UPDATED: JULY 19, 2021
I didn’t always know a lot about Dachshunds. I was still pretty clueless even after owning my first Dachshund Chester for 8 years.
It wasn’t until I adopted my second Dachshund 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.
However, as of today, I have been studying Dachshunds, and Dachshund back problems, for over 10 years.
ATTENTION: If you found this article because your Dachshund is suddenly having trouble walking and you need help, go read my article about what to do if your dog is suddenly paralyzed right away.
How I Learned About Dachshunds and Their Back Problems
I run a 1,000+ member club for Dachshunds, have been walking and dog sitting Dachshunds for over 7 years, and have several friends with Dachshunds.
Besides my experience with my own 3 Dachshunds, I’ve momentarily “owned” at least 100 more through people sharing their stories with me and asking for my help with back injuries over the years.
Once, I had to take one of the Dachshunds I walk to the vet for the owner because she had another emergency come up and he was experiencing back pain.
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 walked underwent surgery because of paralysis issues. I 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… because I have to set the record straight!
The ONE thing Every Dachshund Owner Must Know
So many people don’t understand about Dachshund back issues.
I would say that 80% – and that’s being conservative – of the people are surprised by what I’m going to tell you.
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.
You MUST know what is in the rest of this article if you own a Dachshund. It’s the most important thing to know about their health.
I’m going to give you just the highlights.
Facts About Dachshund Back Problems
There are three ways a Dachshund can “hurt their back”:
Acute Back Injury
The first way a Dachshund can hurt it’s back is the least common – acute injury.
Acute injury happens when a dog takes a fall, is stepped on, get’s into a car accident, etc.
It’s almost always obvious: you see it happen or there is a visible sign something bad happened just out of your sight.
The effect of the catastrophic event presents itself immediately or very soon after.
This kind of injury can occur at any age.
Age-related Back Injury
The second way a Dachshund can hurt it’s back is what I like to call “oldness”.
As an animal ages, it’s normal for the body to go through negative or degenerative changes.
Your Dachshund may naturally develop a disease or their muscles and bones can degenerate, which can make them prone to injury.
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.
This is called Type II disk disease.
According to Veterinary Surgical Centers,
“The condition is typically slowly progressive and may or may not be painful. It occurs most commonly in middle- to older age… dogs.
The chronic spinal cord compression with this type of disc disease often causes atrophy of the spinal cord.”
Hansen’s type I Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
The third, most common way, a Dachshund sustains a back injury is a result of spinal disk degeneration that causes ruptures in the disks of younger dogs – Hansen’s type I Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) – commonly referred to as simply “IVDD”.
In other words, IVDD is a degeneration of the spine (due to the disease) that occurs at a younger age than can be attributed to the normal aging process.
At least 95% of the cases I can recall of Dachshund’s with mobility issues – ranging from slight to paralysis – is due to a current or previous diagnosis of IVDD.
If a Dachshund has IVDD, the disease typically presents itself as a sudden ability to walk normally between the ages of 3 and 8 years old.
I’ve heard of a couple recent cases where a Dachshund was diagnosed with IVDD at as young as 1-2 years old.
This most common form of IVDD – Hansen’s Type I – is what I’m going to talk about in this article.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dachshunds
IVDD is a degenerative disease that causes the spinal 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.
When that inner layer bulges out, or herniates, it causes 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)
Below are some facts about IVDD-related back injuries.
Note: IVDD can also affect disks in the neck. It’s less common (but equally as critical to know about) so I am primarily going to refer to IVDD back injuries in this article.
IVDD is a GENETIC Disease
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.
I’ve had people argue with me that IVDD is not genetic. We’ll here is some science to back up my statement.
According to the University of California – Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UC Davis)- one of the premier research facilities for IVDD in the US:
A Dachshund’s long back and short limbs (legs) is caused by Chondrodysplasia (CDPA), commonly called the dwarfism, which interferes with the body’s normal development of cartilage.
All Dachshunds have some form of this gene. It’s what causes the unmistakable “long and low” Dachshund look.
Dogs with a certain mutations of this gene – specifically Chondrodystrophy (CDDY) – are at risk for intervertebral disk herniation.
In an article titled Genetic Discovery Finds Dachshunds’ Short-Leg Phenotype Linked To IVDD states”
“Type I IVDD is most common in Dachshunds. It is an an inherited disorder caused by CDDY, a condition of shorter legs and abnormal intervertebral discs in which the discs degenerate prematurely in young dogs, occurring in some dogs as young as 1 year of age.”
Unfortunately, there is no reliable genetic test for IVDD… yet.
The reason, explained loosely, is because all Dachshunds have some form of the dwarfism gene and it’s still not 100% clear what mutation is causing IVDD.
But there is hope. UC Davis continues to study this disease in dogs.
You can read more about the progress they have made in identifying the gene mutation responsible for IVDD HERE.
The good news is, because back injuries are due to IVDD, which is inherited in a dog’s genes, you can stop feeling guilty that it was “something you did” if your dog starts having back or neck problems.
But it’s also bad news.
If Your Dog Has IVDD, a Back Injury May Not Be Preventable
Approximately 25% of Dachshunds will have some sort of back injury in their lifetime where IVDD can be pinpointed as the cause.
