Over the years, I’ve probably received 100 messages and emails from people whose Dachshunds are experiencing back problems, neck problems, and trouble walking.
Although I’ve written several articles on the topic, I haven’t yet written one that specifically addresses the urgent time right after you discover that your Dachshund’s back legs are paralyzed, their front legs won’t work, or they are obviously experiencing back or neck pain.
I’m happy to write back to people who reach out but I thought it might be good for me to put all of the advice I’ve given over the years in one place.
To be clear, I am NOT A VETERINARIAN. I can speak from my own experience, knowledge, and stories I’ve heard from others but in no way does my “advice” replace that of a qualified veterinarian.
However, this is what I can share with you….
My Dachshund is Shaking and Suddenly Can’t Walk. What Should I Do?
When your Dachshund experiences pain, back, or neck problems it can be scary. Paralyzation or a back injury is something that can happen in an instant.
One moment your dog can be happily playing, laying on the couch, or sleeping. The next moment, they yelp in pain, are shaking, and can’t walk (or are walking like they are drunk).
If this happens to your dog, what should you do next?
Are the Back or Front Legs Affected?
When a Dachshund is having trouble walking or is fully paralyzed, it’s almost always either the back or front legs that are affected.
If your Dachshund’s front legs aren’t working as they should, it’s likely caused by an issue with the vertebrae in the neck area.
If it’s the rear legs that are affected, it’s likely they are having a vertebrae issue somewhere along the spine in the back area.
Either way, my suggestions of what to do immediately are the same. However, knowing which area of the spine is affected can help.
Restrict Their Mobility
You need to limit movement as much as you can so help prevent the issue from getting worse. If they are fully paralyzed, this may be easier but beware that your dog may be confused and keep trying to get up.
If your dog is crate trained, put them in one so they can’t move around much. If they are not comfortable in a crate, or you want to really restrict their movement, wrap them in a towel or blanket and have someone hold them.
If paralysis is in the front legs, indicating the spinal cord in the neck maybe damaged, try to keep their head as still as possible.
In my experience – and I don’t want to scare you – but a spinal issue in the neck can be even more dangerous because paralysis can affect the lungs… which your dog needs to live.
If your dog is in severe pain, they may not let you touch them. They may yelp or struggle a lot (dogs in pain sometimes bite too).
In that case, it’s ok to not restrict them because their struggling won’t help things. If they are in a lot of pain, they probably won’t move around a whole lot anyway.
Call a Veterinarian
Time is of the essence with any back, neck, or spinal trauma.
If it’s within business hours, you can call your regular vet and ask them what to do. There’s a chance they can see your dog immediately but most won’t be able to.
If they can’t see your pup right away, whether your vet recommends it or not, you should take your dog to an emergency clinic. If the injury occurs after hours, that will be your only option.
Emergency vet care can be expensive (more than a regular vet visit). Still, it’s very important your Dachshund be assessed, and that they get medication, right away!
If you absolutely can’t afford to go to an emergency clinic, or there isn’t one near you, then your only option might be to put them on crate rest right away and wait for your regular vet.
Just know that every minute they are not being treated, the injury can get worse, despite how it may appear from the outside.
In reality though, their condition could progress even with the crate rest and medication but at least they wouldn’t be in as much pain, or any (the vet will prescribe pain medication).
Things you will want to tell your vet include:
- Is it the back or front legs that are affected
- When it happened
- How it happened
- What symptoms your pup is exhibiting (and why you suspect it might be IVDD)
- What has happened (how your pup acted and what you did) after the initial pain episode
Do be aware that a lot of vets are generalists and are not super knowledgeable about IVDD.
I suggest, while you are waiting, if you aren’t already knowledgeable about IVDD symptoms and treatment, that you do some research online. That way you are at least somewhat informed when you talk to your vet.
If you are not satisfied with your vet’s answers or knowledge level, seek a second opinion.
What Are the Possible Diagnoses?
There are pretty much only two ways a Dachshund can hurt their back or neck.
One way – the significantly less common way – is for them to suffer an acute injury. An acute injury is an isolated traumatic event that’s usually obvious like falling down stairs, being hit by a car, being stepped on, etc.
