I didn’t always know a lot about Dachshunds. I was still pretty clueless even after owning Chester for 8 years. It wasn’t until I adopted Gretel, and started this blog, that I started researching and learning as much as I could about the breed.
Dachshunds are notorious for having back problems. Many Dachshunds end up fully or partially paralyzed, or with mobility limitations and pain related to spinal issues, at some point in their lives. I had no idea when I took on Chester.
I run a 500-member club for Dachshunds, have been walking and dog sitting Dachshunds for over 3 years, and have several friends with Dachshunds. There was one time when I had to take one of the Dachshunds I walk to the vet for the owner because she had another emergency come up. Another time I drove my friend to the emergency vet when her dog suddenly had trouble walking and was experiencing pain. Three of the Dachshunds I walk have undergone surgery because of paralysis issues so I was along for the ride and helped “rehabilitate” them when they were able to start walking again. Besides my own experiences, I’ve scoured online articles and resources and talked to several veterinarians about back issues with Dachshunds. I feel confident that I know a heck of a lot about Dachshunds and back problems.
I’m telling you this so you believe me when I say I know what I am talking about now… because I have to set the record straight. So many people don’t understand about Dachshund back issues. I would say that 80% – and that’s being conservative – of the people I tell what I’m going to tell you are genuinely surprised.
Now, I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing anyone for not knowing. Like I said, I owned Chester for EIGHT YEARS and still had no idea. I just want to help people understand why Dachshunds are prone to back problems, how they can recognize back problems, and what they can do to help prevent them.
I’m going to give you just the highlights. There are two amazing resources online dedicated to information about, and help for, Dachshunds with back problems – Dodgerslist and K9BackPack. The people who run these sites are kind and amazingly supportive. If you want to get in-depth information about Dachshund back problems, I highly suggest you check out their websites.
Facts About Dachshund Back Problems
There are three ways a Dachshund can “hurt their back”:
- The first is less common – acute injury. Acute injury happens when a dog takes a fall, is stepped on, get’s into a car accident, etc.
- The second way is what I like to call “oldness”. If older dogs who haven’t previously had any back problems develop them, it’s often the result of the normal wear-and-tear on their spine as they age.
- The third, most common way, is a result of spinal disk degeneration – Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
IVDD causes the disks to age faster than normal. The disks become dry, brittle, and fragile. IVDD starts when the jelly-like inner layer starts hardening, so it can’t cushion like it’s supposed to. Then, that inner layer bulges out, or herniates, causing pressure on the dog’s spinal cord. It can bulge out a little or a lot, causing mild to severe problems. Some problems caused by IVDD as far more serious than others but they all affect the health and happiness of your dog to some degree. (Source: L’il Back Bracer)
- IVDD is GENTIC. Yes, genetic. That means your dog was born with it and whether your dog has no symptoms, mild pain, or becomes paralyzed is largely out of your control. The good news is, you can stop feeling guilty that it was “something you did” if your dog starts having back problems.
- The bad news is that you can’t prevent your dog from having back issues if they have IVDD. There doesn’t have to be an external cause for back pain or issues in a dog with IVDD. A dog can be perfectly fine one day and wake up paralyzed the next morning. There ARE precautions you can take to “stack the cards in favor” of a dog with IVDD but, again, you can’t control whether they will need medical treatment or not.
- If your dog is struck by IVDD, there are two primary methods of treatment. Surgery may be recommended to repair the spine. I’ve been told by the people I know that have needed surgery for their dogs that it can cost an average of $5,000 and as much as $10,000. Your vet will recommend the best treatment but surgery is not the only option is some cases. Sometimes it’s not even the best option. The other most recommended treatment is strict crate rest – 6 to 8 weeks of medication and very little to no activity (basically, resting in the crate unless they are going out to potty). Some alternative treatments like cold laser therapy and acupuncture have also been known to help with the healing.
- It’s been found that most dogs who are going to develop back problems due to IVDD do so between the ages of 3 and 8 years old.
- Getting a Dachshund is playing roulette. Approximately 25% of Dachshunds, at some point in their lives, suffer from damage to the discs in their spines to the extent that they require veterinary treatment. Many more have milder symptoms that may not be obvious to the eye. The condition is strongly linked to the genes that cause Dachshunds to have short legs but other genes may also be involved. All of the genes that influence IVDD have not been identified so genetic tests are not available to detect animals susceptible to the condition or those likely to have affected puppies. (Source) That means that no one – not even a “reputable breeder” can guarantee which Dachshunds will develop IVDD and which ones won’t.
