Lumbar-sacral syndrome occurs when the nerve roots and spinal cord are compressed at the point where they pass through the lumbar-sacram portion of the lower spine, near the hips. The disease is also known as "cauda equine" syndrome.
This disorder can be inherited (congenital), meaning it is present at birth, or it also can be developed after birth. It can appear at any age and in both males and females, and is common in dogs that have been struck by an automobile. Large-breed dogs are affected more often than smaller breeds, and the syndrome is seen most often in German Shepherds. Dogs that are severely overweight also can develop the condition.
Canines with lumbar-sacral syndrome will exhibit significant back pain and weakness in their hind legs, both of which often combine to become disabling. The condition also compresses the nerves that supply the bladder, rectum and anus, which may cause the dog to become incontinent. Owners should be alert for dogs that are reluctant to move, that are obviously in pain when lying down and getting up, that are reluctant to climb stairs, that have worn nails and that urinate or defecate in inappropriate spots. It's best to take the dog to the veterinarian as early as possible, when the dog is first showing signs of pain. If an owner waits until the dog is incontinent or the symptoms are more severe, then the possibility of the dog recovering is much lower.
Lumbar-sacral syndrome is diagnosed through an examination of the dog's lower spine, and through X-rays and blood tests. Your veterinarian also may recommend a CT ("cat") scan, MRI and neurological examinations in order to confirm the problem. These tests are often necessary, since there are several other conditions which cause back pain and hind leg weakness in dogs, and these causes need to be ruled out. (Hip dysplasia and ruptured cruciate ligaments are two of the most common causes.)
How this disease is treated depends upon the underlying cause. If the compression is caused by an infection, the dog may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics, combined with rest. If these are not effective, or if the problem is severe, then surgery may be required, especially if the dog has a fracture or dislocation of the bones in the spine. Surgery also is used to alleviate pressure resulting from a growing tumor or a congenital condition. In these cases, a "window" is surgically created in the bones to relieve pressure on the affected nerves.
Following treatment for lumbar-sacral syndrome, most dogs require rest and will probably need assistance from their owners to get up, go outside and to urinate and defecate. It's important to follow your veterinarian's instructions in order for the dog to heal properly.