Intervertebral Disc Disease

What is Intervertebral disc disease?

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common cause of spinal disease in dogs.  Clinical signs vary in severity from pain to complete paralysis of the limbs, which in the most severe cases is irreversible, meaning IVDD is a considerable welfare concern. Past studies have shown there to be an inherited (genetic) aspect of IVDD and an over-expressing FGF4 retrogene on CFA12 (named 12-FGF4RG) has been published showing association (Brown E. et al.). Many of the shorter legged, or “chondrodystrophic”, dog breeds have 2 copies of this DNA variant and are therefore, more like to develop IVDD.

What are we looking at?

Dachshunds, French Bulldogs and Cocker Spaniels are at higher risk of developing IVDD than most other breeds and Cockers alone have accounted for 15.5% of IVDD cases seen at the Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital at the University of Cambridge and Queen Mother Hospital for Animals at the Royal Veterinary College over the last five years.

The occurrence of the DNA variant in these three breeds is high but it is known that not all dogs that carry the 12-FGF4RG variant will develop IVDD and vice versa. This suggests that this variant is not ‘the whole story’ and there are almost certainly additional lifestyle and/or genetic risk factors for IVDD that remain to be identified.

Towards the end of 2022 we launched an online survey for owners of Cocker Spaniels to collect information about their dogs, including age, sex, weight, limb length, neuter status, activity levels and participation (such agility, flyball) and IVDD history. The response to this survey was incredible (thank you to all who took part!) with over 13,500 responses. As we progress with analysing this data we hope to identify any factors such as size and/or exercise that contribute to an individual dog’s risk of developing IVDD. A similar survey has been developed for French bulldog owners and should be launched early April 2023.

We have submitted a grant application to the Pet Plan Charitable Trust to understand the genetic, lifestyle and conformation risks of IVDD in these three high-risk breeds, and are currently waiting to hear back.

How can I get involved?

We are currently asking all owners of French bulldogs (FBD) to spend 15/20 minutes completing the survey for each FBD that they own. For owners of Kennel Club (KC) registered FBD, you should receive an email from the KC with a link to the survey, however we would love to hear from all FBD owners so you can click this link to take part.

When we have analysed the data from both the Cocker and the FBD survey we will also collect DNA from some of the dogs we have survey data for, to investigate the role of the 12-FGF4RG on IVDD in this breed, and to also potentially identify additional genetic variants that increase the risk of IVDD.