Owning an Active IVDD Dog: There Will Be Setbacks

I’ve been dealing with a back problem for over 10 years. Since the injury, my life has been a series of active periods and recovery periods. That’s the way it is with most active people. Some people are young and lucky (I was that person once too) and they can go full-out, all of the time, with no pain or in spite of the pain. Most are not so lucky though.

Being active is a mindset – a lifestyle choice. Every active person knows they will not be operating at 100% all of the time. Active people know there will be injuries and there will be setbacks. They do it anyway.

That’s me. That’s my attitude. My end goal is to be healthy, active, and enjoy life but I know that journey will always be two steps forward and one step back (or sometimes one step forward and two steps back) but I keep my eye on the bigger goal. I’m in this for the long haul. My attitude is “How can I make this happen?” and “What tools and resources are available to make it happen?”

Some say that a person’s pet is a reflection of themselves – that the attitude of the owner determines how their pet lives. That is definitely true for Chester and Gretel.

Gretel getting ready to climb a rockSince they can’t speak for themselves, and probably don’t think too far beyond the next meal, it’s up to me to make choices for them, advocate for them, and protect them.

As most of you know by now, Gretel injured her back a couple of months ago. I chose to go with modern science and take a proactive approach to her recovery. You can read more about the science behind my decision HERE.

For a long time, strict crate rest –  keeping a dog largely immobile – for 6-8 weeks has been the “best”, and most recommended, treatment for back injuries for a long time. That’s changing though. Veterinarians are discovering that crate rest WITH active rehabilitation speeds and improves recovery. The goal nowadays is to get a dog up and moving as soon as they can to help make them stronger and reduce the chance of re-injury.

Yes, every dog is different and you should go with what your vet tells you. However, rehab vets are seeing dogs who underwent back surgery walking within a couple of weeks using this active recovery method.

Gretel recently had her 11-week post injury checkup. Her rehab vet was super impressed at how well she was doing. The circumference of her thigh muscles had increased by 1 cm, indicating that she was becoming stronger. Even better was that the circumference of both thighs was the same, indicating that she was getting stronger in a balanced way. Developing symmetry and balance in muscle strength is extremely important so the muscles don’t pull things out of whack.

Gretel got the go-ahead to progress the difficulty of her rehab exercises and free rein to continue our hike training.

Then we had a setback

I’ve been taking Gretel to a dog rehab gym once a week to help her learn how to do the rehab exercises and teach me to better communicate with her better. She was doing great there. She was so smart and picking up on everything she was being asked to do. She was working so hard to do the exercises.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr6gkkEtMDE]It was my fault it happened. I had signed up for a 45-minute session but didn’t say anything when the trainer ran over time. Gretel was doing so well that we increased the difficulty on an exercise she had already been doing. We also tried a couple of new ones. There were no signs that she was getting sore or tired.

As soon as walked out the door, something was strange. I tried to walk her across the parking lot to go potty and she was very hesitant. I thought that was weird but not alarming. However, by the time we got home, it was clear she was in pain. She was squinting a little and she was making small, quiet grunts when I picked her up. I did the test where you fold over their toes and she seemed to be righting her feet ok but I was still concerned she was having a problem with another disc. A couple of phone calls later, we were back in the doggy ER.

The vet couldn’t find any pain points in her spine and there was still no delay in righting her feet. They sent us home with more Tramadol for pain and the ant-inflammatory Meatcam. I feared that we would have to start the crate rest and rehab all over again but they said that she was probably just sore from the workout. I was told to decrease her activity for 10 days. I asked if I should put her on crate again and they stressed that it was only necessary to back off on the hiking and rehab exercises. I think they didn’t want me to keep her in the crate because it might undo some of the progress we had made in her strength.

So, here we are. My eye is still on the goal of keeping Gretel active but we’ve had to take it back a notch for almost two weeks. Now we can cautiously start where we left off. It’s just a blip in her journey to recovery. I’ve always known this was a possibility and was mentally prepared.

