Do you own a French Bulldog? If so, you are sure to be among the most loving and doting of dog parents. After all, Frenchies require much extra care with their breathing challenges and conformational difficulties.
Despite your best intentions, what if your Bulldog woke up one day and could not walk? Worse, what if he was screaming in pain? Yikes, what could be wrong?
Your French Bulldog likely has a slipped disc, a common ailment in his breed. Although you are probably worried out of your mind, there are measures you can take to diagnose the problem and alleviate your pet's distress.
What is a slipped disc?
A slipped disc is commonly used to refer to an intervertebral disc that has herniated. It is also known as intervertebral disc disease, IVDD, or a bulging disc. Intervertebral discs usually rupture upwards or dorsally.
Most slipped discs in Frenchies occur in a section of the back just past the ribs. These affect the rear legs. Disc herniation, however, can also occur in the neck. The lesion's location affects where you see weakness and paralysis.
According to Southeast Veterinary Neurology, The disc itself is comprised of a ring of fibrous tissue around a protein gelatinous nucleus known as the nucleus pulposus. Intervertebral discs separate the individual segments of the backbone, allowing limited movement and absorbing shock from impact.
When the disc becomes displaced in dogs and people, the nucleus pulposus protrudes through a weak or injured outer protective ring and impinges on surrounding nerves.
Some breeds experience age-related disc deterioration while others are victims of conformational stressors.
Why are French Bulldogs susceptible to slipped disc symptoms?
When you think of breeds prone to back problems, you probably immediately picture Dachshunds and Basset Hounds. Their long backs and disproportionately short legs seem obvious culprits.
A French Bulldog may not have the exaggerated body length that Dachshunds do, but he has a large body relative to his shortened legs.
This dwarfism, according to the University of California at Davis, causes deformities in the vertebral column as well as stress on the back from abnormalities in gait.
A dog's conformation, however, is only part of a broader picture. Chondrodystrophy carries a gene that leads to early break-down of the outer ring of intervertebral discs.
Another issue is the French Bulldog's adorable corkscrew tail.
According to DogsHealthProblems, The gene that causes the unique curl of a Bulldog's tail has been linked with vertebral abnormalities further up the spine.
Also known as hemivertebrae, its symptoms are quite similar to IVDD and the distinction can be visualized with imaging techniques. Other differentials of IVDD are tumors, clots, meningitis, and fractures.
What is French Bulldog slipped disc symptoms?
IVDD in French Bulldogs can have widely variable symptoms. Some dogs show no signs at all. However, compression of disc material on nerves and other tissues often has dramatic consequences.
Pain is the most common symptom in a French Bulldog with a slipped disc. Frenchies have various manifestations of back pain.
- Neck hurts – reluctance to move the head from side to side or up and down. Often your dog will be incapable of moving its head beyond a certain point.
- Holding the head down – This can signify neck pain or discomfort lower down in the spine.
- Painful in the back – Your dog may not want you to touch his back or may show general stiffness through the body.
- Sensitive to touch – seems to hurt everywhere. Your dog may cry out for no apparent reason or could react aggressively when you try to approach or pet her.
- Limping can be a sign of back pain – your Bulldog may limp in a front leg with neck or upper back pain while a hind limb lameness may indicate a lower back issue.
- Difficulty getting up
- Tremors – shaking or trembling can also be a sign of pain.
- Exercise intolerance – your dog cannot stand or walk for very long without appearing labored or wanting to lay down
- Your dog cannot get up or only rises with much struggle
- Inappropriate urination – your dog has trouble maintaining the stance to urinate completely or has difficulty voiding. This is an important distinction as the first is weakness and the latter is possible paralysis.
Paralysis can occur gradually or have a sudden onset. In gradual cases, the medical goal is always to prevent your dog from arriving at this stage. The longer your French Bulldog is paralyzed, the worse its prognosis for recovery of normal function.
Paralysis shows as both weakness and proprioceptive deficits. Proprioception is your dog's spatial awareness of the position of her limbs. Deficiencies can show as an uncoordinated or stilted gait, knuckling over of one or more paws, or crossing over of the legs.
- Drags one or more feet when walking
- Appears uncoordinated – known as ataxia. Your dog is not disoriented but walks as if drunk.
- Reflexes seem delayed or spastic
- Feet toe over when walking – one of the basic tests your veterinarian will perform is to purposefully knuckle your dog's feet one by one while he is standing. Frenchies with a slipped disc will be slow to right the paw or may leave it.
- Collapse – cannot use hind limbs, or forelimbs. In some cases, depending upon where the injury is, your dog cannot use any limbs. Most often your French Bulldog will drag the hind limbs in cases of complete paralysis.
This video demonstrates what to look for in a French Bulldog with a slipped disc and how some dogs can be asymptomatic for a long time.
What do you do if you suspect your Frenchie has a slipped disc?
If your French Bulldog shows any symptoms of IVDD, you will need your veterinarian to confirm and differentiate the diagnosis. Severe pain and paralysis are medical emergencies, but you should have a sense of urgency about any suspected back problem.
History -An in-depth description of the weeks, days or moments leading to your dog's problems is vital to differentiating between IVDD, a traumatic occurrence, or another problem altogether.
According to VetBloom, Physical/neurological exam – A medical professional can determine the presence of a slipped disc by performing a neurologic exam, checking reflexes. They can even localize your dog's pain to within a few vertebrae.
Bloodwork – A CBC and blood chemistry do not diagnose IVDD, but they help your veterinarian rule out other causes of back symptoms such as an infection. It may also help differentiate between back pain and abdominal discomfort.
Radiographs – Herniated disc material is often visible on a plain X-Ray, but radiographs are especially useful to evaluate intervertebral spaces. Your veterinarian also uses them to rule out other causes of back problems like fractures.