- Just because your Dachshund has IVDD doesn’t mean they can’t live a happy, normal life. In severe cases, a dog might need a wheelchair to get around and have some special needs but will still live life to the fullest. A lot of Dachshunds moderately or fully recover after treatment and can go back to their normal activities (with a few precautions, of course).
- Although Dachshunds are the breed with the highest incidence of IVDD they are not the only breed that is susceptible to IVDD. Other breeds include Beagles, Basset Hounds, Pugs, Pekigneses, Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Jack Russel Terriers, Mini Poodles, Mini Pinchers, Bichons, Cocker Spaniels, plus a few more.
IVDD Symptoms and What to Do
So what are the signs and symptoms that could mean your dog is suffering from an IVDD-related injury?
The most common are:
- Walking wobbly or “drunk”
- Standing with their back hunched
- Showing signs of pain like shivering, rapid breathing, hiding in a corner or den (like crate or nook), and refusing to eat
- Yelping or crying out if you touch them
- suddenly paralyzed or not able to stand
What should you do if you think your dog has a back injury from IVDD?
- Keep your dog from moving around. If they are in severe pain, they may do this on their own. If not, put them in a crate or wrap them in a towel and hold them.
- Immediately take your dog to the vet. Take them to an emergency clinic if you have to. Time is of the essence. A veterinarian will determine the cause of your Dachshunds back pain or lameness and determine whether it is IVDD or something else.
If the injury is mild, crate rest and medication may be all that your dog needs.
Treatments for IVDD Back Injuries
If your dog is in advanced stages of IVDD injury, surgery may be recommended. This will be followed by medications – steroids and pain aids – and strict crate rest (see section below).
If your vet recommends surgery, they think it’s your dog’s best chance for fully recovering. If you can afford it, you should do it. I’ve seen several dogs that were paralyzed fully recover after surgery and rest.
As I said, surgery is expensive though. Not everyone can afford it.
Sadly, I’ve heard of many veterinarians tell people that they should put their dog down if they can’t afford the surgery. However, I’ve heard of some Dachshunds make a partial or full recovery without surgery. In truth, surgery isn’t 100% effective anyway (please don’t use this for a reason to not do it if it’s recommended, just understand that there is a chance your dog won’t be exactly the same as they were before). This could be a whole novel in itself but just know that is not your only option. If you want time to think about it before making the decision to end your dog’s life, ask for the medications (pain and steroids), put your dog on crate rest, do some research, and watch their condition closely to make sure they are not declining.
Whether your dog’s case is severe or mild, strict crate rest will be necessary at some point in their recovery. This means that your dog will have to stay in a small pen or crate for several weeks.
Putting your dog on crate rest can be challenge. The most common mistake that people make when their Dachshund is recovering from an IVDD episode is not making them rest long enough. There are two main reasons I see that crate rest is cut shorter than it should be. One reason is that the pain medicine and rest start to work and the owner thinks the dog “is fine” so they let their dog out of the crate earlier than suggested. The other most common reason is guilt. Dachshunds are master manipulators and are prone to anxiety. Most Dachshunds are not used to being locked in a crate, especially when their owner is home (that’s why it’s important to crate train them from a young age just in case). They will whine, cry, and give their owner the saddest eyes until they are let out. Not letting a dog complete a full regimen of crate rest leaves them more prone to re-injury, flare-ups, and severe issues later.
Preventing IVDD Injuries
Like I said, you can’t PREVENT your dog from having a back injury if they have IVDD. However, there are things you can do to help minimize the impact of a disc herniation:
- Keep your dog fit and lean. Carrying extra weight ads stress on their long spine.
- Keep your dog active. Active dogs have strong, supple muscles with good blood flow. All of those things help your dog’s muscles support their spine.
- Use a harness instead of a collar to avoid pressure on the neck and back.
- Minimize jumping. This can be done by training them to not jump and to use ramps and stairs to help them on and off furniture (video).
I hope that most of you reading this will never have to watch your pup go through a back issue with your dog. I’ve been fortunate that Chester never developed IVDD. However, ironically, Gretel did injure her back and was diagnosed with IVDD not long after I originally wrote this article.
I just want you to be clear about what it is, how to spot a problem, and what to expect. There is a heck of a lot more information about IVDD than I touched on here but covered the basics. If you want to read even more information, check out this great article on Intervertebral Disk Disease by Seniortailwaggers.com.