process. Dogs can be graded, with mildest cases being a grade 1, and worst-affected cases being a grade 5 (N.B. some clinics worldwide use a different or reversed grading scheme). The clinical grade helps in deciding which treatment is most suitable. Tracking your dog’s grade over time can also help your vet to work out whether your dog is getting better or worse.
At grades 1 and 2, conservative (non-surgical) treatment is often a sensible first choice, though surgery may be indicated if the dog does not improve. Dogs clinically assessed as Grades 1 or 2 are almost as likely to recover with conservative treatment as with surgery.
Dogs assessed as Grades 3, 4 or 5 are more likely to recover with surgical treatment. However, 5-10% of dogs with a Grade 5 assessment may also suffer from a progressive, fatal, condition called Myelomalacia.
It is important to remember that your dog may, or may not, respond to treatment like an "average" dog. Many dogs make a full recovery, particularly if given suitable rehabilitation to rebuild their strength.
Some dogs make a partial recovery and may be left without full mobility, but can usually continue to lead an active life. Your dog may also develop involuntary motor function, called Spinal Walking.
Unfortunately, some dogs may remain paralysed and you will face the prospect of living with a disabled dog.
Read our Owners' Stories to find out real-life experiences.
Read more about the IVDD clinical grading scale (1-5).
Freeman & Jeffery 2017 - The Role of Fenestration in Management of Type I Thoracolumbar Disk Degeneration. They summarise recovery rates from about 40 published papers.
They say "reported proportions of successful treatment for decompressive surgery and fenestration alone are very similar for dogs both with and without deep pain perception. It is only conservatively managed deep pain negative dogs which show lower rates of recovery, and even this conclusion may be unreliable because there is a paucity of data from which to define the true recovery level for dogs in this specific severity and treatment category".