UPDATE: June 19, 2022
So you found out your dog has Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).
At a minimum, you and your dog endured 6 weeks of crate rest.
There were sad eyes, guilt, whining, patience, and frustration involved.
Some of your dogs needed surgery too.
Your dog may or may not have recovered to normal, or almost normal, again.
You don’t think your emotions, and your pocketbook, can go through IVDD treatment a second time.
You worry about caring for a dog with IVDD.
You worry about the quality of life with your IVDD Dachshund and wonder, “Can a dog with live a normal life with IVDD?”
You wonder if a dog with IVDD can be active.
Your instinct may tell you to be very, very careful and treat your dog like fragile, breakable glass from now on to avoid another episode.
But should you?
Disclaimer: I am not a veternarian. I’m just a Dachshund owner sharing what she knows. I have personal expeirence with IVDD, both with my own dog and through at least a hundred conversations with our blog readers and Dachshund club members.
Questions About Caring for a Dog with IVDD After Recovery
After I shared the story of my Dachshund Gretel’s symptoms and diagnosis of IVDD, I received a lot of support from people who have gone through the same thing.
I recieved a lot of questions and comments about caring for my dog now that I knew she had IVDD.
But not all of the comments I recieved were positive.
One of the comments said,
“I really think [Gretel’s] hiking and traveling should be over. [She] Needs rest and lots of care. [She’s] Doing too much.”
I received another couple of comments essentially telling me that what I was doing with Gretel – hiking so much – was bad for her and I need to stop.
Let me be clear that most of the comments I’ve received we’re very positive and encouraging.
I’m not careless though so I did take a second look at my goals for Gretel, after the negative comments, to make sure I still thought I was doing the right thing.
Let me also be clear: Gretel is what I would describe as “fully recovered”. She has no significant mobility issues.
If your Dachshund did not fully recover from their IVDD episode, you may be more limited as to what you can do with them (although I’ve seen many “foot draggers”, or dogs in wheelchairs, hike and walk for miles).
IVDD Care After Recovery: Reactions Based on Experiences
Our beliefs are shaped by our experiences.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard from people’s whose experiences with the veterinarian after their dog was diagnosed with IVDD have been all doom and gloom.
I can’t believe it but there are apparently still vets out there telling owners the only option if their dog is paralyzed and they can’t afford the surgery is to put them down.
I can’t tell you how many “miracle” stories I’ve heard about people’s paralyzed Dachshunds eventually being able to walk again after a lot of rest and at-home exercises.
Of course, some do remain paralyzed but they have gone on to live happy lives scooting around in their wheelchair.
Other vets are less “shocking” but are still doom and gloom none the less.
They tell people that it’s almost a sure thing that their dog will have a very significant problem again and that they should basically treat their IVDD dogs like they are very fragile from here on out.
While it’s true that some people have had the unfortunate experience of owning one or more dogs that have had ongoing, almost unending bouts of IVDD flareups.
A small fraction of dogs with known IVDD have had more than one disk rupture and did eventually end up partially or fully paralyzed long-term (but several of those went on to live happy, pretty normal lives with the help of a dog wheelchair).
However, it is also true that many dogs fully recover from their spinal injury and never have a back issue again.
Perhaps the people who sent me the “scary” messages had dogs who expierneced multiple vertebrae ruptures in their lifetime. I admit that I haven’t.
IVDD injury: What You Can and Can’t Control
Before we go into whether I need to be more careful with my dog Gretel now or not, let’s make sure we understand what IVDD is.
You can read my article The Truth About Dachshund Back Problems but, basically, it says that IVDD is a genetic, degenerative disease you don’t have a lot of control over.
If your dog is going to have an injury that leads to a diagnosis of IVDD, It’s most likely to occur between the ages of 4 – 8 (more typically 4 – 6) no matter of how active or sedentary of life your dog leads (in fact, a dog that is overweight and out of shape more likely to experience IVDD complications).
I’ve seen Dachshunds that spend most of their life sleeping around the house who end up with back injuries associated with IVDD.
I’ve seen Dachshunds that lead a very, very active life – like TruMan who runs marathons – never have any back issues (he does not, to my knowledge, have IVDD – better proving my point about the potential for injury being tied more to genetics than activity level).
The good news is that not only is IVDD not a death-to-all-fun sentence for your dog, but modern medicine has allowed dogs to make full recoveries and thrive.
At the very least, modern medicine and treatment has helped dogs manage their condition to a level that still allows them to be active, even if it’s at a lower capacity than they were before.
