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Dog Health: Spondylosis

Meet Holly (she’s the little lady on the left). Holly suffers with a dog health condition, spondylosis, which is  associated with aging.  Also known as a ‘middle-aged’ disease, some researchers are of the opinion that every dog will develop spondylosis if it lives long enough (VCA Animal Hospitals, 2014b).

Spondylosis is a condition that affects the bones of the spine and is characterised by the formation of bony ‘spurs’ along the edges of the bones, in either a single spot or at multiple locations.

As the bony spurs develop, they may become large enough to form bridges between adjacent vertebrae.  Spondylosis can affect any middle-aged to older dog, and this condition will begin to develop by ten years of age (VCA Animal Hospitals, 2014b).


Spondylosis develops as a secondary problem related to degenerative disease of the intervertebral discs (a layer of cartilage separating adjacent bones in the spine) due to the aging process. If intervertebral discs become damaged, the joints between them become less stable and therefore bone spurs develop to re-establish stability of the weakened joint(s).

The condition could also develop following a major injury or repetitive pressure on the same joints or bones. In this case, the body tries to stabilise the weakened joints/bones by producing new bone cells that leads to the development of bony spurs.

Furthermore, it is suggested that spondylosis can be genetically acquired. Dogs who inherit a tendency to developing bony spurs are born with weaker vertebrae.


A dog suffering from spondylosis may display the following:

  • Gradual loss of flexibility in the spine and overall range of motion
  • Reduced capacity to run, jump and turn
  • Difficulty to rise
  • Reluctance to climb or jump
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Pain or lameness – if a bone spur grows near a nerve root as it comes out of the spinal canal, it may put pressure on the nerve. Also, trauma can snap the bridges of bone fusing the vertebrae, causing pinched nerves.

Our friend Holly suffers from some degree of nerve degeneration/impairment as a result of the spondylosis and this is noticeable in her back legs. Holly sometimes ‘knuckles over’ when walking and going up stairs.


Treatment for spondylosis includes:

  • Medication – anti-inflammatory and pain relief drugs
  • Physiotherapy
  • Weight loss programme, if appropriate
  • Regulated exercise programme
  • Surgery – to remove bone spurs which may be causing spinal cord compression

Massage treatment for spondylosis

For those dogs who display any lameness, massage will be extremely beneficial in the treatment of any secondary muscular and compensatory issues.


  1. Alchin, L., 2014. Dog Spondylosis. Available at:
  2. Colville, T., Bassert, J.M., 2008. Clinical Anatomy and Physiology for Veterinary Technicians. 2nd ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
  3. Houredebaigt, J-P., 2004. Canine Massage – A Complete Reference Manual. 2nd ed. Wenatchee: Dogwise Publishing.
  4. petMD, 1999-2014c. Spine Degeneration in Dogs. Available at:
  5. Robertson, J., 2010. The Complete Dog Massage Manual. Dorset: Veloce Publishing Ltd.
  6. Robertson, J., Mead, A., 2013. Physical Therapy and Massage for the Dog. London: Manson Publishing Ltd.
  7. VCA Animal Hospitals, 2014b. Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs. Available at:
  8. Vetinfo, 2014. An Overview of Spondylosis in Dogs. Available at:


  1. My yellow lab service dog cannot raise her head when she is in pain. She is six years old.
    I am doing research on spondylosis and will appreciate any help you can offer.

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