This type of injury is an isolated incident and the treatment methods vary widely based on how the injury was caused and the consequences.
The other way – the way that almost all Dachshunds suffer a back injury – is a disk bulge, or rupture, caused by a disease called Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD). This damaged disk them compresses a nerve.
IVDD is most likely the culprit if your dog is between the ages of 4 and 8 years old.
Note: It could be due to an underlying deformity or other thing but I’m assuming you’re here because your dog was fine and then they suddenly couldn’t walk
What is IVDD?
IVDD – acronym for Intervertebral Disk Disease – is a genetic disease.
About 25% of Dachshunds are affected at some point in their lives. Scientists know the disease is linked to the dwarfisim gene in Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, etc.
There are other genes involved too that, until very recently, scientists have not been able to isolate. Because of that, up until now, there has been no test that can screen for the disease.
There still isn’t anything easily accessible or reliable but scientists at UC Davis discovered a promising method for testing genes related to IVDD. This is exciting news but, unfortunately, I have heard rumors since that further research into this will not be funded.
IVDD is still considered one of those afflictions were diagnosis is possible only once symptoms present in a dog.
Note: Senior Dachshunds can have degenerative disk issues but that is age related.
There are 5 stages of IVDD injuries. According to the Dallas Veterinary Surgical Center’s description of anatomy and disease process of IVDD (this is the same info I see everywhere but theirs is a clear explanation), the stages are:
Stage 1: Neck or back pain without neurological deficits
Stage 2: The ability to walk but with knuckling of paws, muscle weakness, or partial loss of normal body movement
Stage 3: The ability to move the legs, but inability to stand and walk under their own power
Stage 4: Paralysis, which is the complete inability to move the legs but maintaining the ability to feel a deep pinch of the toes
Stage 5: Paralysis with no feeling of a deep pinch to the toes
These signs always worsen in the order listed above, and they always return in the reverse order as a dog recovers.
How Will Your Veterinarian Diagnose IVDD?
The first thing a knowledgeable vet will do is the “knuckle over”, or foot reflex, test.
They will fold your dog’s feet over one-by-one so that the the top of their foot is touching the floor or table. Normally, this will feel really weird to a dog and they will immediately flip their feet back over.
If their nerves are damaged or their ability to feel are effected, there will be a delay in righting the food. Usually, the slower the delay, the more severe your dog’s condition is.
The veterinarian will also pinch the pads of their feet, and in between, to see how well they feel pain. It doesn’t hurt them but they should feel a slight pinch and react.
They will also examine your dog’s spine to help pinpoint the exact area where the injury has occurred.
When and if your vet diagnoses your dog with IVDD, they should be able to tell you what stage they’re in (see above).
Your veterinarian may recommend Xrays or an MRI to confirm. These will tell you exactly what is happening and where.
If you aren’t going the surgery route, they may not be absolutely necessary (that’s what my veterinarian told me anyway – be sure to ask yours if it’s not something you can afford). The treatment is the same – strict crate rest and rehab – no matter where the injury is.
If your vet is going to do surgery, they DO absolutely need these done. They need to know what they are fixing and where before they start surgery.
What Are the Traditional Treatment Options for IVDD?
Be aware that some vets will tell you, if your dog is completely paralyzed, that your only option is to put them down.
I am not clear whether that is a common (or more common than I think it should be) recommendation because the vet isn’t knowledgeable about the IVDD treatment options available or they assume a client doesn’t have the money or dedication to pursue alternate options. Although I initially assumed it was due to lack of education, I suspect that, in some cases, it may also be the latter.
No matter what treatment option is used, unfortunately, it can be time consuming, emotionally trying, and a financial burden.
So what treatments are usually prescribed for IVDD?
When your dog sees the vet, they will usually recommend one of two things based on your dog’s condition and symptoms – immediate surgery or immediate strict crate rest with steroids and pain medication.
If a dog has surgery, they will be prescribed the strict crate rest and medication during recovery. In other words, it will always be crate rest. The question is whether it will be now or a bit later.