Myelography – This is a radiograph with a contrast dye injected into the spinal canal to more clearly illustrate bulging disc material.
According to Veterinary Information Network, MRI/CT – Magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography are advanced diagnostic procedures generally performed at specialty facilities. Your veterinarian will most likely send your Frenchie for an MRI or a CT if surgery is a consideration.
What does it mean to grade French Bulldog slipped disc symptoms?
Symptoms of IVDD fall into five different grades or categories. This is a helpful system when trying to determine the best approach to treatment and whether surgery is an option.
Grade 1 – dogs are neurologically normal but in pain. Your French Bulldogs will have no gait abnormalities nor any proprioceptive deficits.
Grade 2 – Dogs will be painful with noticeable weakness and perhaps mild proprioceptive deficits. For example, your Bulldog may slightly delay righting her paw if someone deliberately places it in a knuckled over posture.
Grade 3 – Dogs are painful and have moderate neurologic deficits. Your French Bulldog may be ataxic or cross her hind legs as she stands, a proprioceptive deficit.
Grade 4 – Severe neurologic deficits. Your dog may no longer be able to walk but can still move his legs. Superficial pain, or ability to feel touch to the toes, may or may not be present.
Grade 5 – At this stage, your dog will have no ability to move the affected limbs and may have urinary incontinence or an inability to void. Your French Bulldog has also lost his deep pain reflex.
What is deep pain?
In a neurological context, deep pain is the last reflex that is lost. Your veterinarian assesses it by pinching or clamping quite firmly on your dog's toe or tail. Your dog should move the respective limb.
Your veterinarian only measures deep pain when he or she has a strong suspicion that it is no longer present. Otherwise, it would be an uncomfortable procedure for any dog.
Dogs that can walk and have voluntary movement, no matter how slight, of their legs and tail, possess deep pain.
Provide rest and manage pain
In the early stages of a slipped disc, the most important factors to control are pain and inflammation. In some cases, you may be able to accomplish both with one medication. Other dogs require multiple pharmaceuticals.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories – Think ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These drugs belong to the nonsteroidal class of anti-inflammatories. They also have pain-relieving properties. While it is not safe for your dog to have these specific drugs, your veterinarian can prescribe related medications formulated for canids.
Steroids – Very commonly-used anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids are powerfully effective for herniated discs. Often improvement occurs within a few hours of administration. They should not be given concurrently with NSAIDs.
Muscle relaxers – Some dogs, like people, benefit from muscle relaxants when they have a prolapsed disc. Pain causes many individuals to experience muscle tenseness and spasms.
Narcotics – Since steroids do not directly address pain, your veterinarian may very well add a morphine-based medication or a Fentanyl patch. Narcotics are especially effective when used in conjunction with NSAIDs.
When should you consider surgery?
Although a dreaded option, surgery is sometimes the only way to restore your Frenchie's function and quality of life when he suffers from a prolapsed disc. Your veterinarian will discuss risks, prognosis, and aftercare.
Managing expectations is crucial because French Bulldogs recover at highly varying degrees after back surgery. Not all of them show significant improvement. Prognosis depends on the severity of symptoms before the operation.
According to a veterinarian, Dr. Buzby cases grade 1 through 4 have a 90 to 95%% rate of success, meaning significant improvement to full recovery. This contrasts with Grade 5 dogs whose recovery rate is closer to 50:50. The only hope for Grade 5 dogs is surgery.
Before you write off surgery completely, an intriguing study says even Grade 1 dog has a recurrence rate of 30% and a 20% chance of not improving with rest and pain medications alone.
This video makes compelling arguments for surgery in IVDD, even in seemingly minor cases.
What steps can you take with postoperative care
Always follow the instructions of your dog's veterinarian, surgeon, and neurologist. Surgery is costly and much of its success hinges on the first week in recovery.
Exercise – instructions on exercise and any physical therapy will be specific.
Urinary bladder – in some cases you may need to express your dog's bladder for some time. This involves gently squeezing on your Bulldog's lower bladder to help her void urine. In rare cases, your pet may have a urinary catheter.
Medications – make sure any medical patches are secure and your Bulldog can't ingest them.
Rehabilitation – Make sure to turn your Frenchie frequently to avoid bedsores and other issues caused by laying on one side too long.
What are alternative treatments for French Bulldogs with IVDD?
Oxygen therapy – Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is when a specialist administers 100% pressurized oxygen to your Bulldog. In IVDD applications, oxygen delivery greatly reduces inflammation and the associated swelling.
Wheelchairs – Any wheelchairs you use for paralyzed dogs must be approved by your veterinarian for safety and functionality. Plan on investing a lot of time training your dog too.
Harnesses – Your French Bulldog may only need a support sling to help if his legs are weak or to prevent the tops of his paws from dragging across the ground.
Laser light therapy – promotes increased blood supply and healing.
Acupuncture and herbal medications – used for pain, healing, and to relieve inflammation
How can you prevent slipped discs in French Bulldogs?
While you cannot change genetic factors that predispose an entire breed to IVDD, you can greatly reduce other risks.
Appropriate weight – Obese and overweight dogs, in general, are more susceptible to herniating their vertebral discs.
Activity – Your French Bulldog is not built to jump down from high surfaces like your bed. Do not allow her to do it or any other uncontrolled leap or bound.
Watch closely for pain – Neck and back pain can be early signs of IVDD
As a freelance pet writer and blogger, Shannon is passionate about crafting knowledge-based, science-supported articles that foster healthy bonds of love and respect between people and animals. But her first and very most important job is as a dog auntie and cockatiel, tortoise, and box turtle mama.