I know Gretel has Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) – the spinal disease common in Dachshunds. I know that she will be dealing with pretty much the same situation as I am with my bad back. There will be periods in her life where she can be active with no problems. There will also be periods where she will have flare-ups and setbacks. There will be times when she needs to reduce, sometimes significantly, her activity level to recover.

Gretel resting in her strollerThis won’t be our last setback. In fact, I am well aware that she could rupture another disk. Next time we might not be so lucky and she could have some paralysis and need surgery. Thank goodness I have pet health insurance that will cover that if we need it.

I won’t let my fear of that happening stop us from being active though. Besides the studies I cited in my last article about ACTIVE recovery being beneficial, a survey of Dachshund owners by Dachshund Health UK also found that ” Dogs over the age of 3 that were highly or moderately active were half as likely to have suffered an IVDD incident as dogs described as mildly or not at all active.”

I’m not using these survey results to say it’s guaranteed that more active dogs suffer less IVDD episodes. There are a lot of other factors that play into whether an IVVD dog will have an episode or not (one of the biggest being whether a dog is overweight or not. Click here to see how you can tell if a dog is overweight). However, Gretel’s super-smart and experienced rehab vet feels very sure that an active dog with stronger muscles is less likely to suffer re-injury from IVDD. As an active person myself who does way better with pain and injury when I am strong and in shape, that makes logical sense to me.

So off we go on our trail adventures again. Strangely, as a lot of things along this IVDD journey have been, was a positive. Now I know what a setback from being over-worked looks like. I feel more confident that I’ll know what to do if it happens again.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


  1. Fur babies and humans can easily have set backs as I know you are well aware of with your own personal situation. With you being attentive to Gretel’s behavior is key in caring for her. As humans we over do when we feel better and once again we feel invincible!! The same for our fur babies!! Take care of both of you! Keep your goal, it just may have to be reached a little slower or at a later date! Best wishes to you and Gretel ( Chester too!)

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I know she could go hike 7 miles tomorrow if I let her but she shouldn’t. I keep our walks intentionally shorter than I think she can handle. It’s actually good for me too because I have a tendency to push myself too far and regret it later too.

  2. Dang, poor girl. It will be an ongoing management thing, just like with your back. Better than sitting on the couch though. Give her a hug from me.

    1. Thanks. Yes, I expect a lot of ups and downs for the rest of her life. I feel good know we are out living it though 🙂

  3. Thanks for posting this. We are about 2 weeks out from our 2nd episode. We have decided to go the conservative route mostly due to the expense of surgery. Pain meds , prednolisone and restrictions are working so far. I cannot stress restrictions enough.

    1. Yeah, it’s very important to rest your pup as long as the vet says you should. Many people cut that short because their pup seems to be feeling better but that can make them more prone to re-injury. Gretel was given a controlled, active rehab program but I was committed to keeping her in the crate the entire 8 weeks when she wasn’t doing approved movements. I hope the second recovery goes well for you guys.

  4. Poor Gretel! It is so easy to overdo things when they are having so much success. I wouldn’t have hesitated to keep going if I noticed we were getting a little extra time with the physical therapist, either. Hope Gretel’s back to being active again soon!

  5. Pawsome attitude!

    Life is meant to be lived but it’s best when we understand our personal needs and have realistic expectations.
    Stay strong my little furiend Gretel!

    Nose nudges,
    CEO Olivia

  6. Oh my goodness, I’m so glad that it wasn’t a major setback! It’s great that you’re getting Gretel up and moving to keep her strong, and she seems to luckily be dong great.

  7. I used to obsess over the idea that my extremely active and very fit dox might have a back event. Suddenly finding myself with our other ancient dox, whom we had recently adopted, in a hospital filled with back surgeons and different kinds of therapists actually calmed my long held fears. One thing I would say to dox owners is to know right now where you would go in case of a back event. Time is of the essence, esp. if surgery is needed. Our dox takes two meds that resolved his issue and I’m grateful for every day that our little old guy is still scampering around; every day that he’s on his feet is gravy, as my dad would say. Best wishes to Gretel for a long happy life.