Ten+ years ago when the message was “6-10 weeks strict crate rest and then you better wrap your dog in bubble wrap the rest of it’s life”, therapies like laser treatment and sports rehab were not readily available for dogs.
Because of the numerous treatment options available today, dogs with IVDD have a better chance of recovery, better options for IVDD management, possibly a lower risk of re-injury, and a higher quality of life after an IVDD episode.
Decision Factors In How Active Your IVDD Dog Should Be
So how careful should you be with your IVDD dog? That depends on a lot of things like:
The extent of your dog’s IVD disease
If your dog was paralyzed at some point, their disease is likely in an advanced stage and there may be a greater potential for other disks to be in a more fragile state.
In Gretel’s case, her IVDD episode seemed to progress slowly.
It probably did start a month before her diagnosis when she started to skip a leg while running.
She seemed fine other than that but, a month later, she suddenly was in pain after jumping off the couch .
Her symptoms were mild but I knew the signs of IVDD so I contacted the vet before letting too much time pass.
We were lucky enough to catch her episode in it’s early stages so her “injury” was only Stage II (the earliest pain episode that can be detected).
The physical shape your dog was in before the IVDD episode
A dog who is fit, active, and at an ideal weight before a disk episode may be more likely to continue being active after they have healed.
In my Dachshund Gretel’s case, it’s absolutely been an advantage because she didn’t have that extra weight on her spine to deal with.
My vet said that usually the first thing they have to tell pet owners of dogs with an IVDD injury is to slim their dog down.
Imagine trying to get your dog, who is forced to be sedentary for 6 – 8 weeks, to lose two or five pounds.
Fit, active dogs also have stronger spine supporting muscles.
All dogs on crate rest will lose some muscle tone and/or mass but the dogs that started out strong, and who complete core muscle strengthening exercises, will be less out of shape once they’ve healed.
How well your dog recovered after their back injury
If a dog was paralyzed and never regains use of their back legs, obviously their activities may be more restricted.
They may only be able to go where a wheelchair will go.
Whether your dog was initially paralyzed or not, if they still drag a foot, or otherwise don’t walk properly, they may also be limited to what and how much they can safely do.
Scraped toes is a common injury of dogs that drag a foot while walking.
If a dog has made a full recovery from a disk episode though, they may be able to resume normal activities.
Your commitment to your dog’s ongoing back care
I must admit that Gretel and I were what are called “weekend warriors”.
A weekend warrior is someone who is basically sedentary all week and then goes for a big adventure on the weekend.
I didn’t want that to be us, and I always “tried” to increase our activity during the week, but it never stuck.
I don’t have the luxury of being complacent anymore.
I plan to walk every day, or at least several times a week, around our neighborhood so Gretel is in shape for regular activity.
I will be doing home exercises with her to strengthen the muscles in her legs and back.
I’ll learn dog massage and stretching techniques to keep her strong muscles balanced and supple.
I also bought a cold laser so I can give her treatments at home on an ongoing basis.
In summary, if you plan to keep your IVDD dog active, there will things you need to do to help keep them mobile and pain free.
Your tolerance of risk
This one is significant.
In my experience, there are two primary camps of people in life.
Some people live life in fear of something going wrong and spend their whole life trying to minimize or avoid risk.
Others live by the philosophies “you only live once” and “we’re all going to die someday, you might as well enjoy life” and this extends to their dog.
This latter group of people are comfortable with risk if it means that their dog gets to still live life to it’s fullest.
These are two extremes and, of course, there is a whole spectrum of people in between.
Most people have decided that some things are worth a little risk and some aren’t.
I admit that I’ve always been a little more comfortable with risk than some, although I see all risk I take as a well-calculated risk.
As pet owners, our personal beliefs tend to extend to our dogs so someone less comfortable with risk may think their dog should be super, super careful too.
Just so you understand what the risk actually is…
My neighbor, who is a veterinary surgeon, said that after crate rest and therapy, once the offending disk forms the hard covering over it or calcifies, that disk is unlikely to pose a problem in the future.
However, there are other disks affected by IVDD that could cause a problem ranging from mild to severe.
He said there was a 20% chance, per disk, that something could go wrong with one of Gretel’s other disks in the future.
In other words, there is a chance she could expeirence another spinal disk injury.
To put this risk into perspective, a human has a 0.000001% chance of dying sitting home playing a computer game (given that you don’t have cancer or heart disease I assume because the risk is higher for those. Source.), a 0.16% chance of being hit walking down the street, a 0.37% chance of dying in a car accident, and a 14% – 16% chance of dying of cancer or heart disease (Source).
