Canine Spondylosis          


Spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine and causes new bone to be formed between the vertebrae, reducing spinal mobility.  It can also put pressure on nerve roots, causing pain and even reducing nerve function.  Using a harness rather than a collar can help to reduce the strain on a dog's neck, and providing food and water from raised bowls can also be helpful.  Anti-inflammatory pain-relieving medicines may help to reduce the pain and inflammation and accupunture, massage, physio and swimming can help to enable dogs to maintain muscle and fitness and to keep mobile.

spondylosis Deformans


By Fred Lanting
Spondylosis deformans is a condition in which bridges are formed along the ventral (bottom) parts of the vertebrae. It has been diagnosed in man, domestic cats (68%, yet no symptoms!), bulls, and even whales as well as in dogs. The term “spondylitis” literally means “an inflammation of the spine”, especially the bone, and spondylosis is sometimes used as a synonym as well as for describing types of ankylosis. One of these types is a bone proliferation, usually on the ventral surfaces of adjacent vertebrae, producing a bridge from one to the other. This condition is best known as spondylosis deformans. There is no spinal cord compression, but the spine is immobilized in that location. If the condition continues to spread, there may be several such bridges, “welding” a series of vertebrae into an inflexible backbone. It is seen fairly easily via lateral radiography. Because of different degrees seen in different breeds, I believe there to be more than one genetic determinant for this disorder, though nutrition may play a modifying role. I know full well the familial line in a significant portion of American German Shepherd Dogs with this problem, but there are some “German” lines with it, too. Pain may come from encirclement or pressure on nerve roots leading out from the cord to peripheral nerves, although such discomfort might be from concurrent arthritis, cauda equina syndrome, or other problems. As in Wobbler Syndrome, much growth of osteophytes can  occur, and may be part of the reason some dogs have pain, but generally the animal does not appear to be suffering.
It is not completely clear how this disorder progresses, but it may start with a breakdown of  Sharpey’s fibres, which are the fibres making up the annulus or outer portion of the intervertebral disks. Subsequently, inner disk material protrudes, stretching the longitudinal ligament, and promoting the appearance of osteophytes which grow out from the vertebral bodies in such a way that one cannot tell where the original bone ends and the  osteophytic growth begins. Before that happens, though, separate ossification centres can be seen forming a few millimetres from the vertebral bodies; they later fuse and grow toward the adjacent vertebral segment. Eventually, and depending on breed and family history, the disk spaces between particular segments are bridged. True ankylosis (complete fusion into a continuous bony bridge between vertebrae) is far less common than the near-junction of these osteophytes. Very seldom do the osteophytes grow upward or in such a way as to pinch the spinal cord or otherwise cause neurological signs, so spondylosis deformans might be considered a relatively benign disorder when compared with HD, elbow dysplasias, wobbler syndrome, etc.
Many affected dogs live satisfactory lives, though somewhat limited in flexibility and range of motion. Fortunately, by the time spondylosis deformans becomes noticeable in clinical signs, the dog may be considered “retired” from his duties of running around, jumping, and doing the other things expected of a youngster. In some individuals, it will get worse suddenly rather than continue in a gradual worsening. Possibly, trauma may bring fracture of the bridge created in the development of spondylosis, which crack may spread to the arch and body, thus pinching the cord.
Often, spondylosis will be discovered on radiographs incidentally while the vet is looking for something else, such as a cause for lameness. In some of these cases, he may be tempted to make his diagnosis right then, and not to look further for the actual main cause, which may include HD, osteochondrosis in other joints, tumours, and others. Osteoarthritis of the spine (inflammation of the joints between vertebrae) is not the same disorder, nor is true spondylitis (an inflammation of the vertebrae themselves, brought on by either trauma or infection). Remember that “-itis” means inflammation, and spondylosis deformans is a non-inflammatory degenerative disease.
An intervertebral inflammation resulting in fusion of the vertebrae has been seen in humans and is known as ankylosing spondylitis. It is related to both adult and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and the similarity to spondylosis deformans in the dog (minus the inflammation) makes me wonder if there is a common or similar genetic defect in the “immune systems” of man and beast. Although it has been misnamed ankylosing spondylitis in the past, spondylosis deformans in the canine is not that disorder, exactly. Senile ankylosing hyperostosis is a syndrome in humans that is considered to be a variation of osteoarthritis characterized by large osteophytes, bridging between and on the anterolateral (front and side) surfaces of the vertebral bodies. In man, it appears mainly in males over 50 years of age, giving symptoms of minor to moderate back pain, stiffness, and lack of flexibility. Bone spurs and ossification in tendons and ligaments are common. Even intervertebral osteochondrosis may be a separate disorder; although also a result of disk degeneration, it is characterized by reduced disk height and vertebral end-plate sclerosis, not seen in spondylosis deformans.
The genetic transmission of the tendency to develop this disease is obvious to anyone who has watched it appear in offspring of certain dogs, generation after generation. But exactly how (the etiology) is not as sure. Perhaps there is an inherited weakness in how a dog’s vertebrae respond to or withstand repeated microtraumas; perhaps in some lines, the blood vessels that serve the outer layers of the disks regress and disappear faster than the normal or expected three or four years. It seems to be a fairly natural consequence of aging, as 75% of dogs in some breeds are affected to some degree by 9 years, and half by 6 years. On the other hand, some work has indicated that spondylosis deformans is more a disease of middle age. Breed and family variables make the incidence figures vary tremendously. It became a very noticeable disorder in the German Shepherd Dog when, for a while, 90% of the “show” German Shepherd Dogs in the USA were allegedly descended from one very popular late-1960s American Grand Victor (estimate based on a pedigree study reported in a GSD magazine several years ago) who had and passed along this disease in a severe form.
A couple of other miscellaneous thoughts about spondylosis: Regarding the effect or influence of environment, small trauma has already been mentioned as a possible factor, but with little evidence. It is suspected that bulls on high-calcium diets may have increased susceptibility. Males seem more at risk than females.

