What is a laminectomy spine surgery on a dog?

Laminectomy refers to a surgical procedure in which a portion of the bone of a spinal vertebra is removed to allow access to the spinal canal and/or achieve decompression of the spinal cord. The most common indication for performing a laminectomy is the treatment of intervertebral disc disease. Disc can be extruded into the spinal canal causing spinal cord bruising and swelling. Only by removing a window of bone can a surgeon get access to the disc and remove the pressure on the spinal cord.

The most common types of laminectomy are a dorsal laminectomy, where bone is removed from the top of a spinal vertebra and hemilaminectomy, where the bone is removed from the side of the vertebra.

Laminectomy is more commonly performed on small breeds of dogs with long spines such as dachshunds, Pekingnese and Lhasa apsos, since these are the breeds of dog most affected by disc problems.

What disorders lead to a Laminectomy spine surgery in dogs?

Back disorders like intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and lumbosacral stenosis can cause your dog severe pain and may even lead to partial paralysis if untreated. Laminectomy is the surgery of choice for these severe back disorders. It can also be utilized to access growths that are located within the spine so that removal is possible. This surgery does require a lengthy period of strict bed rest for the best results, but it can significantly improve your pet’s quality of life.

Symptoms of Disorders Leading to a Laminectomy spine surgery in Dogs

Although the diseases that may lead to a laminectomy are all a little different, they have several symptoms in common. You may see the following signs in dogs that are experiencing spinal trouble.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Collapse
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Hunched back
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Paralysis in one or more limbs
  • Poor reflexes
  • Reluctance to rise
  • Shaking
  • Staggering
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Yelping unexpectedly when touched or moving

Disorders that lead to a surgical Laminectomy procedure in Dogs

  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) – IVDD is a spinal disorder in which one or more intervertebral discs have lost their ability to absorb shock between the vertebrae.
  • Hansen Type I – This type of IVDD is most commonly seen in smaller breed dogs, particularly in breeds prone to a disorder of cartilage formation known as chondrodystrophy; it generally presents with an acute onset
  • Hansen Type II – Type II IVDD is a slower onset degeneration, and is usually seen in older dogs of the larger breeds
  • Lumbosacral stenosis (CLS or DLS) – This disease is often the result of either congenital (CLS) or degenerative (DLS) narrowing of the spinal cord. In the imaging tests of young dogs this disorder is easily spotted, but older dogs may have multiple degenerative diseases, making it harder to pinpoint the problem.

How a veterinarian will diagnose a disorder that requires a Laminectomy surgery in Dogs

A physical examination as well as a neurological examination will help your dog’s veterinarian evaluate the general health of your dog and will also assist them in pinpointing the location of the pain. A neurological examination may help to determine if any nerve damage has already occurred. Preliminary blood tests, such as a complete blood count and biochemistry profile, will also be done to determine if there are any infections or imbalances present.

If disc disease is suspected (or some other spinal cord disorder that would benefit from exploratory surgery of the cord e.g. a tumor), your veterinarian will need to find the exact location of the lesion. An electromyogram can be used to determine the electrical activity of the muscles, and a spinal tap may be done as well to get a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. In most cases, the analysis of the fluid will reveal both that there is an infection and which bacterium or fungus is causing the inflammation. Radiograph (x-ray) imaging, CT scans, and MRI’s may be used to help visualize the location and extent of the disease, and a neurological examination may be done as well. In many cases, a contrast dye will be injected into the space around the spinal cord to better see the fluid’s movement within the spine during the x-ray procedure.

Treatment of Disorders Leading to Laminectomy in Dogs

Most laminectomies are performed by approaching the vertebra from directly on top of the spine or slightly to one side, dependent on the site of the problem. This surgery requires both specialized equipment and training and takes between one and three hours to complete. Bone is usually removed using a drill or nibbled off using an instrument called a rongeur. Once the bone has been carefully removed, the spinal cord can be visualized and extruded disc material removed. The space where the bone used to exist can be covered by a small piece of fat, usually taken from the layer below the skin. This will protect the bone defect as it heals, helping to prevent scar tissue from pinching on the exposed spinal cord.

Once the operation is concluded, your dog will be subject to caged confinement at home for three to six weeks after surgery. Analgesics will be given before and immediately after surgery to ensure that your pet is comfortable. They may continue for several days following the surgery and the early phase of recuperation at home. Most pets receive antibiotics at the time of the surgery and do not require any more during the postoperative period.

Home Care of Dogs After Laminectomy

Following laminectomy, all pets require strict confinement and rest. If your pet does not respond well to a carrier or cage, cordon off a portion of a room, such as the kitchen. It is vital to your dog’s recovery that this confinement remains in force. Your veterinarian will also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help manage the pain that your dog will experience after major surgery, which may also mask your dog’s pain. This means that your canine companion may appear to show rapid improvement which may tempt you to let them have a little more freedom. This may cause further damage to the spine and the nerves and muscles that surround it. As your dog will be spending a great deal of time on their beds for a few weeks, it is important that it be comfortable and well padded. If swelling and nerve damage have caused your dog to be unable to turn themselves, over it is crucial that you do so every few hours to prevent pressure sores from developing, and in addition, massage therapy may help to stimulate blood flow.

If your pet can walk, avoid jumping on or off furniture, avoid going up or down stairs. Just go out on a leash to go to the bathroom and then go straight back inside to continue with rest. A total of 4 to 6 weeks of strict rest is usually necessary following laminectomy surgery. Assistance may be required to get your dog up and walking in order to go outside. A towel slung underneath the tummy can prove helpful.

Medication may be necessary to assist your pet with normal urination, particularly to prevent accidents in the house. It is important to provide plenty of soft padded bedding to avoid the production of pressure sores. The incision following laminectomy should be checked daily for swelling redness or discharge. The stitches or staples should be removed by your veterinarian in two weeks.

Recovery and rehabilitation after your dog has a Laminectomy spine surgery

Once the crate rest period has been completed, your veterinarian will probably discuss which physical therapy exercises may be started. Physical therapy is a vital part of a good outcome with these disorders, but it’s just as crucial that you get the go ahead from your veterinarian first. Some of the types of therapy that your dog’s doctor might recommend incorporating are:

  • Assisted walking
  • Figure eights
  • Massage
  • Resistance exercises
  • Stepping over things
  • Stimulating the feet
  • Walking down a gentle incline
  • Weight shifting and weight bearing

Hydrotherapy or swimming is also recommended for dogs recovering from laminectomy as it allows for a full range of motion without putting any weight on the spine.

How to avoid laminectomy surgery on your dog

For owners of dogs predisposed to back problems, be aware of the earliest indication of intervertebral disc disease such as back pain, clumsiness, walking as if drunk, inability to get up and dragging of the back legs. Seek veterinary advice early to offer your pet the best possible prognosis.

Avoid excessive weight gain as obesity will further stress the mid-portion of the spine of these “long dogs.” Degenerative lumbosacral disease/syndrome is exacerbated by obesity. Ensuring your dog maintains an optimum weight and gets plenty of appropriate exercise will decrease the chances of this disorder occurring, requiring laminectomy surgery. If symptoms of DLS occur, prompt veterinary care will allow for medical intervention that may prevent or delay surgical intervention being necessary.