A 20% chance is approximately 1:5 odds. That is a significant risk in my book.
It’s not enough to stop me from letting Gretel enjoy the live she loves though.
Your perspective on the positives and negatives of inactivity
It looks like staying home and sitting around might be safer, right? Maybe.
One theory is the more active your dog is, the higher the chance your dog could re-injure their back.
On the other hand, there are risks associated with living a more sedentary life too.
Benefits of moderate exercise for your dog include:
- Reducing the risk of heart disease and other illnesses
- Reducing Stress, anxiety, and depression
- Helping maintain a healthy weight
- Keeping their muscles toned toned
- Invigorating all the organ systems in their body
To me, there are more benefits to keeping my dog Gretel active than preventing her from being active for fear of another back injury.
What your vet recommends
You can consider all of the above and make up your own mind.
Then, share your thoughts, beliefs, hopes, and goals with your veternairan and see what they say.
I am not a vet. You are not a vet. Only they have the expertise to medically evaluate your dog and tell you whether you are on the right track or not.
One caveat though: A lot of veterinarians still err on the side of extreme caution and believe dogs with IVDD should stay in the house and not move around too much.
So, again, consider all of the factors I listed above alongside your vetrinarians recommendations and make up your own mind.
What Kind of Activities Can Your IVDD Dog Do?
Based on your assesment of factors above, you can make your own decision about what kind of activity your dog should engage in after they recover from an IVDD related injury.
Here are my personal answers to some of the most common questions.
Can Dogs with IVDD go on walks?
The short answer to this is, yes, a dog with IVDD can still walk.
Of course, how much your dog can walk depends on their initial stage of IVDD injury and their recovery, but in my 10 years of studying Dahchsunds I’ve never heard of a veterinarian suggesting that a dog with IVDD shouldn’t walk.
In fact, walking regularly was part of Gretel’s recovery recommendations by our rehab vet (we started with 5 minutes a day and worked back up to her normal level after several months).
I try to walk her at least 4 or 5 days a week and we walk, or hike, for 2 to 8 miles at a time.
Can dogs with IVDD play?
If your dog has IVDD, how much they should play with other dogs, and what type of play should be allowed, is a very personal decision.
My dog’s rehab veterinarian explained about reinjury when a dog has IVDD and told me that the highest risk movements are when a dog twists their spine.
If your dog plays roughly with other dogs, the chance of tripping or falling and twisting their spine is high.
If your dog wrestles with another dog, they may squirm to get out from underneath them, thus twisting their spine.
For me, if Gretel engages in light play with another dog (like play bowing and jumping around a little bit), I am fine with that.
She’s not the type to regularly play rough with other dogs but if I feel like she might significantly twist her spine, I stop the play session.
Can dogs with IVDD run?
Despite popular belief, Dachshunds can run.
Although I safely ran with my first Dachshund, and ran with Gretel before I knew she has IVDD, running is something I don’t allow her to do a lot of.
If she is off leash or in the back yard and wants to run around a bit, I let her.
When she is in control of her own movement and intensity, I feel like the risk of her pushing herself too much is low.
However, I no longer encourage her to run and don’t run with her on a leash anymore.
Can dogs with IVDD travel?
Depending on the type, traveling with a dog who has IVDD may be no more risky than walking.
This is epecially true if your favorite kind of travel with your dog the road trip.
Whether in the house or in the car, your dog is laying around all the same.
There might be an increased risk with travel associated with the increased activity when your dog is not sleeping in the car.
When we travel, we tend to take a lot of walks. Definitely more than we do when we are home.
This increase in activity level could make your dog’s muscles and spinal joints sore.
Flying with your dog can be a risk too.
Even if your dog flies in the airplane cabin with you, your dog may lay akwardly in the small arline dog carrier, thus holding their spine in an unntatural position for a prolonged period of time.
If your dog is flown in cargo, you don’t know how gently your dog’s crate is being handled so it’s possible your dog could be jostled around in there, thus twisting your dog’s spine.
No matter where you stand on the choices above, the most important thing is to know the signs of an IVDD flare up and what to do about it if it happens.
Signs of an IVDD Flare Up
Signs of an IVDD flare up aren’t that much different than the signs displayed when your dog suffers an IVDD injury like a slipped disk or disk rupture.
