Understanding Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Cocker Spaniels

Causes, Symptoms, and Management

CockerSpaniel.org Volunteer Staff

2/20/20243 min read

brown short coated dog lying on gray textile
brown short coated dog lying on gray textile


Cocker Spaniels, with their affectionate nature and boundless energy, are cherished members of many families. However, like all dog breeds, they are susceptible to certain health conditions, one of which is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). This spinal condition can cause discomfort and mobility issues in affected dogs, requiring careful management and veterinary attention.

What is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)?

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a common spinal condition in dogs, characterized by the degeneration or herniation of intervertebral discs—the cushions between the vertebrae in the spine. This degeneration can lead to compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots, resulting in pain, weakness, and loss of coordination.

Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors may contribute to the development of IVDD in Cocker Spaniels, including:

  1. Genetics: Certain breeds, including Cocker Spaniels, are predisposed to IVDD due to genetic factors. In these breeds, the structure of the intervertebral discs or spinal anatomy may increase the risk of disc degeneration.

  1. Age: IVDD is more common in middle-aged to senior dogs, although it can occur at any age. As dogs age, the intervertebral discs may become less resilient and more prone to degeneration.

  1. Obesity: Excess body weight places additional strain on the spine and intervertebral discs, increasing the risk of disc herniation or injury.

  1. Trauma: Acute trauma or injury to the spine, such as falls, rough play, or accidents, can predispose dogs to IVDD by damaging the intervertebral discs.

  1. Lifestyle Factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as high-impact activities or repetitive jumping, may contribute to the development of IVDD, particularly in predisposed individuals.

Recognizing Symptoms

Symptoms of IVDD in Cocker Spaniels can vary depending on the location and severity of spinal cord compression but may include:

  1. Back Pain: Dogs with IVDD may exhibit signs of discomfort or pain, particularly when touched or lifted around the back or neck.

  1. Difficulty Walking: Weakness, wobbliness, or difficulty walking, particularly in the hind legs, may be observed. Some dogs may drag their hind limbs or appear uncoordinated.

  1. Reluctance to Jump: Dogs with IVDD may hesitate or refuse to jump onto furniture, climb stairs, or engage in activities they previously enjoyed.

  1. Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control: In severe cases of IVDD, dogs may experience loss of bladder or bowel control due to spinal cord compression.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect your Cocker Spaniel may be experiencing symptoms of IVDD, it's essential to seek veterinary evaluation for proper diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis typically involves a combination of physical examination, neurological assessment, and imaging tests such as X-rays or advanced imaging techniques like MRI or CT scans.

Treatment options for IVDD may vary depending on the severity of the condition but can include:

  1. Medication: Anti-inflammatory medications, pain relievers, and muscle relaxants may be prescribed to alleviate pain and inflammation associated with IVDD.

  1. Rest and Restricted Activity: Strict crate rest or restricted activity may be recommended to allow the affected discs to heal and reduce the risk of further spinal cord compression.

  1. Physical Therapy: Physical therapy exercises, such as gentle stretching, massage, and controlled movements, may help improve mobility, strengthen muscles, and support recovery.

  1. Surgical Intervention: In cases of severe or progressive IVDD, surgical intervention may be necessary to decompress the spinal cord, stabilize the spine, or remove herniated disc material.

Preventive Measures and Management Strategies

While IVDD cannot always be prevented, there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk and support your Cocker Spaniel's spinal health:

  1. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Keep your Cocker Spaniel at a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise. Obesity increases the risk of spinal issues, including IVDD.

  1. Avoid High-Impact Activities: Minimize activities that place excessive strain on the spine, such as jumping or rough play. Provide alternative forms of exercise that are low-impact and gentle on the joints.

  1. Use Caution with Stairs and Furniture: Supervise your dog when navigating stairs or jumping onto furniture, and consider using ramps or stairs with a gentle incline to reduce strain on the spine.

  1. Provide Supportive Bedding: Use supportive bedding with adequate cushioning to relieve pressure on the spine and provide a comfortable resting environment for your Cocker Spaniel.

  1. Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule routine veterinary examinations to monitor your dog's overall health, including spinal health, and address any concerns or changes in mobility promptly.


Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) can be a challenging condition for Cocker Spaniels and their owners, impacting mobility, comfort, and quality of life. By understanding the causes, recognizing symptoms early, and implementing appropriate preventive measures and management strategies, owners can help support their furry companions' spinal health and well-being. With attentive care, veterinary guidance, and a supportive environment, Cocker Spaniels with IVDD can continue to lead happy, active lives as beloved members of the family.