Copyright, 1990, by Fred Lanting. Used with permission.”
Editor’s note: Fred is one of only half a dozen in the Western Hemisphere who have SV conformation judging experience. He is an all-breed judge for several U.S. registries and in many countries, wrote the definitive book on orthopaedic disorders, and lectures worldwide on that and other topics.  He can be reached at
or by mail: 3565 Parches Cove Rd, Union Grove AL 35175-8422. Schedule seminars in your area.

back to top




Note for Pet Owners:
This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.
You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.  

Breed Occurrence

Long-term problems 


Provet is conducting a Survey on Spondylosis, so if you have seen a clinical case please spend a few minutes completing our Survey. Thank YOU. SPONDYLOSIS SURVEY

Spondylosis deformans (also called ankylosing spondylitis) is a generalised disease of ageing secondary to the degeneration of intervertebral disks which lie between the vertebrae in the spine.

The precise cause of spondylosis is not understood, but it is a non-inflammatory disease, the spinal changes that occur in spondylosis are a response to instability in the intervertebral disk spaces of the spinal column.

Mapping of the canine genome is well under way and if there is a gene that is responsible for the occurrence of spondylosis it may be identifiable, however the condition it is unlikely to be a simple inherited problem.

Too much vitamin A intake has been implicated in some cases of spondylosis in cats (this is usually due to feeding a lot of fresh liver) - and Provet is conducting an investigating into the possibility of such a relationship in dogs.

Breed Occurrence
Spondylosis occurs at all ages but increases in incidence in older animals. Although many reports suggest that spondylosis occurs more frequently in some breeds such Boxers and large breeds of dog, this has recently been disputed, and in fact it is now thought that "all dogs and cats , regardless of breed or sex, will develop a degree of spondylosis if they live long enough".

Spondylosis is common in older dogs, particularly at the lumbosacral junction as in this case. Such radiographic changes need to be differentiated from diskospondylitis and (rarely) from metastatic spread from local tumours (e.g. prostatic carcinoma)

Spondylosis is often present in animals without causing any clinical signs. If an animal shows signs they are due to pressure of the new bone on spinal nerves, or on the spinal cord itself.

Complications of the disease can occur if spinal nerve compression leads  impaired neurological function.

On XRays of the back spondylosis  is characterised by the formation of new bone (osteophytes or spurs) around the affected disk, and occasionally complete bridges can form causing stability across the disk space. 

Bone (S) bridging the spine of an old dog with spondylosis

Treatment is given to alleviate symptoms when they do occur eg. for pain relief. There is no generally accepted satisfactory surgical treatment. If the new bone is removed it simply reforms.

The prognosis is guarded because the disease cannot be totally treated.

Long term problems
Total ankylosis of the spinal column can result in the worst affected cases. This can lead to an abnormal gait and difficulty negotiating stairs, jumping and other activities in which movement of the spine is important.

Copyright (c) 1999 - 2007 Provet. All rights reserved.
reprinted with kind permission from
Mike davies Provet Limited
back to top


Spondylosis and other possibilities in German Sherpherd mix
Memory Foam Pet Beds
Leg Wraps for Gait Irregularities
Canine Discospondylitis
etiology, diagnosis, treatment

Back Pain in Dogs

chloebutton  talabutton  
The above information is simply informational. It's intent is not to replace the advice of a veterinarian nor to assist you in making a diagnosis of your pet. Please consult with your own veterinarian for confirmation of any diagnosis. Your pets life may depend on it.