    1. Thanks. And great tip. I, too, have heard that time is of the essence if a dog has an episode. I’m so glad that meds resolved your pup’s issue.

  8. My mini dash Pip., blew his back out, surgery, disk repair, no movement six full months. Then he’s back one day doing his exercises he pulls a leg back, two weeks later like nothing ever happened. Did the preventive surgery to prevent further blow outs of the disk. He has good days and bad, but he knows his limits, when we are out walking, playing fetch, when he starts to feel the pain, he comes over and stands on my foot. The sign to pick me up, and backpack me back home.

    1. That’s good that Pip knows when and how to regulate himself. Gretel is a pretty ambitious girl so I don’t think she’s figured that out yet. Hopefully someday 🙂

  9. Please share with me the pet insurance you have. I have two doxies, both have had surgery, and I have not found any pet insurance that will cover potential disc problems. Thanks, and your little Gretel is so cute!

    1. Hi Sheryl. We have Trupanion. They are one of the only pet insurance providers that will cover congenital diseases – so back issues in Dachshunds caused by IVDD are covered. Unfortunately, NO insurance will cover pre-existing conditions. That means that it won’t be possible to get insurance for your two Doxies that will cover any future back problems. If you have a Dachshund that hasn’t had any issues yet, then it might be good idea to get it. For your two that had surgery, I suggest putting some money away monthly to help offset any future costs. I pay around $80 a month for both dogs with a moderate deductible. Putting the same amount away in savings might be a lifesaver if they ever need surgery again. Good luck!

      1. Trupanion is great but it does not cover pre existing conditions. To all who have a new fur baby it is definitely worth the price. My seven year old jack russell mix had ivdd surgery and they held true to their word. Keep in mind there is a deductible but well worth every penny.

        1. Unfortunately, no pet insurance covers preexisting conditions. However, there are some “reimbursement programs” that can help cover a dog’s medical bills and a few of them have looser rules. Also, some insurance companies in the UK have time limits for what constitutes a preexisting condition. For example, if it’s been a certain number of years since a dog has had a particular issue, it may not be considered preexisting anymore. There may be some of that happening with US companies too. My friend’s Dachshund needed back surgery and then needed it again 4 months later. Trupanion covered both surgeries because the disk rupture happened in two different areas of the spine (so they were not considered the same condition). However, it’s important to note that they had Trupanion insurance before either of the surgeries were needed.

  10. My dog (a beagle/hound mix) is currently in the hospital recuperating from surgery for IVDD. He was in a lot of pain and he is typically a very active dog (we hike 3-4 miles per day). I didn’t think twice when the neurologist recommended immediate surgery. He will be coming home tomorrow and on strict rest for up to a month. This is the part that concerns me, so reading your posts with tips and tricks for crate rest are so much appreciated! I just purchased a larger crate that can accommodate his bed and food bowls and give him some room to stand up and turn around, but I plan on following the post-op rest period very carefully. I never want to see my dog in that kind of pain again!

  11. Hi
    My dog Dash and I are active hikers like you and Gretel. Dash is used to doing about 5miles at least three times a week. Last month she suffered from IVDD at three and half years old. Recovery has been tough as hard to keep us both in the rest period. She recovered well and we got the ok now 6weeks post-op to go on short walks 20 mins. It’s been two days of short walks but I get nervous when after she gets a bit wobbly till we’re home and goes crazy with toys. I just looking for insight how did you increase mileage and activity level to get back to hiking mountain status?

    1. Hi Jenna. Sorry you guys had to go through this. Gretel’s case was mild so she was allowed to start short walks after about 2 weeks. Our rehab vet had us start with just 5 minutes and after the walks she was to be put back in the crate. We were still only at week 2 of recovery, not 6, so I wouldn’t expect that is what you should be doing with Dash. I’d definitely go back to shorter walks if she’s coming home wobbly and stop her from running around crazy when you guys get back. Part of Gretel’s rehab also included doggy gym exercises. You can see what she did here: https://youdidwhatwithyourweiner.com/ivdd-recovery-exercises-for-strengthening-balance-and-body-awareness/

      Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions.

