What is lumbosacral disease in dogs?

A neurological condition, lumbosacral disease in dogs or lumbosacral degenerative disc disease is the name for a group of diseases affecting the spine. They cause problems in the dog’s lumbosacral intervertebral joint and compress the nerves around it.

The lumbosacral junction is the area at the end of the spinal cord between the highly mobile lumbar vertebrae (the last bone in the spine) and the completely immobile sacrum (the bone supporting the pelvis).

Because this area is susceptible to disc diseases caused by wear and tear, any degeneration can result in the disc tearing or protruding, and cause issues and pain for your pet.

What are the symptoms of
lumbosacral disease?

Due to nerve compression, back pain is often the main symptom of lumbosacral disease in dogs. This can manifest in instability when your dog is walking or moving around.

Other lumbosacral disease in dogs symptoms include:

  • Yelping or groaning, especially when touched
  • Weakness, lameness or incoordination in the back legs
  • Difficulty or reluctance when jumping, getting up or going up and down stairs
  • Mobility issues
  • Falls
  • Incontinence (urinary or faecal)
  • Wasted hamstring muscles

Dogs who are diagnosed with lumbosacral disease often have a long-term history of these issues.

The severity of these problems depends on which nerves are compressed, how long they’ve been compressed, and how acute the compression is.

What’s the treatment?

Hip dysplasia can often be treated via non-surgical means. This might include controlling your pet’s exercise, putting them on a diet if they’re overweight, or prescribing anti-inflammatory painkillers. Hydrotherapy can also be beneficial for treating hip dysplasia in dogs.

In more severe cases, or if your pet doesn’t respond well to other treatment options, surgery may be required. There are two main types of surgery we carry out for this condition: reconstructive and salvage. Reconstructive surgery can be suitable for younger dogs, and involves reconstructing the abnormal joint to make it more stable. Salvage surgery tends to involve replacing the abnormal hip, also known as a
total hip replacement.

Lumbosacral Disease In Dogs

What causes lumbosacral disease in dogs?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of lumbosacral disease:


As your dog gets older, dehydration and degeneration of the lumbar vertebrae becomes more common, which can cause it to bulge and trap the surrounding nerves. This leads to stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal or exit holes between the bones.


Compression of the nerves causes symptoms of lumbosacral disease, which is itself caused by: 

  • Infections
  • A tumour on the spine
  • Any trauma to the area
  • Osteoarthritis

This nerve compression can be uncomfortable in the way that sciatica can be uncomfortable in humans.

Compression can lead to inflammation, and when this happens, nerves may not be able to conduct electrical messages properly. If left untreated and allowed to progress, it can further reduce the nerve function.

There isn’t always a clear underlying cause of bulging and disc degeneration, but it can be associated with unstable bones in the spines of some dogs.

Though it can affect younger dogs, it’s more common in middle-aged or older large breed dogs, including German shepherds, labradors and dalmatians, as well as working breeds. It can also affect medium-sized breeds and, sometimes, cats.

Lumbosacral Disease In Dogs

How is it diagnosed?

It’s essential that lumbosacral disease in dogs is diagnosed and treated quickly. If left untreated, it can result in permanent damage.

There are several diagnostic options, including:

Detailed examination

This procedure will be carried out by a veterinarian neurologist, orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. They’ll take a full medical history of your pet and undertake a physical examination. They’ll also carry out tests to rule out diseases and conditions with similar symptoms, such as canine degenerative myelopathy, hip dysplasia and other lower back problems.

MRI Scan

As part of the detailed examination, your veterinary professional may order an MRI scan, an example of veterinary diagnostic imaging, to accurately diagnose the issue. It’s the best way to confirm spinal conditions, and gives detailed images of any soft tissue nerve compression.

Your pet will be given general anaesthetic prior to the procedure so that it’s possible to carry it out as quickly as possible, and to get a clear view of the problem.

Electromyography (EMG) and survey radiography

EMG and survey radiography allow vets to evaluate the health of nerves and muscles in anaesthetised patients. These procedures are helpful for providing any additional information required to make a positive diagnosis of lumbosacral disease.

How is lumbosacral disease treated?

Canine lumbosacral disease treatment is dependent on the cause, how severely the nerves are compressed, where the compression site is and how long your dog has been suffering. Your orthopaedic or neurology vet will advise you on the best way to treat the issue, but it will involve either surgical or non-surgical methods. 


Also known as conservative management, these treatments can really help reduce the severity of symptoms without the need for invasive procedures. They improve pain and lameness, especially in those patients presenting mild lumbosacral pathology (areas where disc bulges are small) and mild pain.

Non-surgical treatments include:


Surgery is carried out on more serious conditions, or if your pet doesn’t respond to other treatments.

Decompression and stabilisation surgery and foraminotomy are examples of surgical procedures that reduce the pressure on compressed nerves. They also:

  • Stabilise the lumbosacral spine
  • Relieve pain
  • Improve lameness in the back legs
  • Reduce incontinence 

What’s the prognosis?

For those pets who are treated non-surgically, once their clinical signs improve or are cured, their exercise can be increased and their medications can be reduced or completely stopped.

It may be necessary to make changes to the way they exercise or the activities they do and relapses and flare-ups can occur. If this does happen, they may need to undergo additional periods of reduced exercise and restart their medication. 

For those pets who have undergone surgery, they will need to be cared for in a hospital where their pain relief can be monitored. Therefore, total rest is vital in the few days after their operation. When they are back home, they can undergo a period of reduced and then moderate exercise until they have fully recovered.

Lumbosacral Disease In Dogs

Post-operative care is vitally important so as to avoid complications and enable full, post-surgery rehabilitation. Physiotherapy is key to this, and can help your pet recover more quickly.

Providing your pet isn’t suffering from permanent damage to their spinal cord, once the pressure is relieved, they should regain function in their back legs.

However, it should be noted that surgery won’t help with muscle or nerve inflammation, and these should be treated by conservative management.

How long is recovery?

Once your pet has come through their surgery, their recovery will be much the same as those pets who’ve undergone non-surgical treatment.

Overall, recovery can take several weeks to several months, though mobility will improve. Recovery involves medication, as well as gentle walking and a gradual increase of exercise as the weeks progress and your pet improves.

If you’re in need of further information about lumbosacral disease in dogs, please don’t hesitate to contact us or you can fill out our veterinary referral form.