A sometimes crippling disease, IVDD affects 19 to 24 percent of Dachshunds,1-2 more than any other breed. The disease occurs when the intervertebral disks, the shock absorbers between the vertebrae of the spinal column, bulge or burst, becoming herniated. Pressing on the nerves in the spinal cord, these disks can cause pain, nerve damage, loss of bladder and bowel control, and paralysis.
IVDD cases range from mild or moderate (Type I) to severe (Type II). Dogs with Type I disease generally heal over time and are able to resume their normal routine and walking. There is not always a clear event that causes this injury. In some Dachshunds, it may appear one to five days after a forceful impact. Jumping or falling may cause one or more disks to burst, pressing into the spinal canal and resulting in cord compression and irritation. Among other reasons, it may occur due to a prematurely aged disk.
Type II IVDD is usually seen in dogs that have chronic difficulty climbing stairs, walking or rising from a relaxed position. Typically, the vertebrae begin a spondylosis process and may even bridge together to mediate the instability caused from the lack of a functioning shock absorber — the disk. In severe cases, the dog may become incontinent or paralyzed. Surgery performed shortly after a diagnosis helps to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and increases the chance of recovery.
The standard of care is decompression surgery that involves removing a window of bone to access and remove the herniated disk material compressing the spinal cord and causing pain. This is followed by rehabilitation focused on helping a dog regain motor function in the pelvic limbs with a series of exercises that owners can learn how to perform at home. Underwater treadmill work also can be beneficial.
Decompression surgery is not always an option for owners due, in part, to the cost. The $5,000 surgery, depending on the geographical location of the veterinary practice, may be cost-prohibitive for owners and thus require them to care for a disabled dog that may need a wheelchair for mobility or, in the worse case, euthanize their dog.
Disability associated with intervertebral disk herniation (IVDH) may include an inability to walk or control bowel and bladder function, along with secondary conditions such as pressure ulcers from remaining in a recumbent position and recurrent urinary tract infections from incomplete emptying of the bladder. If a wheelchair is needed, it must be custom-fitted to the individual dog to ensure the most comfort and utility of the cart.
Conservative treatment can sometimes provide an option to let the disk heal. Medication and STRICT crate rest are an alternative if surgery is not an option. Rehabilitation initially and after recovery helps to build core strength and proprioception, and thus helps to prevent a recurrence.
Despite efforts to learn the cause of IVDD in Dachshunds, no discoveries have found a genetic link distinguishing affected dogs from healthy dogs. Without a direct DNA test, or even a genetic marker test, breeders are not able to health test sires and dams to reduce disease incidence. Unfortunately, since IVDD may not occur until a dog is 6 to 8 years of age, this is often after a dog has been bred.
Educating Owners about IVDD is key if you are going to share your home with a Dachshund. Finding a Veterinarian with extensive knowledge of IVDD is key, many do not know the seriousness of IVDD.
Dachshund owners should be on the lookout for signs of IVDD. Lethargy and reluctance to play in otherwise healthy, active dogs could indicate a problem. Other signs include scrapes or abrasions on the top of a rear paw from dragging it on the ground, uncoordinated walking, shivering or shaking, poor appetite, sensitivity to being touched on the neck or back, and uncontrollable bladder and bowel function.
Although there is no guaranteed way of preventing IVDD in Dachshunds, avoiding obesity is an important consideration. Keeping a dog in ideal body condition helps to reduce stress on the spine. Owners should work to prevent their dogs from becoming obese, they also should work with their veterinarian to develop a physical fitness plan that includes activities like leash walks.
Another consideration is to use a harness for walking rather than a collar and leash, which can stress the neck and spinal column. Minimizing high-impact activities, such as jumping, running up and down stairs, wrestling with other dogs, and playing tug-of-war is helpful as well.
Ramps and steps made for dogs may be helpful for high places that dogs like to go, such as chairs, sofas and beds. This helps to prevent jumping and the risk of falling. Dachshund owners also should make sure their dog is comfortable in a crate so the adjustment is easier should crate confinement be necessary after surgery or an episode of back pain.