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.

We have developed 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. By analysing the data we collect we will identify any factors such as size and/or exercise that contribute to an individual dog’s risk of developing IVDD.

How can I get involved?

Our survey is just being finalised and we hope to launch it shortly after Crufts 2022 so please keep an eye on our social media and this website for further announcements. We will be asking owners of all Cocker Spaniels to spend 5/10 minutes completing the survey for each Cocker that they own. The Kennel Club will be helping by directly contacting all owners of KC registered cockers via their system, so please keep an eye out for emails from the Kennel Club too.

When we have analysed the survey data we will also collect DNA from some of the Cocker Spaniels 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.