Formally known as spondylosis deformans, bone spurs might not bother your German shepherd or cause him pain at all. The only way your vet can make a definite diagnosis is via X-ray, where she can look at the formation of these spurs around a disk.
In spondylosis deformans, osteophytes, or bone spurs, form at the spinal vertebrae's edges. While it's possible for just one spur to form, usually they are located in various areas along the spine's length. The osteophytes might even link up, forming bridges of bone between spinal segments. Bone spurs most often occur in the chest vertebrae, the lower back and the lumbar region. With German shepherds, bone spurs might be hereditary. If your dog has previously suffered from slipped discs or spinal trauma, he's at even higher risk for bone spur formation.
The older your dog, the more likely he is to develop bone spurs. If these formations do bother him, he'll experience lameness, stiffness or back and neck pain. Loss of muscle mass becomes apparent. He might appear worse after exercise. Climbing stairs or getting into the car becomes increasingly difficult in seriously afflicted dogs. Some of these symptoms mimic arthritis, which might also affect your old shepherd. Rarely, bone spurs result in neurological symptoms, such as severe pain and paralysis, because the spur begins pressing on the nerves. Take him to the vet for a thorough examination.
It's quite possible that your German shepherd has bone spurs and exhibits no signs whatsoever. It's not unusual for a vet to discover bone spurs when X-raying a dog for another problem. It could be a non-issue for your best pal, following the axiom, "It if ain't broke, don't fix it," or if it isn't bothering him, leave it alone. Of course, if the dog later exhibits signs of pain, your vet already suspects a possible cause.
If your dog appears in pain, your vet performs an X-ray, followed by a magnetic resonance imaging test or a myelogram -- an X-ray taken after dye is injected around the spinal cord -- to find out if the bone spur presses on the nerves.
Your vet might prescribe analgesics and anti-inflammatories for pain relief. If your German shepherd is overweight, she can also recommend a diet and exercise program for him. Dogs with bone spurs can't engage in vigorous exercise, but gentle exercise can be beneficial. You might want to consider acupuncture, massage and other therapies for your shepherd. If the bone spur does compress on the spine, rendering the animal paralyzed, surgery is required.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.