According to Danika Bannasch, from the School of Veterinary Medicine UC Davis, one of the primary researchers of IVDD in dogs, published a paper that said, “Dogs with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) are 50 times more likely to have this mutation [chondrodystrophy]; that’s an incredibly strong correlation with disc disease.” (source 1 and source 2)
The bad news is, because back injuries are primarily caused by IVDD, which is an inherited, genetic disease, for the most part you can’t control if your Dachshund will injure their back or not.
There doesn’t have to be an external cause for back pain or issues in a dog with IVDD.
The majority of stories I’ve heard about Dachshund back injuries say something like “my Dachshund was perfectly fine and couldn’t walk when they woke up.”
I’ve heard countless stories of owners who were very careful with their Dachshunds – preventing them from jumping, using stairs, and otherwise treating them like breakable glass – and their Dachshund ruptured a disk merely getting up from their dog bed.
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.
There Are Two Primary Treatments for an IVDD-Related Back Injury
If your dog is struck by IVDD and experiences a disk injury, there are two primary methods of treatment.
Surgery for an IVDD Back Injury
A doctor will go in through an incision to repair your Dachshund’s spine. Your veterinarian will let you know if surgery is a good option for your dog.
Conservative Treatment for an IVDD Back Injury
If the injury is not the type, or severity, that would warrant surgery, your Dachshund will be given a steroid, pain medicine, and prescribed 5+ weeks of strict crate rest.
This is referred to as “conservative treatment.”
Conservative treatment may also be an option if surgery is recommended but an owner can’t afford surgery (I know several Dachshunds that have recovered with crate rest alone).
You can read more about both of those below.
Facts About Intervertebral Disk Disease and Back Injuries in Dogs
An IVVD Injury is Most Likely to Occur Before Your Dog Is 8 Years Old
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. In my opinion, the risk is worth it because Dachshunds are so wonderful but it’s still a gamble.
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 mild symptoms that may not be obvious to the eye.
Currently, There is No Reliable Genetic Test the Gene That Caused IVDD
The condition is strongly linked to the genes that cause Dachshunds to have short legs but other genes may also be involved (dwarfism).
Note: See the section above for more about this and to view my sources.
All of the genes that influence IVDD have not been identified so a reliable genetic test is not available to detect Dachshunds susceptible to the condition at this point. (Source)
Note: there is some hope of a test being developed at UC Davis but it’s still in early research phases.
That means that no one – not even a “reputable breeder” – can guarantee which Dachshunds will develop IVDD and which ones won’t.
Many Dachshunds with IVDD Live Normal Lives
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).
Dachshunds Are Not the Only Dog Breed That Can Have IVDD
Although Dachshunds are the breed with the highest incidence of IVDD, they are not the only breed that is susceptible to it.
Other breeds that can get IVDD include Corgis, 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.
If your dog is suddenly paralyzed, you must do this right away!
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.
Surgery is expensive though. Not everyone can afford it.
Sadly, I’ve heard of many veterinarians that told people 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 whether it was initially recommended or not.
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 specific discussion could be a whole novel in itself but just know that surgery 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.
Strict Crate Rest aka Conservative Treatment
Strict crate rest used instead of surgery is called “conservative treatment”.
Strict crate rest is also used as a way for your dog to to recover after surgery.
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 of the most common reasons I see that crate rest is cut shorter than it should be.
- The pain medicine and rest start to work and the owner thinks the dog “is fine” so the owner their dog out of the crate earlier than suggested.
- 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.
Treatment Costs for IVDD Injuries
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.
I thought I was off the hook with my Dachshund Gretel because she was diagnosed with very early stage IVDD and didn’t need surgery.
However, although the conservative treatment was recommend her for, and the minimum for that is crate rest and medication, I opted to also take her to a dog gym for rehab exercises, do hydrotherapy, give her cold laser treatments, and take her in for acupuncture at a holistic vet.
In total, I spent about $7,000 on her treatment, which is in-line with the approximate cost of spinal surgery.
I know that some people can’t afford the cost of surgery or rehab treatment like we did. Don’t lose hope though.
Your vet will recommend the best treatment.
If it’s conservative treatment, you can probably get buy just with strict crate rest and medication. You don’t have to do all of the extra, costly stuff like I did.
If surgery is recommended but you can’t afford it, know that putting your dog to sleep may not be the only option.
I’ve heard of many dogs making a full recovery with a long period of crate rest and exercises/massage that can be done at home.
I also know of many that didn’t regain full mobility but are able to live happy, normal lives with a little help from a wheelchair.
Minimizing the Chance of 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.
I just want you to be clear about what IVDD 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 get in-depth information about Dachshund back problems, I highly suggest you check out their websites.
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 was fortunate with my first Dachshund Chester. He was never diagnosed with IVDD and never developed a back injury.
However, ironically, Gretel did injure her back and was diagnosed with IVDD not long after I originally wrote this article.
I also have a young Dachshund, Summit, and it’s yet to be seen if she has IVDD. You bet I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for signs!
If you want to read even more information, check out my IVDD resources page and read this great article on Intervertebral Disk Disease by Seniortailwaggers.com.