Intervertebral disc disease can be a devastating diagnosis and is heartbreaking for owners to witness. This painful disease can rob dogs of their mobility, and control of their bowels and bladder, and may impair their quality of life. For these reasons, urgent medical intervention is always recommended, which may include spinal surgery in more significantly affected animals. This article was written as a guide to help owners understand the disease and costs associated with surgery.
Understanding Intervertebral Disc Disease
Intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD, is a common neurological disease that commonly affects small and medium-sized dogs. The vertebrae are bones that protect the spinal cord and associated nerves. Found between each vertebra is a disc that functions as a cushion to provide flexibility of the spine and shock absorption. With IVDD, these discs can bulge or rupture, leading to compression and inflammation of the spinal cord. This impairment of the spinal cord can lead to severe pain, weakness, and even paralysis in severe cases. Diagnosis of IVDD is based on clinical signs of neurological impairment and imaging of the spinal cord, either by magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography (CT).
Treatment Options for IVDD
Once your dog has received a formal diagnosis, your veterinarian will provide you with treatment options depending on the severity and chronicity of the condition. Common approaches to IVDD include:
- Conservative Management: Less severe cases of IVDD may be amendable to medical/conservative management. This approach involves strict rest, pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication, and physiotherapy. Conservative management is non-invasive and often a better choice for families who would not pursue surgical intervention. This form of management is generally not appropriate for dogs with severe clinical signs of IVDD.
- Decompressive Surgery: For dogs more severely affected by IVDD prompt surgical intervention is recommended. This is often the most effective treatment for the improvement of pain and return of neurological function. The goal of surgery is to remove herniated disc material and relieve compressive pressure on the spinal cord. IVDD surgery is most commonly only performed by boarded veterinary neurologists and surgeons.
Overall Cost of IVDD Surgery: $6,000 – 8,000
This cost generally includes neurology consultation, MRI or CT, surgery, and post-operative recovery. Complications of surgery or rehabilitation are generally not included in the initial surgical costs, though this should be clarified with your veterinarian.
Factors That Influence the Cost of IVDD Surgery
The cost of IVDD surgery in dogs can vary based on several factors, which include:
- Location: The cost of veterinary care can vary greatly depending on where you live in the country or where you choose to perform the surgery. Urban areas often have higher prices than rural ones due to higher overhead costs. The cost of care is often higher at private practices as opposed to academic teaching hospitals.
- Severity of IVDD: The extent of your dog’s condition plays a significant role in the cost. Severe cases requiring complex surgery and extended hospitalization will naturally cost more than less severe cases. Some dogs may have more than one disc affected, leading to prolonged surgical time and increasing costs.
- Diagnostic Tests: Before surgery, your veterinarian will recommend various diagnostic tests, such as MRI or CT scans, to determine the exact location and severity of the spinal cord compression. These tests add to the overall cost but are necessary to isolate the lesion. Pre-operative bloodwork is also necessary, which is an added cost.
- Hospitalization and Post-Operative Care: The duration of hospitalization and post-operative care also contribute to the cost of surgery. More complicated surgeries or cases requiring extended recovery periods will have higher associated expenses.
- Follow-Up and Rehabilitation: After surgery, your dog may require follow-up appointments and rehabilitation sessions to aid in their recovery. These ongoing expenses should be factored into your budget. Initial surgical rechecks are often included, but physical therapy and rehabilitation may not be.
- Pet Insurance: If you have pet insurance, check your policy to see if IVDD surgery is covered. The extent of coverage can vary, and some policies may reimburse a portion of the expenses.
Funding IVDD Surgery
IVDD is a costly diagnosis, especially if surgery is performed. Many owners may not be prepared for the burden of the cost of care. Therefore, several options are available for payment.
- Pet Insurance: Pet insurance is an asset to all pet owners. Several companies will provide direct payment to veterinary hospitals or expedited reimbursement. This is invaluable when facing this emergent condition.
- Emergency Fund: I recommend all owners have a fund specifically for pet needs. You never know when it will come in handy.
- Crowdsourcing: For owners without insurance or financial means, crowdsourcing is always a good option to try to raise funds for emergency surgery.
- Care Credit: This is a line of credit that can be utilized for medical expenses. It often comes with a prolonged period of interest-free repayment to help offset the financial burden of a large veterinary bill.
Facing IVDD surgery on your pet can be a daunting experience. Understanding the condition, treatment options and the factors that influence surgery costs is essential for pet owners. By consulting with your veterinarian, budgeting, and exploring financing options, you can ensure that your family member receives the necessary care and support in their journey to recovery.