Lumbosacral disc disease, lumbosacral stenosis, lumbosacral degenerative joint disease are all terms often used interchangeably to describe a breakdown in the structures of the spine where the low back (lumbar spine) meets the pelvis (sacrum). This joint, called the lumbosacral junction.

The lumbar spine is made up of 7 vertebral bones and is movable while the sacrum is made up of 3 fused vertebral bones which are unmovable and the joint between these two areas is a transitional zone. This level of activity can lead to degeneration or herniation of the intervertebral disc, reactive bone growth in the joint, and ligament thickening. These physiological changes may or may not lead to signs and symptoms due to compression of the cauda equina (the nerves that extend from the end of the spinal cord) or L7 nerve roots.

Signs and Symptoms of Lumbosacral Joint Disease

Not all dogs with changes at the lumbosacral joint will display signs. Some dogs will also have significantly more severe signs of disease than others. Common signs and symptoms of lumbosacral joint disease include:

  • Signs of pain
  • Weak tail, holding tail down and reluctance to wag the tail
  • Incontinence (can be both urinary and fecal)
  • Clumsy gait (ataxia) in the hind legs
  • Lameness of the hind legs
  • Hind end weakness
  • Reluctance to jump or climb (avoidance of activities that extend the spine)

Some dogs may only present with signs of pain while other dogs may have more significant neurological signs due to compression of the nerves in this area of the back. It is important to note that lumbosacral disc disease does not impact the spinal cord like IVDD, but rather impacts the nerves that extend past the end of the spinal cord. The nerves in this area control the back legs, tail, bowel and bladder.

Are certain types of dogs more susceptible to this condition?

Middle aged and senior, large breed dogs are more susceptible to issues at the lumbosacral junction. German Shepherd Dogs (GSD) and Belgian Malinois are often affected and working dogs are predisposed. Research has shown that the GSD has less flexibility in this area of the spine than other breeds which may predispose them to issues in this area. Males are also affected more often than female dogs.

How is lumbosacral disease diagnosed in dogs?

A presumptive diagnosis can be made based on a clinical examination, review of history and ruling out other causes of symptoms. Physiotherapists and/or vets with training in manual therapies can also help to confirm a diagnosis. An x-ray can help rule out other causes of symptoms. An MRI may be recommended for confirmation of a diagnosis in some dogs.

What are the treatment options for my dog with lumbosacral stenosis?

Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. Some dogs may be managed well with activity modification, weight loss and pain medications. Rehabilitation therapy can be of significant benefit for many of these cases to help reduce pain, open up nerve pathways and manage strength and coordination deficits. Dogs with more severe cases may require surgery to decompress nerves by either removing pieces of bone or disc.

Rehabilitation therapy would be of benefit after surgery as well to regain any loss in function. A canine rehabilitation therapist can also assist you with determining if any home modifications or equipment might help your dog manage best.


Fitzpatrick Referrals. Lumbosacral Disease.

Worth, Andrew et al. “Canine Degenerative Lumbosacral Stenosis: Prevalence, Impact And Management Strategies.” Veterinary medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 10 169-183. 19 Nov. 2019, doi:10.2147/VMRR.S180448