Spinal Disc Disease in two Cotons
Lightning Strikes Twice
A personal story by Lene Pedersen
I have had the sad experience to lose two of my lovely dogs due to calcification in one of the intervertebral disks resulting in a slipped disk. I would like to share my experience with this disease since it is likely found in Coton de Tulear at a higher rate than normal.
The dog does not necessarily show signs of back problems or that something is wrong. They can often jump, leap and play as usual - which makes it easy to say "my dogs have no disease"!
Below I will describe the two very different cases of slipped disk that I have experienced firsthand.
First case: A 5 year old bitch - seemingly fit and healthy, and she had had 3 litters of puppies. During a vaccination she had a physical exam since I thought she walked a bit tense. Reflexes and so forth were fine and thus there was no reason to worry or do further examinations at that time. Dog massage was recommended to me and she had that a few times after which she walked fine and relaxed again.
Suddenly one morning she wouldn't walk and withdrew at the sight of the dog leash - something was wrong. She was immediately examined at the veterinary hospital where she was x-rayed among other things. The pictures showed a few calcifications, but no real slip or bulge. At first it didn't look that bad.
She was given good chances of recovery, but treatment could be lengthy. The treatment consisted of total rest in a playpen and pain relief. She was carried out to pee and only sometimes she could walk on the grass. Once in a while she looked quite happy and satisfied, but all of a sudden a scream of pain would sound - have you once heard that scream you will never forget it.
Her condition changed all the time - one step forward, two steps back...but we still had hope. It turned out that the calcified disk sometimes caused nerve root pressure. This caused sudden and at times terrifying pains that spread to the whole body. She developed hypersensitive pain, and she could no longer be pain-relieved. She reacted with fear at the lightest of touch, e.g. of the beard at the mouth or if we wanted to pet her.
Thus, we had to say goodbye to the dog of my dreams!
That left a large void in my team of 3 dogs, where the remaining two dogs were 11 and 3 years old. After sleepless nights I decided that my 3 year old bitch should have her back x-rayed. She was the offspring of the dog of my dreams and I would like to see how her back looked inside. I expected to get peace of mind, but that was not to be!
Second case: 3½ year old bitch that had borne two puppies and with no signs of back problems.
Unfortunately the x-ray showed that she had multiple calcifications in her spine. That gave rise to a prolonged talk with several veterinarians to get an answer to all the questions that now came to my mind. She was in the risk group, but she could still take part in the same activities as before without special care of the back. Maybe she would never experience a slipped disk and maybe she could even grow old and die of other causes.
Obviously she was removed from my breeding program. She could still be a good play pal and social dog. She could still take part in exhibitions and other activities.
Half a year after we lost the aforementioned dog of my dreams the lightning struck again.
After an evening nap she got up and trotted into the garden where she was alone. We heard the familiar scream and I immediately saw that the hindquarters slid sideways - she was quiet but couldn't stand on her legs. She was a bit startled, but due to the paralysis there was no sign of pain. In this case there was nothing to do - she was put to rest and had peace like her mother.
In the time that followed more questions turned up that I just had to have answered. Every time I was received with understanding and empathy at the veterinarian hospital. Subsequently my veterinarians have helped me make contact with KU-Life (the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen) that has now started research into back problems and resulting slipped disk in Cotons de Tulear.
All information about my dogs have been handed over to KU-Life to be used in the research, i.e. diagnoses, x-rays, registration number in DKK (Danish Kennel Association), pedigree and blood tests.
I have contacted several veterinarian and asked if they knew of cases of calcification and slipped disk in Coton de Tulear - the answer was yes. Had they answered that they knew of no such thing my experience would have been just isolated incidents.
Now we know that this is no isolated incident! (See the article about slipped disk in Coton de Tulear).
Of course we can't check for everything in our breeding programs, but this is so painful for the dog that we have to take this seriously.
My wish is that we, as soon as possible and with common means and openness, can work to eliminate the problems and keep the Coton de Tulear breed fit and healthy in the future - also on the inside.
A beautiful dog is only beautiful if it is also fit and healthy, everybody knows that - from the professional breeder to the family with a single dog.
The Dachshund Club has a fully functioning health program with the purpose of reducing back problems within this breed. We can learn from that.
I encourage everyone that has or have had dogs with back problems, calcifications or slipped disk to put information at the disposal of KU-Life for further research - for the benefit of our beloved breed.
For inquiries contact veterinarians:
Lene Kristensen and Olav Nørgaard
Skive Veterinarian Hospital
Phone: +45 97 51 30 45
If there are any questions regarding the subject I am happy to help and can be contacted by email at
Kennel Uniq Coton
The American Coton Club wishes to thank Lene Pedersen for sharing her heart-felt experiences. Please also refer to the web page from her veterinarians requesting information on other Cotons who may be experiencing similar back problems. The back study could go a long way in trying to find out if this is a hereditary condition or related to injuries or environmental reasons.