Prescribed crate rest should be a minimum of 5 weeks. Some dogs need as many as 10.
The idea of crate rest is to keep a dog largely immobile so the problem disk has time to “heal” by forming scar tissue over it. It takes at least 5 weeks for this scar tissue to form. It can take longer though.
If your vet suggests surgery, they think that’s the best chance you have of your dog walking normally again. I’ve never heard of a vet suggesting surgery when it’s not needed.
However, surgery can cost from $6,000 to $10,000 (maybe even more). I hear from many people that can’t afford that and wonder if it’s absolutely necessary. Like I said, a vet wouldn’t’ suggest it if they didn’t think it was necessary.
If you are financially unable to go that route, don’t lose hope though. You options haven’t totally ran out.
The thing you need to be aware of about surgery is that it doesn’t always work. Also, some dogs that were paralyzed made a partial or full recovery with medication, crate rest, and alternative treatments alone.
If you can’t afford surgery, you may certainly have the option of trying crate rest with medication and seeing if your pup starts to get better. Unfortunately, if they don’t, you may be faced with a tough decision.
Regardless of the stage though, know that the pain and inflammatory medication, along with rest, is the most effective and common treatment. Other things can be done alongside that but the crate rest is crucial to recovery.
Keeping your dog confined to a crate for 5+ weeks can be difficult. It’s difficult on you and your routine, no matter how willingly you do it. But be clear about this- It’s an absolute must! No cheating.
After the first week, Gretel didn’t need the medications for pain and inflammation but she became restless when she started to feel better. Luckily, my vet agreed with me that I needed something to “knock the edge” off but didn’t need to go as far giving her drugs to sedate her.
I managed her restlessness by taking her for walks outside in her stroller, giving her time on the couch with me (in her harness with her leash attached – holding on to it so she couldn’t move away from me or jump off the couch), giving her hemp CBD dog treats, and giving her the VetriScience Composure Pro chews (affiliate link) (although she needs 3 or 4 times the recommended dosage – it’s not harmful to do that).
What Does Strict Crate Rest Mean?
Strict crate rest means very little movement. It means leaving them in the crate almost all of the time (including at night).
It means carrying your dog out to go potty and keeping them on a short leash so they can’t walk around much. It means feeding them in their in crate.
I will note that, depending on your dog’s condition, they may be able to start supervised rehab (ask your vet what you can do) before the full crate rest period is up. Like with people, it has been found that sometimes active recovery is better than “lay totally immobile until it’s better”.
Six weeks of keeping your dog confined to a crate is no picnic for sure. Some dogs handle it better than others but I guarantee you it’s harder on the owners than it is on the dog.
One of the most difficult things is that your dog may seem like they are better after a week or two. Many owners think their dog “looks fine” and, since they feel guilty crating their dog, they will stop confining their dog.
Gretel seemed “fine” after a couple of days too. I get it. However, I knew that there was no way the proper scar tissue could have formed over the disk by then. It takes at least 5 weeks.
That’s the reason for the crate rest – not pain. You have to stay strong and keep them in there or risk an incomplete recovery and a constant flare up of the same area.
Read my article about dealing with a dog on crate rest to find out how I kept Gretel calm and broke up the routine the best I could.
What Are the Complimentary Treatments for IVDD?
In my experience, it’s uncommon for a vet to recommend alternate or complimentary treatments alongside crate rest. It does happen but I would say I hear about it happening only about 1/4 – 1/2 of the time. A lot of that may have to do with what’s available in your area.
Gretel and I are very lucky here in Seattle where some of the best IVDD and rehab specialists are. We also have access to almost any alternative treatment that exists.
I want you to be aware of these options so you can do some research about what you can do to get your pup healed and lessen the chance of another episode. These are:
- Cold Laser
- Chiropractic Adjustments
- Other muscle strengthening exercises (doggy gym exercises)
When I took Gretel to the emergency vet and she was diagnosed with IVDD, I immediately made an appointment with a rehab vet.
We used the Animal Surgical and Animal Medical Clinic of Seattle (they’re in the same building but one is a 24-hour emergency clinic). Our rehab vet was Dr. Eide at Animal Surgical. Note: your pup likely will need to be diagnosed by another doctor at the clinic before seeing Dr. Eide.
