The spinal cord is protected within the spinal column, which is composed of small bones called vertebrae. The spinal cord transmits neurological information between the brain and the rest of the body. Spinal cord trauma can cause neurological abnormalities and pain. The most common causes are automobile accidents. Other causes include falling from a height or being struck by an object. Trauma to the spinal canal may cause fractures or luxations (dislocations of the spine) that result in bruising, bleeding into, or compression of the spinal cord.
Signs are dependent on the area of the spinal cord affected and the severity of the trauma. Neurological abnormalities vary with the degree of spinal cord injury: mild injury may result in only pain at the injured site while moderate injury causes an uncoordinated gait, crossing over of the legs while walking, scuffing of the nails, and weakness. With the most severe damage, animals cannot feel a painful stimulus applied to the toes and are paralyzed. All four legs may be affected if the spinal cord in the neck is injured. Only the hind legs are affected if the damage occurs in the upper or lower back region.
X-rays of the spine may show a fracture, luxation, or malalignment of the spine. Additional imaging with a CT or an MRI may be recommended to further evaluate the vertebrae and spinal cord.