Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and Spinal Anomalies


Problems and anomolous characteristics involving the spine and tail are a complex and sometimes difficult issue..  Some abnormalities of the spinal column can only be identified by radiographic or other means of screening and may have little or no impact on spinal health, while other issues can be devastating, resulting in partial or full paralysis.  The more serious issues often require one or more corrective surgeries and in some cases, may end in euthanasia.  

"Juneau" CH Phi-Vestavia Blue JuniperLost to IVDD in 2003 after first going down at the end of 2000.

CH Phi-Vestavia Blue Juniper
Lost to IVDD in 2003 after first going down at the end of 2000.

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During her seminar on Degenerative Myelopathy at the 2009 CWCCA National Specialty, Dr. Coates mentioned that there were no less than 128 identified problems involving the canine spine.  How many of these issues directly affect Cardigans is still uncertain.  There have been confirmed cases of degenerative and ruptured discs (Hansen’s Type I and Type II disc disease), transitional vertebra, extra vertebra and tail kinks, brachury/anury (abnormally shortened or absent tail, also known as a ‘natural bobtail’ in other breeds such as the Pembroke), plus unconfirmed reports of hemivertebra and other problems without a specific diagnosis. 

Sorting out and identifying genetic markers and potential causes for all of these issues will be no less than a monumental task, but current developments in research have made it possible to at least narrow the field, so that in the future, Cardigan breeders and owners might
have fewer concerns involving spinal issues.

Read more about IVDD on the CHF website

Symptoms: Disc rupture or disc compression injury (Intervertebral/Degenerative Disc Disease, IVDD):  Sudden, painful onset of paralysis or rear limb weakness.  Early signs may include chronic lameness in a front or rear leg, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, anxiety, abnormal roaching/arching back posture, pain or crying out, often while turning head or body or when lifted.  Generalized osteoarthritis may often be identified along with disc disease.  Radiographs and/or MRI may show narrowed disc spaces and calcifications/spondylosis.

Dodger’s list FAQs and warning signs of IVDD.

Other issues such as transitional or extra vertebra, hemivertebra and tail kinks very often remain symptom free, with little or no impact on quality of life, but may increase risk for other problems such as contributing to whelping complications and in cases involving the lumbar and sacral vertebra, can sometimes affect nerve function of the bladder leading to chronic problems with incontinence, so it is recommended that Cardigans intended for breeding should be screened for these traits. Radiographs to screen for spinal abnormalities can usually be done at the same time as hip and elbow screening.

Treatment Options: It is important to get an early and accurate diagnosis since several issues can result in paralysis, including tick infestation and Degenerative Myelopathy.

In the case of IVDD, veterinary evaluation and administration of anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing and pain relief medications at the earliest time possible can often limit or prevent permanent nerve damage.  If there is a disc rupture, surgery is often required with a referral to a veterinary neurosurgeon.  This is an emergency situation.  Fast treatment can make a difference between temporary and permanent paralysis.  If there is any question, see a vet immediately.  It is better to be embarrassed about a minor problem than sorry to have not treated a serious one.

Follow up treatment and therapy requires complete crate rest and limited activity to allow time for healing.  Physical therapy after healing may involve several options including therapeutic exercise, hydrotherapy, electromuscular stimulation and low level laser treatments, which should only be done by a licensed veterinary physical therapist. 
Find a therapist through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute.

Dogs experiencing temporary or permanent paralysis may require therapeutic devices to help improve their mobility.  Joining a discussion group like Wheelcorgis can help owners make choices on products to best match individual situations.

Known Mode of Inheritance: Unknown.  Currently thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Age of onset:  Degenerative forms of Intervertebral Disc Disease: typically > 5-6 years, but have been known to occur earlier and later in life.

Spinal anomolies (transitional veterbra, extra vertebra, hemivertibra and tail kinks): < birth

Breeds affected

  • Cardigan: yes
  • Pembroke: yes
  • Other Breeds: yes, many breeds and mixed breeds.

Incidence in Cardigans:  Unknown, but based on reported incidence in some pedigrees, spinal abnormalities and/or disc issues could potentially affect as many as 20 percent of all Cardigans.

Registry: yes, through the OFA, but not currently an open database.  An Open spinal registry through OFA will require participation by owners and breeders and action by breed clubs.

Links to register:  OFA application for the Spine Database
Note:  The application says “for Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers Only”, but cardigans CAN be submitted for evaluation with a note to identify their breed.

Tests Available: no


  • Cardigans: yes, but mainly limited to treatment options.
  • Other breeds: yes, Dachshunds in particular
  • Active?: yes, but not specifically for Cardigans. 

Research links: 

Published papers and Articles:

Discussion Groups:



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