Home Health Understanding Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH) in Dogs

Understanding Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH) in Dogs

Understanding Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis

Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is a disorder seen in some canine breeds characterized by excessive bone growth along the spine. This condition, sometimes called canine spinal hyperostosis, can limit mobility if left untreated.

In this post, we will cover the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and management of DISH in dogs. Learning about this complex spinal condition will help you support your canine companion’s comfort and wellbeing.

What is Canine Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis?

DISH refers to abnormal bony growths that develop along the sides of vertebrae in a dog’s spine. These bone spurs fuse vertebrae together, restricting flexibility. DISH is considered a form of degenerative joint disease.

While some dogs may only develop DISH in one area of their spine, it often affects multiple regions. The lower back and neck are most commonly impacted. When severe, DISH can impinge on spinal nerves, blood vessels, and the spinal cord itself.

What Dog Breeds are Prone to DISH?

Larger breed dogs are more susceptible to DISH, including:

  • German Shepherds
  • Boxers
  • Great Danes
  • Mastiffs
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Dobermans

Male dogs tend to be affected more often as well. DISH usually develops in mature dogs, though symptoms can begin sooner in predisposed breeds.

What Causes DISH in Dogs?

The underlying cause of DISH remains unclear, but several factors are believed to play a role:

  • Age – DISH usually occurs later in life around 8-10 years old.
  • Genetics – Certain breeds have higher inherited risks.
  • Spinal changes – Disc degeneration may trigger compensatory bone growths.
  • Metabolic conditions – Diabetes, hyperinsulinemia, and obesity may contribute.
  • Mechanical stress – Increased weight on the spine may activate bone proliferation.

Research continues to uncover the complex interplay of causes behind canine DISH. Early screening in susceptible breeds allows for closer monitoring.

Recognizing Symptoms of Canine DISH

DISH develops slowly, so onset of symptoms is gradual. Signs your dog may exhibit include:

  • Stiffness and decreased flexibility in the neck, lower back, or thoracic spine. Difficulty bending, jumping, or climbing stairs.
  • Reluctance to lift head or neck, or tilts head frequently. May resist leash attachment around the neck.
  • Pain or sensitivity along the spine. May cry out if area is touched or pressure applied.
  • Paw dragging or weakness if spinal nerves compressed.
  • Unwillingness to run, play, or become active due to discomfort.
  • Standing or walking with an arched back or sloped stance to compensate.

Bring mild or intermittent symptoms to your vet’s attention to establish a baseline. Chronic or worsening problems warrant medical investigation.

Diagnosing DISH in Dogs

To confirm a DISH diagnosis, veterinarians combine:

Medical History

Looking for risk factors like breed, age, obesity, diabetes, and evidence of spinal changes.

Physical Exam

Palpating and manipulating the spine to pinpoint areas of sensitivity, stiffness, or altered alignment. Assessing neurologic function.

Diagnostic Imaging

X-rays, CT scans, or MRI allow visualization of extra bone growth along or between vertebrae. Changes are compared over time.

Lab Tests

Bloodwork helps rule out spinal infections or inflammatory conditions that could cause similar symptoms.

dogs with DISH
Understanding Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH) in Dogs 1

Medical Treatments for Canine DISH

There is no cure for DISH itself, but treatments aim to relieve pain and stiffness while preserving mobility:


  • NSAIDs like carprofen to alleviate inflammation and discomfort
  • Joint supplements such as glucosamine to protect cartilage
  • Muscle relaxants like methocarbamol for acute spasms
  • Gabapentin or amantadine for chronic neuropathic pain

Rehabilitation Therapies

  • Physiotherapy exercises to maintain flexibility, strength, and range of motion
  • Therapeutic laser or ultrasound to stimulate tissue healing
  • Massage and stretching to prevent muscle atrophy from disuse

Assistive Devices

  • Supportive harnesses, slings, or mobility carts to assist walking and standing
  • Ramps, steps, or lifts to navigate hard to reach spaces comfortably


  • Rarely needed but laminectomy or spinal stabilization procedures may become necessary if DISH is severely compressing the spinal cord or nerves.

Early, proactive treatment focused on preserving mobility and pain relief provides the best outcomes for canine DISH patients.

Home Care and Lifestyle Adjustments for Dogs with DISH

Pet owners play a key role in managing DISH through at-home care:

Encouraging Low Impact Exercise

  • Short, frequent leash walks to maintain muscle tone without overexertion
  • Swimming or hydrotherapy to reduce weight bearing strain
  • Mental stimulation like food puzzles to keep the mind engaged

Assisting Mobility

  • Provide ramps or steps to access furniture or vehicles
  • Use a support harness when walking if needed
  • Clear pathways inside the home and limit slippery floors

Ensuring Proper Body Condition

  • Feed a joint-healthy diet. Avoid obesity, which puts additional pressure on the spine.
  • Use lifted feeders and water bowls if bending is painful

Fostering Comfort and Rest

  • Provide thick orthopedic bedding and keep spaces comfortably climate controlled
  • Restrict access to furniture or activities that require jumping down
  • Gently stretch and massage areas of stiffness after rest periods

Staying involved in your dog’s care while working closely with your veterinarian gives the best quality of life for canine DISH patients.

What is the Prognosis for Dogs with DISH?

The outlook for DISH depends on severity and how early treatment begins:

  • Mild cases may only experience intermittent stiffness and discomfort, especially if healthy body weight and joint mobility are maintained.
  • Moderate DISH can cause chronic pain and progressive mobility impairment over time without proper medical care.
  • Severe untreated DISH can compress the spinal cord, requiring intensive therapy or surgery. Paralysis may result in some cases.

While not curable, with attentive veterinary management and home care the majority of dogs with DISH can enjoy several more years of happy life with only mild to moderate limitations. Close monitoring for any neurologic deficits is extremely important, as is prompt treatment when needed.

Frequently Asked Questions About Canine DISH

To conclude this comprehensive guide, here are answers to some common questions about DISH in dogs:

What’s the difference between DISH and arthritis?

Arthritis involves degeneration of joint cartilage and bones. DISH is overgrowth of bone into soft tissues along the spine. They both limit mobility but have different causes.

Is DISH preventable in dogs?

Preventing DISH isn’t always possible, especially in susceptible breeds. But maintaining ideal body weight, proper nutrition, and joint health from a young age may help reduce risks.

Is DISH in dogs treatable?

While not curable, various medications, therapies, mobility aids, and surgery in severe cases can help manage DISH to extend and improve dogs’ quality of life significantly.

Does DISH get worse over time?

DISH is a progressive condition, meaning bone changes get more severe over years without treatment. But appropriate veterinary management can help slow progression and minimize permanent mobility impairment.

What’s the long-term prognosis for dogs with DISH?

With attentive home care and veterinary oversight, most dogs with managed DISH can live happily for years without significant pain or disability. But mobility and comfort should be closely monitored for any declines.

Please let me know if you have any other questions about canine DISH. While challenging to manage, dog owners play a major role in ensuring their companions with this condition stay active and positive while adjusting to physical limitations. With patience and care, dogs with DISH can continue enjoying life’s simple pleasures despite their condition when properly supported.

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