While a pinched nerve is most frequently connected to back and neck problems, your dog can actually have a pinched nerve anywhere in his body. Diagnosing a pinched nerve is not always straightforward, so if your pet yelps with pain, it's time to call your vet.
Pressure on a nerve by bone or by soft tissue such as tendons, muscle or cartilage is the cause of a pinched nerve. The pressure on a nerve interrupts the nerve's normal function and your dog is likely to experience symptoms of pain, weakness in the limbs, numbness or tingling. Injury through over-energetic exercise is one cause of the condition, but it can also be hereditary. It is most likely that your dog will experience a pinched nerve in his neck and upper spine, although the leg and hip joints can also be affected.
He won't be able to tell you about the numbness or tingling, but he will show you that he is in pain and you'll be able to see if he has weakness in his limbs. One of the signs you should watch for is a stiffness in his walk and a lack of mobility generally. He is also likely to yelp when you touch him or try to make him move. This might also result in a sudden aggressiveness in your ordinarily placid dog, and you may find he growls, or tries to bite you, when you come near him. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, you should get him to your vet as soon as possible, as the longer the condition is left untreated, the harder it can be to treat.
Traditional and alternative treatments are available for your pet with a pinched nerve. Traditional treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids, such as prednisone. Your vet may recommend cage rest and pain relief to start with. Cage, or crate, rest means your dog is confined to a cage for anything from a few days to several weeks and is only allowed out to potty. Obviously, this isn't an ideal situation from your pet's point of view, but quiet and rest are needed for his recovery. Your vet may resort to surgery in extreme cases, but only after all the other options have not worked. Holistic vets also recommend acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, and according to holistic vet Kathleen Carson at Holistic Veterinary Information, these can both be used in combination with orthodox treatments.
Prevention is always better than cure, but that's not always easy with a lively pet. Any dog can get a pinched nerve, but some dogs are more at risk than others. Some dogs, such as the shih tzu and Lhasa apso, are bred to be small, and the genes involved in this breeding make them more susceptible to back and neck problems. Also, the breeds with long backs, such as the basset hound, Pekingese and dachshund, are prone to pinched nerves because the cartilage in their elongated spine is more easily damaged. You can help your dog by stopping him from jumping over furniture, or down from a height. Also, keeping him at a healthy weight keeps pressure off his joints.
- basset hound image by Christophe Fouquin from Fotolia.com