The first “plan of action” for us was to start cold laser treatments immediately. We then started hydrotherapy (walking on a treadmill underwater) 1-2 times a week that were supervised by a vet. After another week, I was also to start walking her for 5 minutes a day in a controlled environment where she would’t spook and make any sudden moves.
When we weren’t doing specific, supervised exercises, Gretel had to stay in the crate. The aim of the exercises was to retain as much muscle mass, and actually improve her strength, during the recovery period.
The specialist we saw was not specifically listed as an IVDD expert. However, she IS an expert in injury rehabilitation and IVDD is something she deals with often. You might want to try searching “dog rehab specialist” in your area if you are interested in this option.
We continued the cold laser and hydrotherapy once a week for a few months and gradually increased the length of her walks at home. I also added in acupuncture and core-strengthening exercises.
Eventually I bought a home cold laser for dogs so I could give her treatments myself and save time and money from not going to the vet.
Could You Have Prevented a Back Injury?
The short answer is no. Not entirely anyway. So don’t feel too guilty about what you did or didn’t do “right”.
Back injuries in Dachshunds are almost always caused by IVDD. A dog either has it or they don’t.
Sure, an episode can be delayed or minimized by not letting them do things like jump but that is not always the case no matter how careful someone is.
A dog with IVDD can hurt their back just by jumping up quickly from their dog bed or playing in the yard. There was no specific trigger for so many of the dogs I know.
Sure, minimizing the jumping could have postponed a likely, inevitable back issue but it wouldn’t have stopped it from happening.
But, yes, once you know your dog has IVDD, you should do things to help protect their back like:
- Educate yourself and know the symptoms so you can catch it at the first sign (so it doesn’t progress to a full-blown disk issue)
- Minimize Jumping – use ramps, stairs, lift
- Make sure your Dachshund is not overweight
- Keep their muscles strong and flexible with regular exercise (appropriate for their condition)
- If there is any issue in the future, follow a regime of STRICT crate rest for AT LEAST 3-5 WEEKS
A Dog’s Life After a IVDD Diagnosis
Once your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD, they have it and that means their other disks could be compromised too. There is always a chance they could suffer another episode in the future.
One of my first questions to the vet was, “Would Gretel ever be able to hike again?” Her answer was undoubtedly yes (although, of course, they can’t actually make any guarantees).
Gretel’s injury and diagnosis was March 2016. We haven’t had an episode since but I know it’s a possibility.
While the problem disks healed, IVDD could cause one of her other disks to rupture. A subsequent episode could be anything from another mild case to paralysis and surgery.
I KNOW this. However, I had a choice to make. I could let her live a happy, active dog life or keep her inactive and subdued the rest of her life. I chose not to treat her like she is fragile.
I know I am taking a risk but I mitigate it by proactively doing things that will keep her back strong and protect it. Like I said, she could injure her back again just jumping up from bed.
If it’s going to happen, I would rather it happen on a fun hike. Besides, my rehab vet confirmed that keeping her muscular and flexible will only help her back.
That’s just our situation and the choice I’m comfortable with though. We’ve been lucky. Some are not so lucky.
I have heard of a few Dachshunds that keep having back pain off and on for the rest of their life despite their owner being as careful as they can.
It’s also possible, for dogs that had some paralysis, surgery and/or crate rest did not completely fix that. Some went on to live a normal life with the help of a wheelchair for dogs.
The bottom line is, your dog may go on the live an entirely normal life after an IVDD diagnosis. Or they might not and need special accommodations the rest of their life. Each situation and dog is different.
After our experience, I wrote a lot of articles. You can find them on my IVDD resources page.
I highly suggest you check out these resources too. They are some of the best out there. I’ve got a lot of my information from these over the years.
There is still no reliable test for IVDD in dogs. Up until the later part of 2017, NO test existed at all. However, a team of scientist from UC Davis published a paper stating that they may have found a way to test for IVDD.
There is still a long way to go in this study, and there is a rumor that additional studies are not being funded at this time. But it IS very exciting news.