However, because an IVDD flare up essentially a reaggrivation of a past injury, or irritation of already calcified disks, instead of a new injury, signs and symptoms of an episode are typically more mild.
These symtoms often mimic early signs of IVDD in dogs and include:
- Reluctance to walk
- A hunched back
- Limited mobility like inability to lift their leg high
- Shaking or trembling
- An unwillingness to eat (when they normall have no issue)
- Looks like they are uncomfortable or in pain
- Whining or yelping, expecially when picked up
On our recent month-long road trip, Gretel experienced an IVDD flare up.
Gretel was reluctant to walk and was hunching her lower back a little.
One unusual symptom was that she refused to go potty. She always potties on command so this was really strange to me.
It almost made me think it wsn’t her back.
But then I figured out she wasn’t going potty because it hurt too much to squat or bend her back to do it because she went potty again after a dose of pain medication.
What to Do If Your Dog Has an IVDD Flare Up
How you treat an IVDD flare up is similar to how you would treat any back injury.
If this is your dog’s first IVDD flare up, or it seems different than one they have experienced before, I highly suggest you visit your veterinarian for assessment.
A period of conservative treatment is typically recommended, which includes a round of pain medication and a period of crate rest (usually only a week or two for a flare up).
Once you have experience with IVDD flare ups, you may choose to address it on your own and only see your veterinarian if needed (if it gets worse or is not getting better).
Gretel’s recent back flare up was the worst we have experienced.
But I had previously taken her to the vet for a flare up and knew what the likely cause was and what the vet would recommend we do.
So I did those things and monitored the situation.
At first, I felt guilty for not ending the trip and going home.
But then I was reminded that she would get the same flare-up treatment at home as she was getting on the road, and out in nature, which was more exciting for her. So I modified our plans a little and carried on.
Note: I did also call her veterinarian back home and confirm that my assessment, and the way I was treating her IVD flare up, was appropriate. It was.
Luckily, this road trip was mostly driving to visit friends and hold meetups for our Adventurewiener Club (vs a lot of hiking).
I brought Gabapentin pain medication Gretel’s veterinarian had previously prescribed in our dog first aid kit (I did have to call in a refill on the road though).
I gave her that and rested her as much as possible.
She mostly laid around camp, around the hotel, or in the car.
If our activity for the day did include walking, I carried her in my arms or in her dog sling carrier.
I’d previously purchased a high quality pet cold laser for home use and had brought that with us specifically for an occasion like this.
I gave her the maximum two laser treatments a day.
I carefully monitored her while resting her for 10 days and am happy to say she is back to normal now.
My Bottom Line About IVDD and Activity
When Gretel was diagnosed with IVDD, I asked the vet point blank of she will ever be able to hike again and she said, “If all goes well, absolutely!”
There was no hesitation.
I got a second opinion about it from a veterinary surgeon and he said the same thing.
Our dog sports rehab vet also agreed.
In fact, they told me that I should not stop doing the activities we were used to as long as Gretel heals up properly from this episode and I am willing to take some extra precautions.
Of course, there is always the risk of her having another episode now that I know she has IVDD, but the risk was there before she was diagnosed as far as I am concerned.
The only real difference for me is that it’s now a known risk rather than a potential risk.
UPDATE: How is My Dog Doing Six Years After Her IVDD Diagnosis?
Gretel suffered a back injury, and was diagnosed with IVDD, in the spring of 2016.
She made what I would describe as a “full recovery” after 10 weeks of crate rest and rehab.
The first time we went hiking after she was “healed”, I was a nervous wreck. I was so afraid she would hurt herself again.
We started out with easier hikes but, as she continued to hike with no issues, my confidence in her ability grew.
I became more comfortable with her hiking so we started going on longer and steeper (more difficult) hikes.
About a year after her injury, she was back to hiking like she had been before. She could easily go up to 7 miles over difficult terrain.
Looking at her, you wouldn’t know she has IVDD because she is very active.
Just the other day, 6 years after her diagnosis, after experiencing 4 IVDD flare ups, and at 12 years of age, she completed her gazillionth hike (I lost count of the actual number).
I know she could experience a flare up at any time and I watch her like a hawk for any signs of trouble, but, as I said, she could have this flare up whether out hiking or lazing around at home.
I don’t limit her life experience and enjoyment because of a potential flare up or new ruptured disk.
My aim is to inspire people to make informed decisions about how to treat their IVDD dog instead of acting blindly out of fear alone.
I want set an example of how you can be active with your IVDD dog after diagnosis.