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Your dog hasn’t been walking well for the past few months, and one day you noticed they’re not able to move their back legs. Alarmed, you take them to the vet and the vet does X-rays and an MRI. A few days later, you’re told that your dog has Spinal Arachnoid Diverticulum, and your vet is telling you that your dog needs to start medication and schedule a surgery.
What is SAD? How is it treated? As a dog owner, you want to know! You’re in the right place! We’ll answer your questions below:
What is Spinal Arachnoid Diverticulum (SAD)?
A spinal arachnoid diverticulum occurs when the layer of tissue surrounding your dog’s spinal cord forms a pocket of fluid. This pocket can grow over time, pressing on the spinal cord and pinching it. Pinching a nerve causes it to stop working well, like when you sit in one position for too long and your leg falls asleep.
Eventually, the pressure gets high enough that your dog’s brain can’t communicate well with the parts of its body below where the fluid pocket is located. This is when you start to notice problems.
What Causes Spinal Arachnoid Diverticulum (SAD)?
No one is completely sure what causes SAD, but we know that it’s more likely to happen to certain breeds of dogs. It’s thought to be a mixture of hereditary or genetic factors (meaning it’s inherited from mom and dad) and environmental factors, meaning something may happen to the dog that triggers the formation of the fluid pocket. This could be trauma or injury, an underlying inflammatory condition, or the spine not growing correctly when the dog is very young.
What Dogs Are Most Likely to Get SAD?
Rottweilers, Pugs, and French Bulldogs are the most likely to suffer from SAD.
Pugs and French Bulldogs often show signs of problems with their spine (the vertebrae do not grow correctly), and it’s thought this is one of the causes of SAD in these breeds. Rottweilers usually do not show signs of problems with their spine, meaning SAD may occur in them for other reasons.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has SAD?
Critically, SAD can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian. Other things can cause the same problems as SAD, and determining what the actual cause of these problems is requires experience, training, imaging, and other diagnostic processes.
The signs of SAD are different based on where the fluid pouch is placing pressure on the spinal cord.
If the pressure is occurring high on the spine, near the neck, the dog may struggle to move all four legs well, leading to lack of coordination and stumbling. If the pressure is on the lower part of the spine, the lower two legs will be the only ones affected.
SAD does not usually get better. Unfortunately, it tends to worsen with time. As the condition worsens, the dog may lose the ability to control when they urinate or poop. The nerves that tell them when they need to go get pinched and go numb, making it impossible for them to know they need to hold it.
How Is SAD Diagnosed?
SAD can only be diagnosed through imaging, including MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computerized tomography), and X-ray.
It’s important for a veterinarian to use imaging to look at your dog’s spinal cord and look for abnormalities to diagnose SAD. Once a diagnosis is made, your vet can guide you on the best choice for treatment.
How Is SAD Treated?
SAD can be treated with surgery or medication. The best option is going to depend on your dog’s health and age, and your veterinarian is your guide on choosing the right course. We’ll look at each option briefly below:
Surgery has the best success rate for dogs with SAD — most dogs that successfully get surgery will show improvement in symptoms.
Different surgical techniques can be used, but they all work toward the same goal: Draining or removing the fluid pocket that is placing pressure on your dog’s spinal cord. Removing this pressure is like standing up after sitting in the wrong position for too long. Just like your numb leg tingles and lets you start feeling and using it again, the nerves in your dog’s spine recover and let them feel and move their lower body again.
Sometimes surgery isn’t a good option. Dogs that are sick, old, or both may not be able to survive the surgery, or will have a poor chance of healing afterward. Your vet may advise you that your dog is not healthy enough to endure the operation, and that while they are suffering they are more likely to live longer if you manage the condition with medications instead.
It is also possible for SAD to return after surgery. This is especially likely if there’s an underlying structural problem with your dog’s spine that is causing SAD. If your veterinarian
Medications are much less successful in improving SAD directly. Most dogs will not recover much mobility on medications, and it is likely that the condition will eventually worsen even if your dog takes them regularly.
If your dog is unable to endure surgery, they may be the only good approach. Talk to your vet about what each medication is for and make sure you know the best way to give it to your dog. Make sure you know how to look for improvement and report to your vet how the medications are or are not working.
Steroids and other anti-inflammatories are commonly used to help decrease the swelling and inflammation that the fluid pouch causes. They can give relief, but they do not keep SAD from getting worse over time.
Medications may also be used to keep your dog comfortable while waiting for diagnosis or for the vet to work through making a decision on how to treat your dog. They can also be used after surgery to help your dog with discomfort and anxiety while they recover, and help them heal faster.
Another more natural approach that has become available more recently is cannabidiol, or CBD.
Does CBD Work for Dogs with SAD?
While CBD is not a direct treatment for SAD, it can help relieve pain, relieve anxiety, decrease inflammation, and possibly offer protection to your dog’s nervous system that’s being damaged. CBD has been studied for these things in dogs and shown to be effective.
What Is The Best CBD For Dogs with SAD?
The best kind of CBD for any dog is a well-formulated under-the-tongue oil. This is because dogs can absorb CBD directly through the tissues inside their mouth.
Relievet makes oils that are THC-free, easy to dose, and specifically designed for weight-based dosing. All current studies on dosing CBD are weight-based, meaning CBD is given specific to how heavy your dog is. CBD is usually dosed at 1-2mg/kg, and this is the dose Relievet recommends most of the time.
See our article on weight-based CBD dosing here.
If your dog cannot or will not take drops under the tongue, the next best options are to use our weight-based treats or to put the oil on food or a treat your dog likes. Our oils are very palatable and go well with any dog treats or foods.
If your dog is suffering with SAD, or needs a boost to recover from surgery to correct SAD (or any other problem!), consider using CBD. We’ve received hundreds of reports from customers that say it has helped their dogs handle pain well.
What Can I Expect After My Dog’s SAD is Treated?
If your dog is a good candidate for surgery, you can expect rapid improvement in their condition. If the underlying cause of SAD cannot be found and corrected with surgery, it may come back later in life. If the underlying cause can be corrected, there’s a good chance that your dog will recover well and stay well.
If your dog is treated with medication because they are NOT a good candidate for surgery, they may get better in the short term. Steroids and other anti-inflammatories can offer some relief, but do not correct the underlying condition. Given enough time, it’s likely your dog’s condition will continue to get worse.