  12. My IVDD dachshund just had his first flair up yesterday since his initial incident about 8 months ago. He’s three and when he first hurt himself we were walking three miles basically every day. I’ve massively dialed things back since his six weeks of crate rest, and this was good to hear while contemplating his recovery period from this flair up. It gives me hope. I’ve been torn between the advice of my vet (2 week’s crate rest this time) and the IVDD community telling me that it should be six weeks even with cold laser therapy. It sounds like you recommend maybe checking out a canine rehab place for after his crate rest?

    1. If it were me, I would definitely go closer to the 6 weeks of crate rest for the flair up. I find that most veterinarians (as reported by readers) way under-recommend the proper length of crate rest. If you can afford it, I definitely do suggest talking to a rehab vet. You could even do that after the two weeks. The rehab vet can reassess him and give you a plan to rehabilitate him during the remaining weeks he is on crate rest (My Gretel was allowed very short walks in a controlled (safe) environment and some “doggy gym” exercises to strengthen her core). Good luck to you guys!

  13. Hi my Melvyn was diagnosed with possible ivdd. Did you get pet insurance after her diagnosis? Wondering if I can get it now. We are only on 3 weeks cage rest?

    1. No, I did not. No pet insurance will cover a pre-existing condition. However, I think one or two that cover “hereditary conditions” like IVDD treat each different disk rupture as a separate incident. it doesn’t hurt to call and ask if ruptures with a different disk would be covered in the future. I would start with Trupanion if you want to call and ask.

  14. Hi Jessica,

    My pup Rex (11 year old schnauzer) has his first Episode from a herniated disk in his neck about 3 months ago. We were lucky and blessed that we caught it on time before it got worse. He was on steroids for 1 week and Pain meds For 2
    Weeks (tramadol and gabapentin) – he has been back to his normal old self for about a month now, maybe a bit over a month. Today he woke up and I noticed a slight limp and I’m afraid it might be a sign of a soon to come flare up. Is there anything that you would recommend to maybe avoid flare ups? I have his pain
    Meds and the gabapentin for nerve pain. Should I maybe start off with the meds again to Avoid him even reaching pain??
    Thank you so much for all your posts on this issue.


    1. Hi Jess. You didn’t mention crate rest. Did you do at least 5 weeks of strict crate rest after his first injury? That is how long it takes for the scar tissue to form over the disk and “heal” it. I can take longer (We did crate rest with Gretel for 8 weeks, plus rehab, before she fully recovered) but that is the minimum. Without doing that, he can continue to re-injure the same disk over and over. Unfortunately, even with that, a DIFFERENT disk can become an issue but it’s not as likely as re-injuring a poorly healed disk. I do have pain medication and anti-inflammatories on hand for Gretel. If it’s just a small sign of a flare up, I will give her both for a couple days and put her on crate rest for at least a couple days to see if it resolves itself. It always has but if it didn’t I would take her back to the veterinarian to be assessed (I would also do this if it were more than just walking a little stiff – I would take her right away if there was clear pain). Hope that helps.

  15. My little Jack (Beagle) was recently diagnosed with IVDD. He had surgery in February of this year and he’s doing very well recovering. I made the mistake of trusting that pet insurance would help with the financial impact and they did not. Even though I had never filed a claim, my premiums were always paid on time, Jack’s surgery still wasn’t covered. I would absolutely still so it all over again without insurance but it’s been so crushing that 24PetWatch was not there when I needed them. Please beware of pet insurance companies. I would NEVER recommend 24PetWatch to anyone.

    1. Hi Anita. Gretel was with 24PetWatch when I adopted her from the rescue. I agree that it’s not a very good one. This was almost 11 years ago but, when I reviewed the fine print at that time, hereditary/congenital conditions were not covered (IVDD is a genetic disease Dachshunds are prone to). I switched to Trupanion and never looked back. I haven’t used them for IVDD surgery, although I have used them for several other things, but my friends have. One dog had to have two surgeries within 6 months of each other and Trupanion covered both of them.

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